Ah~ Compile, the forgotten king of shmup developers. Aleste, Zanac, Spriggan… There’s no question about their grasp of the genre, even if their titles remain relative outsiders when compared with the likes of R-Type and Gradius – due in no insignificant part to Compile’s loveable insistence on developing games they wanted to play on formats they liked, which lead to bizarre scenarios like them releasing a PC-98 book/game-stuffed CD combo in 1996 – the very same year they thought it’d be a good idea to pit a Mega CD game against some of the greatest Playstation, Saturn, and N64 games of all time.
Needless to say both Mega CD Shadowrun and the lovely Disc Station 10 set Rude Breaker was released on were largely overlooked at the time and remain relatively niche today, but while Compile’s business sense may have been somewhere around pre-Dreamcast-death Sega levels as a developer they knew exactly what they were doing, and although it may only be one game in a bundle of others on a budget-price CD, Rude Breaker still shines as not only an excellent shmup for the PC-98 but also as a great one irrespective of the format or era you’re looking at.
On the surface it’s a fairly straightforward space shooter – shoot things, collect power ups, try not to die in an embarrassing way – the usual stuff. But even though Rude Breaker’s five stages of undulating enemy waves and laser-spitting bosses may be typical of the genre the way your own ship handles makes for some interesting twists without going off the deep end like the deliberately obtuse doujin title Hellsinker.
The first thing you’ll notice is that bombs are conspicuous by their absence – you start with none, you never pick any up, and there’s nothing even vaguely like a screen-clearing, bullet-cancelling, save-your-backside item in the entire game. Luckily this doesn’t mean you’re left to weave and dodge through everything hurled your way (although this is certainly possible thanks to enemy fire passing clean through everything but the very centre of your ship), as everything in the game that’s not laser fire or the standard tiny enemy bullets can be blasted out of existence with your own shots, clearing a path for yourself where there’d otherwise only be a neat explosion animation and a bit of swearing on your end.
Your ship’s firepower (you’re piloting the ‘Wing Lancer’, if you were wondering) works in some other pretty nifty ways too – you have a vanilla shot fired directly from the front of your ship as well as an additional ‘Option’ to pick up and these increase in power independently of each other, either by gathering clusters ‘P’ capsules to power up your standard shot from the little ‘Chip Carrier’ helpers that fly in at certain points (you have to shoot the Chip Carrier to make them drop, think of kicking Golden Axe’s little elves), or by picking up ‘Option chips’ that are left behind either after a Chip Carrier’s destroyed or from the remains of specific larger enemies.
These Options come in the form of a visible physical attachment to your ship, and all three possible types (Vulcan, Laser, Missile) can switch between their own style of ‘focussed fire’ and ‘spread/defensive shot’ at the press of a button. Apart from the obvious boost to your destructive capabilities this extra hardware also works as a handy one-off shield, as if you happen to get hit when you have one equipped it’ll blow up instead of you - this can happen as often as you like during a stage so long as you’ve got an Option attached. This allows everyone a little ‘whoops’ moment that offers a real punishment (as you instantly lose the extra weaponry) but as it leaves your standard shot untouched you’re still alive and have a fighting chance so long as you’re a bit more careful than you were.
Once you feel you’ve got the hang of surviving you can start looking at improving your score, and the most obvious boost comes from the bonuses you get from collecting small gold coins you’ll find occasionally floating around the screen as well as hidden emblems that are only revealed if you shoot specific parts of the scenery. Every one of these adds a small immediate bonus to your score and contributes to a multiplier when you complete a stage, so it’s in your best interests to learn where they are and grab as many as you can!
Even with all these great ideas popping up in-game you’ll find that Rude Breaker’s most significant feature is actually the one that’s most often overlooked – the options menu. In here you can customise the game to your liking, selecting from one of five difficulty settings (these chiefly effect the durability and shot speed of enemies), adding ‘suicide bullets’, changing your ship’s speed and deciding whether you set your Option type at the beginning of the game or if you’d like to pick and choose as you play. This means the game can be anything from a pleasant little way to pass a lunch break to a keyboard-shatteringly tough bullet hell based entirely on how you choose tweak things. I’ve provided a translation for the options menu here – http://shinjuforest.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/rude-breaker-options-translation.html
If you look at Rude Breaker on it’s own as a nineties shmup on aging hardware that was never really meant to do action games at the best of times you’ll find it a short-but-snappy title with some fresh twists and a lot of reasons to keep coming back. Taking the game in its true context – as something meant to be a bit of fun on a pick-n-mix official side-project – this is phenomenal work, even better than the already fun Runners High found on the same disc. Anyone who likes PC Engine style shmups will feel right at home here, and as it’s free for Project EGG subscribers everyone else should give it a good go anyway.
(By the way if you enjoyed this you might also want to take a look at another very good but very different PC-98 shmup - Solid Lancer)