Thursday 10 February 2011

Two Crude Dudes

Because who needs sense in video games?

I often long for a simpler time where you could throw out any old garbage into a video game and still be able to entertain. 1991's Two Crude Dudes (or "Crude Buster", if you're Japanese) is a prime example of something so stupid it can't help but be good, yet it also stands as something the industry would refrain from releasing today. Can't risk scores below seven out of ten!

Today I'm reviewing the Mega Drive port of an 1988 arcade game by Data East. A standard, no frills 1980s beat-'em-up (or "grab-'em-up" as this game likes to be called), this comes from the same studio as Bad Dudes on the NES, which is infamous for its silly plot involving presidents being kidnapped by Ninjas.

Two Crude Dudes is a B-list title. It was never meant to revolutionise the industry. It's original purpose was to suck cash out of arcade goers in return for cheap thrills - a job it's generally very good at, but there was no goal for it to be anything more than a deliverer of cheap thrills. Yet here I am, twenty years later, looking at Two Crude Dudes and thinking "why can't new games be more like this?".

Last year there were a series of nuclear explosions in New York. In the ashes, CRIMINAL GANGS, because as we all know, there is no better place for crime than in a deserted city. Twenty years later, the American government has finally decided to take action on one of their most beloved cities, now overrun by the "Big Valley" gang.

But don't expect aircraft carriers - rather than exercise their frightening military might, the US send two identical looking men out to infiltrate the enemy. They are the "Two Crude Dudes" - a homage to the 1980s walking about in the 2030s. And yes, they've sent "crude" dudes - men of poor build quality, because that's how wars are won.

Of course we could discuss the politics around this for days. The reasoning behind the formation of the Big Valley gang. Why it took the Americans so long to respond to problems on their own soil (are Republicans in charge!?). How these new New Yorkers have managed to survive without the assistance of neighbouring states and countries. You can't live on "crime" alone in the real world, but as far as Data East's world goes, you can thrive off it.

So tell me, why can't the design traits of Two Crude Dudes be seen in video games today? Duke Nukem Forever, the game that has been in production for fourteen years, finally hits the shelves in the next few months, yet the reaction to it is mixed. For some, the concept is "too stupid". For others, it doesn't show fourteen years worth of work, and many just simply don't care because the wait has been too long.

What I don't understand is why a game's theme, perfectly acceptable for 1997 has suddenly become unacceptable in 2011. Am I to assume that people think that the video game industry has "grown up"? Why are we shunning absurd ideas, despite owing the industry's success to the absurd ideas of the past? Two Crude Dudes is excellent despite not being built on "mature" ideas so why can't this formula be applied to games of today?

I mean for one, the World Trade Centre has withstood nuclear explosions in this game. And if we're so intent on mimicking the styles of top-class movies, where's the video game equivalent of Airplane! - perhaps one of the greatest comedy films of all time? There is none, because big publishers are too narrow minded to back anything that isn't a sequel.

What hurts Two Crude Dudes isn't its premise, it's its gameplay, the section that the video game media often ignore. This is because Two Crude Dudes does not employ a pseudo-3D playfield like Final Fight or Streets of Rage - everything works in two dimensions, meaning it is always possible to be attacked from both sides of the screen.

And this leads onto very repetitive and often unfair gameplay. You're always fighting the same guys and it's often impossible to defend yourself if they're littering the screen. Some enemies in this game, such as the dogs, only exist to steal credits. Other sections force you to take damage in order to progress. It's not what I would consider beat-'em-up perfection but I would still class it as above average.

Two Crude Dudes entertains for other reasons, namely the fact you can pick up anything - from enemies to street furniture, and lob them at your opponents. When you're lifting traffic lights out of the ground and throwing them at fat people, you know you're on to a winner. Sure the hardware of the time restricts this game greatly, but it still stands out as being amazing because few other games offered these frankly, brilliant features.

The music is also fantastic. It's up-beat and delivers the 1980s arcade experience that only games of this era could. Converting to the Mega Drive has taken its toll on the game however - the graphics are no longer as detailed and colourful, the voices are distorted and the experience is certainly lessened as a whole, but the game is still mostly in-tact and more than acceptable for console fans of the day.

Can I recommend this game? Yes... though I'd be lying if I said the Mega Drive version is a must-have purchase. The arcade version is superior (and can be found in Data East Arcade Classics for the Wii) but if you're looking for a cheap thrill, paying a couple of quid for the Mega Drive port isn't a bad idea.

1 comment:

  1. You're right, absurdity is too absent from today's games. I suppose it was inevitable, though.

    Even in the salad days of NES, outside observers (mostly grown-ups) often criticized the off-the-wall situations and events they saw taking place, which seemed to offend their sense of perceived good taste from a very mundane perspective. How many times have we heard disparaging "humor" about Mario eating mushrooms, throwing fireballs and leaping on turtles?

    The generation of minds who dreamed up that kind of unapologetic madness without shame or restrictions are growing old and moving on. In their place, a new generation of much more rationally minded (I would say dull) upstarts have imposed real world logic and reasoning into our artificial landscapes, grounding them in the rules that make sense as we're supposed to understand them (again, dull).

    A lot of it can be attributed to the modern dominance of Western developers, I'd say. Reckless imagination just isn't as prevalent in our culture as it is in Japan. When Japanese developers attempt to catch up to the market success of Western developed games, they too take a less absurd approach.

    Worse, in the few instances when we're tossed a throwback; hints of intentionally absurd homage to the games of past eras, they run the risk of lampooning the absurd, rather than genuinely celebrating it. For examples I think of things like the outlandish events from games like the Metal Gear Solid series. Sure it's popular, and apparently gels with a large audience, but to me it's just abrasive thematic conflict. And look at Bionic Commando Rearmed. Despite it being a great game, its connections to its inspiration are very tongue-in-cheek, more parody than sincerity.

    The irony is that the absurd is largely what made games so attractive to me (and I would presume many others) in the first place, but mainstream success has necessitated a departure from that.