Breaker’s (Neo Geo) 10.22.22
That title from Visco had a rather long and tumultuous development, which started in 1993. The game was presented to the press during the AM show of 1994 in MVS format under the name "Tenrin no Shou - Chicago". It then took the name of "Crystal Legacy" (videos of the prototype were posted on the internet recently) to finally be released under the name "Breaker's" at the end of 1996/beginning of 1997 on MVS, AES and Neo Geo CD. An enhanced version was released in 1998 under "Breaker's Revenge", for MVS only.
The punchy intro cutscene will put you directly in the mood: well done and very dynamic, it briefly presents all the characters. The scenario is broadly the same as Street Fighter's: fighters from all over the world meet every year to participate in the FIST, the "Fighting Instinct Severe Tournament", in order to compete against Bai-Hu, the organizer of the tournament and incidentally the bad guy of the game, an evil being possessed by a powerful demon who draws the vital energy of his opponents...
The options menu offers the bare minimum: adjustment of the level of difficulty, speed of the timer, configuration of the number of rounds for single player mode or multiplayer, configuration of the buttons... That's it really!
First observation, the roster is in the low average of the genre for the time with only 8 playable characters (Bai-Hu can only be unlocked for the Neo CD version). The latter are also very cheesy and are shamelessly inspired by those of the Capcom hit. Look for yourself:
Sho, the basic shoto, aka Ryu (he even has his famous hadouken) and the ideal character to start.
Pierre (excuse me, I meant "Pielle"!), a ridiculous French fencer who will end up naturalizing Italian in "Breaker's Revenge". Quite destabilizing to face, he punctuates all his special moves with French terms completely off the mark: "Bonjour", "Merushii Un Deux Trois", etc.
Condor, a very powerful Native American with strong stamina. He's an improbable mix of T. Hawk and Zangief AND definitely the god tier of this game. He can use as many as 6 or 7 different throws... His Tomahawk Jack will get you out of many complicated situations!
Rila, a wild woman with disheveled hair living in the Amazon rainforest... You will of course have recognized Blanka! She shares similar special moves...
Tia, a clone of Chun-Li who looks a bit like Mai as well. She enters the tournament to find her brother, who had suddenly disappeared after participating in the previous edition. As a reminder, Chun-Li was investigating the criminal organization Shadaloo and took part in the tournament to face Bison, responsible for the murder of his father… Visco therefore even took the liberty of copying the background of certain characters!
Alsion III, the mummy of an Egyptian pharaoh, whose limbs are extendable, such as Dhalsim..
Maherl, a sheikh who exhibits similar moves as those of E. Honda, but who's actually a shoto.
Lee Dao-long, some hybrid character, a mix between Kim Kaphwan (for kicks) and Guile (for special moves), including an anti-air move very close to the Somersault Kick.
One can really wonder how Visco managed to slip through the cracks and avoid a lawsuit from Capcom, which had not been so lenient with Data East and its Fighter's History game...
The chara design is therefore outdated, typical of the early 1990s. It is not without interest, however, the developers having pushed the caricature thoroughly! The sprites are ultra-smooth on screen, with perfectly fluid animations. Too bad the stages are so bare, despite a few rare animated elements in the background... Fortunately, the abundance of visual effects of all kinds (especially during furies and knockouts) makes up for the relative poverty of the graphics...
The gameplay is similar to that of most fighting games on the SNK console, the 4 buttons being used: light punch, light kick, strong punch, strong kick. By pressing Start, it is possible to do a taunt, which is absolutely useless... Except to piss off your opponent! Dash and backdash are also included. The weakness of the roster is compensated by no less than 5-6 special moves per character (including many anti-air moves) and several furies (2 to 4 per average), the “Super Moves”. Indeed, you have a Power Gauge (visible at the bottom of the screen) which fills up as you strike your opponent. This gauge has 3 levels, allowing you to trigger up to 3 Super Moves. If it is completely filled, the inscription "Maximum" appears and your character then becomes even more powerful.
Breaker's is extremely tolerant in terms of inputs, you will chain combos with disconcerting ease, a thousand miles from a KoF or a MOTW! Light kicks and punches are not to be denigrated because they serve as links to lengthen your combos… 10 to 20-hit combos are yours, on the ground or in the air! The Breakering System brings spice to the game and makes the gameplay a bit more complex since it is possible to cancel a special move with another one... Or even counter the enemy's fury with your own (the timing is quite tight)! Note also the possibility of breaking the low guard with certain blows. It's also worth mentioning particularly long and punishing stuns, ideal for placing a devastating combo while your opponent is still stunned! In no time, you will perform real choreographies and can think of yourself as a king of VS Fighting, such as Umehara Daigo!
On the soundtrack side, my opinion is quite mixed. The music turns out to be catchy with some epic themes but overall they are too short and above all really not very striking, tasteless in short... The observation is better with regard to the sound effects, hard-hitting and impactful. You'll really feel like you're hurting your opponents big time! The vocal digits are generally of good quality, but some voices have a rather strange muffled aspect, that of Pielle typically... Which accentuates the ridiculousness of the character in the end!
To conclude, Breaker's is a very good fighting game that provides immediate fun, thanks to its accessibility and almost instantaneous handling. It's the ideal candidate for your evenings of fighting games with friends, for hours and hours of fun and laughter! Deeper than it feels during your first playing sessions, it offers a pretty crazy progression curve and you'll find yourself frequently discovering new combos, juggles or counters. In all objectivity, you can blame it for his thin roster, an unbalanced match-up, an obvious lack of originality and just above average graphics... But Breaker's remains a safe bet and you'll enjoy his multiplayer mode for years and years to come... The Street Fighter of the Neo Geo system in short!
Very happy to have gotten my hands on an AES version (near mint condition) that I had been searching for a long time. Its current price oscillates between €3,000 and €5,000 I paid for my copy at the top of the range, thanks to a foreign collector who will recognize himself... The price of the Neo CD version has increased dramatically in the last few years (much less than on AES that being said!) but that one offers interesting additions (survival, versus, extra modes, CD music, possibility to unlock Bai-Hu). Forget the Dreamcast version, which is simply a disgrace! It runs thanks to an emulator but is absolutely not optimized, making the game slow and jerky!
Eventually, Breaker's MVS version put aside, the best value for money is perhaps to be found in Breaker's Revenge, even if I'm less of a fan of the new graphic orientation (less flashy and kitsch tones making the atmosphere darker but above all much more conventional). In addition to the new character, Saizo (a completely cracked ninja who unbalances the general match-up even more) and the stage associated with him, this 1.5 version features some interesting additions, such as the possibility of playing the boss, of adjusting the handicap in versus , etc. A conversion copy is worth around €150-250 maximum but for the most motivated collectors, the new PixelHeart Limited edition is still available on their website for €400. Of the 300 numbered copies, there are still 182 in stock, proof that this “official” release in the AES format has not yet met with the expected success…
My score: 16.5 out of 20