The following is an authorized re-publish of an article written by Luis H. Garcia and originally posted on April 1, 2014 to the defunct Shoryuken news site. A snapshot of the original article can be found on the Internet Archive.
Street Fighter IV. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Popular, modern titles with established communities. But what of the lesser-knowns, the hidden gems, the fighting games with great ideas that never found a foothold in the West, or at all? This article series aims to find those games, talk to the players who love them, and figure out what makes them worth playing competitively, even today.
The Neo Geo arcade system saw plenty of fighters that have either become celebrated or ignored. While some experimented with different play mechanics, Visco’s Breakers and Breakers Revenge games went for a more simple approach that made it easy to pick up and immediately have fun in the fight. I reached out to Matt “Lord BBH” Hall and Dustin “ZandKun” Cobb for information about this often-overlooked gem.
Expert Bio: Matt “Lord BBH” Hall is an arcade enthusiast residing in Beaverton, Oregon. He is known for his website, his work on the MAME Action Replay Page, and his love for the Neo Geo’s Shock Troopers. You can follow him on twitter at @LordBBH.
Luis H. Garcia: When did you first discover Breakers?
Matt Hall: Never actually saw the game in an arcade when it first came out, so my first experience with Breakers was, like most people, through emulation. Although basically I was there when it first got emulated – as Neo Geo emulation got better and better at the end of the 90s, not every game had been dumped and uploaded to the internet yet. There was one site called ROMLIST that was the only source dumping and releasing the roms, but then another group called NeoCharity started releasing them too.
Their release schedules were erratic, but I would always check them a couple times a day to see if any new dumps had been released. I believe it was NeoCharity that released the roms at some point in early 1999. Of course I downloaded it (on dial-up!), but knowing it was a Visco game, I was not expecting much as a lot of their releases for the Neo were of…dubious quality, to say the least. I was pleasantly surprised by it, even though I only had the CPU to play of course. Wouldn’t be until NFBA in 2008 that I actually got to play against humans in it.
LHG: Among many of the fighters that popped up on the Neo Geo, what makes Breakers stand out?
MH: I think that Breakers stands out because even though it’s seen mostly as a “knockoff” that doesn’t appear to bring much new to the table, those that actually take the time to try the game out discover that it’s a very fun game despite the relative simplicity and unoriginality. I remember someone saying it felt like the closest thing the Neo Geo had to a traditional Street Fighter game and I can agree with that.
LHG: Were there any significant changes to Revenge aside from the new character Saizo?
MH: Revenge also added a code for the boss character, Bai-Hu. Press Up on both joysticks simultaneously on the character select, his selection box appears partially offscreen. He’s a little too ridiculous though, and should be banned in tournament play. Other than that, Revenge didn’t add too much: a different art style for the character portraits and victory screens, meaningless congratulatory messages for combos, different background colors. Nothing major other than the addition of those two characters. It’s one of the least noteworthy full “upgrades” to a fighting game, since the original eight characters were untouched in terms of gameplay.
LHG: The game has a system called the Breaker system; how much of an effect does this have on the flow of the game?
MH: It doesn’t change footsies and zoning, but I think people have to play a lot more carefully when doing combos or blockstrings because of the risk of getting breakered. Someone might be used to doing a certain combo that for all intents and purposes looks like a regular combo, but actually has a breaker-able part near the end of it, which is quite a rude awakening when someone does it to you.
Of course, it’s like in Street Fighter IV when you have a BLACKHAWKxDOWN-style flowchart Ken mashing DPs all the time… once you see someone do it once, it’s kind of on you to start making an attempt to bait out their mashing. So if someone’s mashing way too hard and breakering every time, you have to start letting them dig their own hole and then punish.
LHG: How would the game play without it or do most players even know it’s there?
MH: Most people that have played the game don’t even know it’s there, it’s only those that have played the game extensively or have read up on it that fully know how the breakering system works. I myself didn’t know for a long time, then when playing on 2DF (or Supercade, or whatever it was called then) I noticed a couple players who always seemed to get away with mashing Sho qcb+Ks at the right time but I couldn’t figure out why their timing seemed so good. It wasn’t until I played someone who mashed 360s with Condor that I finally figured it out.
If the game did not have Breakering, the infinites you see in combo videos would still work. If I remember correctly, pretty much every ground-based infinite has enough time between hits that it’s possible to breaker out and make the combo invalid. This doesn’t apply to things like Bai-Hu’s near-infinite fireball juggles, obviously.
LHG: How does this system compare to other games that use a similar mechanic, such as Killer Instinct or Dead or Alive?
MH: It’s definitely not as important as combo breakers in KI or holds in DOA. In those games, there is a lot more leeway on what you can break/hold — in KI you have to guess the right strength and you can break almost anything, and in DOA you have to guess the right height and you can counter hold just about any followup on a stagger hit. In Breakers, there’s a lot of combos that cannot be Breakered, especially when they involve juggling, since you can’t do anything when you’re in the air. And there’s no button strength/attack height that you have to guess to counter specifically — just breaker in any gap and it works. So it’s a lot simpler and doesn’t have the same level of mindgames to it.
LHG: How does this system affect character balance?
MH: It makes the #1 character in the game, Sho, that much better because he has one of the easiest and most invincible breakers. Saizo kinda suffers because he doesn’t have enough invincibility on his — if he had a special move with full invincibility I think it would then be debatable whether he or Sho were better. Tia has a great DP, Condor can mash 360s. Charge characters like Dao-Long and Rila suffer because they can not do it as easily. The bottom tier characters (Alsion, Pielle, Maherl)…well, I know Maherl has a grab super and Pielle has a super with lots of invincibility, but you don’t always have meter. Still, it gives them an option sometimes for escaping certain situations.
LHG: How would you describe the learning curve? How easy or difficult is it to learn the game?
MH: I think it is a pretty easy game to learn. You do have to spend a little bit of time with each character though, and take note of button combination moves that aren’t immediately obvious (A+C, B+D, etc.). As I said, I think a lot of the appeal of Breakers is that it’s a very easy game to pick up, and with the limited character roster, you don’t have to worry about tons of matchups and getting experience fighting dozens of different characters. It does have weird quirks like that good ol’ breaker system, but it’s still a very easy game to just pick up and start playing.
LHG: How is the character balance? Is there a big gap between high, mid, and low tier characters? Specific matchups?
MH: The way I see the character balance:
Sho is #1. He has almost every tool a character could need: a fireball, a [breakerable-friendly] DP, high priority normals, a divekick, easy hit-confirm combos, an overhead that he can chain into AND BUFFER OUT OF…it’s ridiculous. At top level I don’t think he has a single bad matchup, they’re all even or advantageous.
Saizo is close behind at #2. He can antagonize the hell out of a lot of the cast with his keepaway and slaughters Condor really bad. But, I think characters like Sho and Tia can keep the pressure on him once they get in, as he has a hard time breakering out of pressure.
From there, I think there’s three more distinct tiny tiers of characters. I’d put Tia and Condor in the same tier; Tia is a solid character overall but there isn’t much she does that isn’t done better by Sho. Condor is a unique grappler in that he has a super that covers a large distance on the ground and juggles after his easy-input anti-air Tomahawk. But as I said before, he struggles bad against Saizo and of course Sho beats him too.
After that are the “not bad” charge characters Dao-Long and Rila. As a charge motion shoto, Dao-Long can actually do some decent pressure and is of course great defensively, but his lack of a quick overhead makes it hard for him to open people up if they get the life lead and play defensive against him. Rila is an interesting charge character that’s basically a cross between Balrog and Blanka, with a great flash kick and a super that traverses the screen really fast and is a great fireball punisher. But again, no command throw or overhead makes it hard for her to open people up too.
Then we’ve got the bottom tier: Alsion III, Pielle and Maherl. As a Dhalsim-type character, Alsion has some neat things like a “Yoga Sniper” that knocks down and hits low (!) and a cool hopping attack, but of course it’s hard for him to win when he’s trailing a life lead as a lot of his stuff is unsafe. Pielle…man I dunno, he has rekkas, some decent normals and a REALLY good anti-air super, but he’s another character with unsafe stuff that it can be hard to mount an offense with. Maherl…Umm, he has a command throw super? And BALLOONO? He’s always a character I’m never sure of what I should be doing when I use him…
LHG: Are there any notable players of the game? Match footage from events or netplay? Here or in Japan?
MH: It’s kinda weird but…. Breakers is one of those games that doesn’t have any distinct named players that are famous for the game. I used to play the game a lot on 2DF and played a decent variety of people, but at this point I can’t really think of who I would consider the best players. Nor can I think of any “must-watch” replays off the top of my head. I will give a shoutout to Zandkun though for putting a lot of effort into filling the SRK wiki (and making that Breakering video). He’s one of the biggest fans of the game for sure. For the most part, I think the best players online had a greater level of skill at the game than those videos you might see on YouTube of Japanese tournaments from places like Mikado or TRF. That’s not to say they’re all bad, of course.
LHG: What is your favorite aspect about Breakers Revenge? Is there a common thing that most players find enjoyable about the game?
MH: I already touched on this but I think the thing some players love about the game is that it’s a bit of a “hidden gem” that plays much better than the average “unknown” fighting game and it’s an easy game to pick-up-and-play, but has some added elements of depth like the breakering that aren’t immediately obvious. Of course, I’m a big Neo Geo fan so I automatically have a bias towards games released on the system too. It also saw a resurgence in recent years because it was easy to netplay on things like GGPO, 2DF/Supercade, NFBA, etc. So it was easy to try a new game like this if you were already using one of these online emulators for Street Fighter or whatever.
Expert Bio: Dustin “ZandKun” Cobb hails from Austin, Texas. Dustin came into the scene in 2004, where he spent most of his time with Guilty Gear XX. Specializing mostly in “poverty” games, Zand has played the likes of King of Fighters: Maximum Impact and Spectral vs. Generation, which would eventually lead him to Breakers. He would go on to help put together the SRK wiki for the game.
LHG: How did you find Breakers and what drew you to it?
Dustin Cobb: I was in this IRC channel, and a few of the people there said it was a fun game to screw around in. I played it a few times with them, but found myself wanting to play it constantly because it was just so broken and weird compared to other fighters. It can be extremely fast-paced and it really shines in an online setting. You can actually attack or move out of the end of your own hitstun or blockstun in that game, making for ridiculous matches and crazy turnarounds. Being able to just mash dragon punches or command grabs while you were getting hit or blocking was hilarious for online play.
I think the original thing that really drew me to the game was the character Maherl and his “balloono” attack, where he inflates and bounces across the screen. There were a lot of matches where that was pretty much the only move being used before we started playing it more “seriously,” if you can call it that.
LHG: Did you have any help from anyone in putting the SRK wiki together?
DC: Oh yeah! