If there's something evil, and it needs a slap, who ya gonna call? Crude Buster!
That's right, today I'll be looking at Data East's 1991 arcade muscles-and-mutants-em-up Crude Buster, know in the West as Two Crude and possibly familiar to you through its Genesis / Megadrive port, which was called Two Crude Dudes. I think I'm going to stick to calling it Crude Buster for this article. Two Crude Dudes implies that I'd be playing the game in two-player mode, and I don't have the required amount of friends for that.
In the futuristic year of, erm, 2010, New York is destroyed in a nuclear cataclysm. The opening text kindly lets you know that "the city was thrown into chaos," just in case you didn't figure that out from the huge atomic fireball engulfing Manhattan.
As if that wasn't bad enough for the residents of the Big Apple, twenty years later the government's attempts to restore the city are thwarted when it's overrun by an evil organisation with the distinctly unthreatening name of "Big Valley". When naming your ruthless band of genetically-altered killers, try to avoid names that sound like the titles of interminably dull black-and-white western movies. Consider that my advice to any fledgling gangs that might be reading this.
Fighting for truth, justice and the fat stacks of cash promised to them by the American government are "Crude Buster," a pair of mercenaries with the bodies of two Schwarzeneggers and the dress sense of a thug from a Mad Max movie. Yes, these men are somehow the heroes of the game and their mission is to "enter the ruins secretly and defeat Big Valley," but luckily for us their idea of secrecy involves throwing cars at people. Onward, Crude Buster, to smack a thousand terrorists in the chops!
At it's core Crude Buster is the usual single-plane, walk-right-and-hit-things arcade title that you've seen a million times before, but it's also furnished with a few extra twists on the theme. The most noticeable of these is that as well as the standard punch and jump buttons there's a button dedicated to picking things up, like the dustbin I have hoisted above my head in the previous screenshot. The stages are littered with grabbable items, from girders to streetlights to billboards, all of which can either be thrown at your enemies or used as improvised cudgels.
You can pick up the Big Valley troops too, assuming you can get close enough to them without being beaten to a pulp. I am a big fan of this mechanic, as it provides further options for causing carnage as well as giving the player a sense of power - the intro may tell you you're a Crude Buster, but you don't really feel like one until you've lifted a hunchback off the ground and thrown him head-first into his comrades. Throwing things should always, always be your first method of attack, because it's both efficient and satisfying.
Something else Crude Buster has is graffiti, and lots of it. In the first few stages almost every flat surface has some kind of barely-legible scrawl on it, and I could probably have written a whole article just about this background vandalism - my favourite is the phrase in the background of the first mid-boss fight that read "choose betweel deth and disglot!" and no, I didn't have a stroke while I was typing that.
Speaking of the mid-boss, he's a man with a flamethrower and a sensible choice of fireproof clothing. His asbestos suit won't do much to protect him when that oil drum I've rolled at him collides with his shins, but once I've run out of things to chuck at him the fight gets a whole lot harder. As is so often the case in games such as this jumping kicks are a safe but extremely tedious way to chip away at the mid-boss' health, but if you're feeling adventurous you can roll along the floor by pressing down and jump, hopefully passing beneath his stream of fire so you can land a hefty kick on his ankles.
I'm only one stage in, but already Crude Buster has endeared itself to me immensely. "Chunky" seems to be the only word suitable to describe the action, and everything is pleasingly big and solid: the Crude Busters themselves, the cartoon sound-effect bubbles that pop-up when you hit an enemy, the crunching thuds of the soundtrack's drum samples, the simple but effective "platforming" element that only consists of moving vertically between the different heights of the background terrain but which still provides a surprisingly large amount of mobility and scope for luring enemies into good clobberin' positions.
It's the aesthetics and presentation that really charmed me, though. You're playing as someone who looks like a Fist of the North Star villain who realised there was more cash to be made working for the government than in terrorising innocent villagers. The post-catastrophe NYC looks great. The enemies have been relatively sober so far, but they hint at greater insanity to come. I threw a car at someone. So far, it's all thumbs up for Crude Buster. Hopefully the appearance of the first boss won't dampen my enthusiasm.
Boss Name: Jake "The Snake" Roberts During His Time in a KISS Cover Band.
Crudeness Rating: Swearing in church.
I'd say using a snake as a whip is pretty goddamn crude. They're living creatures, you sick bastard. As you can see, the first boss has a snake theme, which is combined with a Seventies glam-rock theme. That's the only explanation I have for his silver trousers and platform boots, at least. It's the snakes that are the true threat here, whether they're slithering at you along the ground or wrapping themselves around you so that you have to hammer the buttons to escape, but if you can quickly dispose of his pets whenever they appear this boss isn't too much of a challenge.
Our hero celebrates his victory with a few squats and a winning smile. Lady Liberty seems unimpressed, but then she always looks like that. The presence of the Statue of Liberty in a part of New York that seems to be fairly inland has lead me to believe that Big Valley are trying to conquer the ruins of the city so they can get rich off the salvageable parts of the wreckage. A very rough calculation tells me there's about £90,000 worth of copper in the Statue of Liberty alone! Also, if you're a government person monitoring my web traffic - I looked up copper prices for a joke in an article about an old videogame, I'm not planning on stealing cable from the train lines or anything.
Stage two continues in much the same vein as the first. Just in case I didn't emphasise enough just how much stuff there is lying around for you to pick up and use as weaponry, this screenshot ought to do the trick.
New enemies include these leotard-wearing strongmen, who have a range of alternately hilarious and terrifying facial expressions that put Jim Carrey to shame, and vicious dogs. The dogs are, for some never-explained reason, wearing metal bikinis. Well, the intro did say that Big Valley had access to "the most bizarre weapons" and there's definitely something odd about a dog dressed up like a female warrior from a Conan story. Their armour doesn't protect them from being hit with the pole from a street sign. I felt a bit guilty about that, until one of them jumped on our hero and tried to rip out his throat. That kind of behaviour will do a lot to eliminate sympathy.
I had enough sympathy left over to feel a twinge of sadness for the mid-boss, a grotesque woodlouse man who drew the short straw at Big Valley's genetic engineering facility. The poor sod looks absolutely crushed by what he has become, the battles he must face and the fact that his diet now consists solely of rotting wood and leaf mulch. He can curl into a ball, as you'd expect, but it didn't do much to protect him from Crude Buster's fists and he was soon defeated. It was a mercy killing, really. But what of the stage's true boss?
Boss Name: Jimmy Pickles, the Man with the Sickles
Crudeness Rating: belching at the diner table.
The boss is the... thing at the bottom-right of the screen, not the multicoloured bikers charging skull-first into a meeting with my lead pipe. He's got scythes for arms, which seems underwhelming when you consider earlier Big Valley troops had flamethrowers, but he can also shoot sonic booms at you so I guess he doesn't need a gun. He can be an pain in the arse to fight, with multi-hit attacks that slice through your health like a mutated hand-scythe through butter, but once I lured him over to the stairs and repeatedly crouch-kicked him from the middle step he lost some of his menace.
Crude Buster exceeds the promise of its title in the third stage, where an enemy has climbed the wall so that he can vomit on me from above. That's not crude, that's sociopathic, and if you'll just come down from that wall I'll counter your sociopathy with a little of my own by whipping you with an electric power cable.
As if the barfing weirdos weren't bad enough, I now have to deal with Quentin Tarantino throwing grenades at me. Not to worry, I'll just pick up one of those metal boxes and throw it at him. I'll enjoy it, too, as I've been enjoying the whole game up to this point. It's simple and familiar, but its unique features give it just the right amount of edge to make it stand out from something like, say, My Hero, but even if it wasn't as interesting to play I'd still be enjoying it thanks to the presentation - there's a sense of humour to it, the feeling that Data East weren't trying to be cool or "zany" and that they just built a world they thought would be fun. It's impossible not to warm to the Crude Busters themselves, too: their sprites are packed with character and speech samples abound, like their between-stage cries of "let's fight" and the weary resignation in their voice as they say "what a day!" when getting up after being knocked down. My favourite's when you die and continue they say "we're ba~ack!" in a sing-song voice which, if I was the kind of villain who vomits on people, would put the absolute fear of god into me.
Boss Name: The Galloping Goofball
Crudeness Rating: Using the wrong fork at a Buckingham Palace luncheon.
