Crack Down (Genesis) Review – Topdown Cover-Based Shooting Fun

Back to older reviews now.  This review is from ’09, and surely is shorter than one I’d write now, but it’s not too bad.  Maybe I should rewrite the review to remove the somewhat odd split-impressions layout, but it works well enough as it is, I guess.  The game is good, too, and is certainly well worth playing.  It holds up well, graphics aside.

  • Title: Crack Down
  • Platform: Sega Genesis
  • Developed by Sega.  Published by Sega in Japan and Europe, and Sage’s Creation in the US.
  • Released: 12/1990 (JP); 1991 (US/EU)
  • Review originally written 11/2/2009; updated and enhanced for posting here 9/15/2014
  • Arcade port
US box
JP box The American boxart is amusingly ugly.  The Japanese boxart looks great, though!

Crack Down is a somewhat stealth-styled topdown shooter for the Genesis.  It’s a fun game, and I like the game a lot, but it is kind of short; I beat the game in a week after buying it in ’09.  However, it is quite fun along the way, and has replay value.  This review is in two parts — first, my impressions right after first playing the game, and second, my thoughts after finishing it. I have edited the first part though, adding some details, so it’s not EXACTLY that… but I left it in split even so.  Anyway, here it is. Short version: Good game, I quite liked it.

Crack Down for the Genesis, no relation to the more recent Xbox 360 game, is a port of the Sega arcade game of the same title, and was released for the Sega Genesis early in the system’s life.  It was published on the Genesis (Megadrive) by Sega in Japan and Europe, even though the US Genesis version was published by Sage’s Creation, for some reason. Sega didn’t want to publish their own game or something… oh well, at least we got it from someone.  Sega did that sometimes back then — OutRunners and Columns III are two more Sega games for the Genesis that were published in the US by other publishers, for example.


Entering a stage. Too bad the graphics aren’t this nice ingame!

Game Basics and my first thoughts after buying and playing the game:

 So, I saw this sitting in a local store in October 2009.  $1 for a cart only copy of what I’ve heard is a decent Genesis game?  How could anyone say no?  I couldn’t. 🙂  I’d heard of the game before and seen some videos, and it didn’t look very impressive so I was a bit hesitant about buying it, but after actually playing the game, it was absolutely the right decision!  Crack Down is a top-down action game with a focus on cover, as opposed to straight run-and-gun action.   The game runs in forced split-screen, so in single player some status info is on the other side, and in two player each player has a window.  Each player plays as a different agent, trying to save the day by blowing up the enemy base.  Player one is Ben, and player two is Andy.  They are special agent spies, supposedly, but look to me more like muscular ’80s action movie heroes. 

Your goal is to blow up each enemy-infested stage by setting bombs at points marked by Xes and then getting to a stage exit before time runs out and you get blown up.  There is a map on the top of the screen of the whole stage, with all Xes marked, so you always know where you should be going.  This is awesome, this game would be much harder and more frustrating without a map!  Having it is just fantastic.  I am a big fan of having good maps in videogames, it’s something somewhat important to me, and this game has one.  The timers are reasonable so you generally have enough time if you keep moving, but it does add a bit of decent tension.  If time runs out you start the stage over. Beat the level and you get a little cutscene of the explosion. 🙂

The game is actually quite good, but just as I thought, the graphics aren’t as great.  Because of the forced splitscreen design, the game essentially runs in a window that’s about a third of the screen maybe; it’s not only permanently split-screen, but status bars take up part of the half you do have.  In 1p mode the other player’s side of the screen has a list of all the enemies you will face in that level, with their names and pictures.  This is nice info to know, but it’s not essential.  There is also a big status bar section on the top of the screen above both windows, so the actual play window is quite small.  The straight top-down view and dated early-gen graphics don’t help either.  There are cutscenes between levels which look better, though; those do look nice.  Overall, though small and top-down, the games’ art isn’t bad.  It’s not good, but not bad either.  The game looks decent, if simple.  The music, though, is actually pretty good, in my opinion at least.  It’s got some good Genesis music, really!  It might be better than the graphics. 

However, the best thing about Crack Down is its gameplay.  This is a good stealth-ish action game with some thought required.  Enemies fire immediately when they see you, but then won’t fire again for a while afterwards.  So, you can’t just run around and blast everyone, but instead have to get them to shoot, get out of the way, then shoot them.  Or you can get them to shoot eachother, as enemies hit by their allies’ bullets do get hurt.  You can take cover along walls as well, which is very useful for dodging bullets going down the middle of a path.  The other main way to use cover is to stand in a door or at a corner, get them to shoot at you, back up, wait for the bullet(s) to pass, then walk out and shoot them.  So, the game is just complex enough to be interesting, while being simple enough to learn quickly, exactly as arcade games are supposed to be.  It’s a pretty fun game. 

The one frustrating element in the game are the movement puzzles where you have to get across pits, dodge lasers, etc.  You have to move between moving platforms over pits, have to get past moving deathbeam things on the floor, through a pattern of lasers, and a few more.  These sections can be extremely frustrating and hard, causing lots and lots of annoying deaths.  The collision detection seems a bit iffy, though.  Sometimes I seemed to die though I was sure I’m safe, or fall while just trying to walk by the corner of a pit.  You need precise timing and pixel-perfect positioning to get through, and everything is pretty small in that little window you play in.  The rest of the gameplay is pretty fun, though.  However, the game was was obviously designed as a two player game first and foremost.  It’s too bad that I have had few opportunities to play it in multiplayer, I’m sure I’d like it even more that way.  So yeah, if you see it for a few bucks, pick it up. Good game.


Such a small play window…

Concluding thoughts, from after finishing the game a few days after originally writing the paragraphs above:

Overall, Crack Down wasn’t too long and was quite fun.  However, its short length is a drawback; it did not take long to beat.  I finished the game a week after buying it, which is a fairly short amount of time.  There are 16 stages in the game, broken up into four areas each made up of four stages.  There aren’t really any bosses in the game except sort of at the end, so along with the regular enemies, the main challenges are the ‘cross pits with moving platforms’ puzzles and ‘try to get past the laser patterns’ puzzles.  There are only a couple of each of these in the game, but they’re very hard, particularly the latter.  They make them even harder because when you die in one of these you respawn back before the puzzle, while the rest of the time you respawn where you died.  Thanks, developers, that wasn’t very nice.  And indeed, that’s why I only beat it on Easy.  I’d played it on Normal every previous time before this one, and had gotten to stage 4-3, the second to last stage, but the end of that level has the game’s nastiest dodge-the-lasers puzzle, and on Normal I had very little time left at the end of the stage, so I didn’t have several minutes to carefully memorize the pattern or something and really don’t want to have to play the game over fifty times or something until I got lucky.  So I tried on Easy… and still couldn’t get past the pattern without dying.  Easy just gives you more lives and maybe a longer invincibility time after death.  I say the latter part because after dying I tried to run through the lasers, something I’d tried a bunch at Normal but always died before getting all the way through (because the invincibility would end before I got through), but this time I made it.  Hmm.  Well, however it happened, I was quite appreciative, that part was just mean.  The last level wasn’t too bad, took a few lives but I had plenty left.  Cue ending. BOOM! 😀

Overall, Crack Down is a pretty good game. It is on the short side, but it makes up for it by being fun, and there are difficulty levels (Easy-Medium-Hard) and a credit selection (0 to 6 continues allowed).  I could also try to get past that laser puzzle legitimately on Normal somehow… oh, and playing it in multiplayer’s a must, it’s great in co-op!  The game is interesting, kind of like a top-down early 16-bit version of a cover-based stealth-ish shooter.  You hide along walls to dodge bullets, jump out to get the guy to fire at you, go back, then go out again after he’s shot and shoot him because they have quite a delay between shots, get the enemies to shoot eachother, and more.  It’s simple, but it is fun stuff. 🙂

The game does have somewhat limited replay value, it seems, because enemies are always in exactly the same places every time, regardless of difficulty level.  There is no variation in their number or locations, so you can just memorize where they’re going to be.  Still, co-op, and the harder difficulties, do add at least some replay, at least if you have a friend to play the game with.  On the other hand, while 16 levels may sound like a good number, each one only takes a few minutes so they don’t last long.  Despite this it’s a very fun game, and I quite liked it. I’m just complaining because it was fun and it’s over now. 🙂  Overall I give the game a B-.  It’s fun, but short and kind of ugly.  It’s too bad there was never a sequel. What else out there is like this?  And 2d, I mean, not third-person shooters!  I like this more than most of those kinds of games.

Crack Down is available on the Wii Virtual Console in Japan and Europe, released several years ago there, but evidently is not available on the US Virtual Console, for some strange reason.  Odd.  Maybe Sega will re-release the game in the US on a download service sometime, but so far at least, they haven’t done so.  They should, even if it’d be a slightly less great deal than the $1 I paid for my copy of the cart was. 🙂

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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