Stage three has a boss. He runs back and forth, trying to stab you with his face. There's not much I can say to jazz this one up, folks. Just kick him when he runs towards you, as you would a rabid fox or small child.
It's Christmastime in stage four. I can tell because Crude Buster sings "jingle bells, jingle bells" when the stage begins, and what kind of madman would sing carols outside of their appropriate festive season? In the spirit of giving, I have brought these thugs the gift of metal-bar-induced concussions. Ho, ho, ho.
It looks like my ho ho ho-ing has had the unfortunate side-effect of summoning Santa Claus himself. Enjoy your Christmases while you can, kids, because according to Crude Buster at some point in the near future jolly Saint Nick is going to be replaced by a cyanotic goblin whose idea of Yuletide cheer is grabbing fistfuls of grenades and knives out of his sack and throwing them at anyone who happens to be nearby. Normally beating the crap out of Father Christmas would be an unforgivable crime, but this version? This guy we can live without.
You also face a much less interesting miniboss just before Santa. He's got an extending arm and a utilikilt, and I'm only mentioning him because we'll be seeing him again later. Crude Buster is not shy about reusing enemies, even ones that are as annoying to fight as blokes with stretchy arm attacks that you can't avoid by rolling.
A mercenary employed by the US government holds a Billy Idol lookalike over his head during a snowstorm. Neither man is dressed appropriately for the inclement weather. The phrase "I WANT YOU" is spray-painted onto a nearby wall in an hideous shade of unhealthy piss yellow. The mercenary grins from ear to ear as he slams his victim onto the concrete. This is Crude Buster.
Boss Name: Billy Idol Werewolf
Crudeness Rating: wiping your nose on a fellow rail commuter's shoulder.
After taking some damage, the Billy Idol lookalike transforms into a werewolf thing, although on closer inspection I think there's more lion in there than wolf. There's no messing about with this one, the boss just tries to claw you to death and it does a damn fine job of it, too - this is the point where Crude Buster's difficulty level starts becoming an issue, with all the bosses and most regular enemies from here on out being about to take huge chunks of your health bar away with attacks you can't really defend against. I can't offer much useful advice for defeating this were-lion, but if you're playing Crude Buster in the 21st century you're probably doing so via a method that allows you infinite continues, so you'll get there in the end.
Stage five takes you underground, through a disused subway station and into Big Valley's headquarters via the basement. Many of the mid-bosses you fought before have returned to try again, only this time in greater numbers. Here you can see a regular convention of flamethrower troops, and if you give them a chance they'll bathe most of the screen in purifying fire, so try to throw them into each other so they can't surround you. What's the collective noun for pyromaniacs, anyway? A barbecue of pyromaniacs?
While Crude Buster has reached the point at which it's happy to recycle earlier mid-bosses as common grunts, it does still conjure up new ones, like this headless robot. The robot is headless because it has just thrown its head at our hero, further cementing Crude Buster's place in the top five games about throwing things at other things. It turns out that robot heads don't make for great projectiles when thrown one at a time, because our hero can simply punch them out of the air. It's not quite as satisfying as grabbing them out of the air and throwing them back would have been, but I'll take it.
Boss Name: My legal team informs me that I can't tell you the name of this half-spider, half-man creature lest Marvel Comics' lawyers get involved.
Crudeness Rating: drawing a cartoon penis on the wall of a toilet cubicle.
After a minute or so spent lurking at the top of the screen, occasionally trying to grab our hero - an attack that leads to instant death if not avoided - stage five's multi-armed arachnid boss lands on the ground and immediately launches into fearsome sumo combat. He makes for a strikingly effective sumo wrestler, too, thanks to his many arms which he waves around while running forward, the grey and chitinous result of a teleporter accident involving E. Honda and a particularly aggressive tarantula. His flailing hands will tear through your health bar in seconds, but surely that's far preferable an attack based around him firing sticky webs from his mutant spinnerettes, right? The rolling-low kick combo proved effective here, possibly because as a spider he's used to eating flies and thus has problems attacking downwards.
At last, the Crude Buster has reached Big Valley's high-tech base. The base is packed full of mid-bosses from previous stages, so I hope you like the "what a day!" voice clip as much as I do because you're going to be hearing it a lot - it seems like every other attack here knocks you to the ground, and it has the potential to get frustrating. It's a shame, and this final stage is Crude Buster's weakest point. As the difficulty increases but your options for destroying the bad guys don't, the game's desire to do nothing but rip cash from your pocket becomes extremely apparent, even by the standards of the early nineties arcade game. I'm still enjoying it, but I doubt I would be if I was playing Two Crude Dudes, the Megadrive port. You only get three continues in that version, a limitation that is tempered somewhat by your ability to regain health between stages, but still - three continues doesn't seem like nearly enough, especially if you're as crap at videogames as I am. No, if you're going to play Crude Buster / Two Crude, (and I recommend that you do,) it's in your best interest to play a version that allows for infinite continues. Also, bring a friend a play two-player. Not only does it lower the challenge to a more reasonable level, it also means that the Western title makes sense.
This stage won me over a little by having a section set on a moving lift. A lift with no barriers, in a game where I can pick up enemies and throw them. It's going to be a long trip down for this goon I'm carrying around. I'm sure he'll use the time to contemplate his poor life decisions up to this point.
Also, considering it was hit by a nuclear bomb New York is looking pretty healthy back there.
The Satanic symbol on the wall serves as a warning that I'm entering that most heinous of arcade experiences - the end-of-game boss rush. Oh, joy. All the bosses you fought before, (apart from the scythe monster, for some reason,) assembled for you to fight again, in a row, one after the other. You'll forgive me for my lack of excitement. I'm sure Crude Buster has something just around the corner that'll make up for dumping such a gauntlet of dullness in my path.
Boss Name: Doctor
Crudeness Rating: Zero. Crying in public is more unseemly than crude.
I knew I could count on you to pull something out of the bag, Crude Buster. In a scene that's going to go down as one of my very favourites in all of arcade gaming, Big Valley's leader is revealed to be a small, elderly scientist. After briefly weeping over the corpse of one of his fallen mutants - a mutant that you corpsified, naturally - the Doctor runs over to our hero and bangs his feeble fists against Crude Buster's leathery and impenetrable hide. Punch the Doctor in the head, or pick him up and throw him to the ground, and he just gets up and flings himself at you once more with no regard for his personal safety. You have made this old man very angry.
Boss Name: Doctor Satan
Crudeness Rating: Telling the Dalai Lama a dirty limerick while waggling your eyebrows suggestively.
The Doctor is so angry, in fact, that he mutates into a big green devil. Unlike the Devil himself, this broccoli-hued imposter spends his time running back and forth across the screen and doing flying kicks. There's very little strategy you can employ in this fight, because this is a final battle without fairness, without a challenge that can be beaten through skill and without even being fun, if I'm honest. I got most of my hits in during the periods of invincibility you get when you die. If you come up with a more effective battle plan be sure to let me know, but I was happy enough to chip away at Big Green's life bar during the rare moments that he wasn't doing an unavoidable, highly damaging, screen-filling attack.
Even if you do manage to destroy his mutant body the doctor escapes anyway, taunting you with some broken, Yoda-style text that promises he will return to once again cause havoc. They're empty words, because as far as I know Crude Buster never got a sequel and the Doctor is floating out there somewhere in the endless Void of the Forgotten IPs.
With New York's ruins purged of evil, the Crude Busters receive some literal sacks of cash as a reward. That's pretty good, as rewards go. Our heroes decide to go and get a drink, and I'm left with the vague feeling that maybe I'm going too easy on Crude Buster because while I really do like it, it's hardly amazing in terms of its gameplay. The throwing mechanic is good, sure, but overall it's sort of, well, crude, especially in the later stages where avoiding enemy attacks becomes almost impossible and repetition begins to gnaw at your sense of enjoyment... but the setting, the presentation, the personality of the characters, it all comes together to leave me with a big smile on my face and I have no hesitation in recommending that you at least give it a try.
Then this screen pops up and my position feels justified. Truly wonderful, and not just in an "amusingly poor translation" way but also because it seems so earnest: "they are the men of fighting" may not sound quite right, but you still know what it means, and that the Crude Busters will be travelling the world and beating things up for many years to come because it's all they know.
So, I'm saying that Crude Buster, (or Two Crude or Two Crude Dudes or whatever you want to call it,) is something you should play. I also don't expect it to be universally loved. It's not good enough for that, but it's good enough for me.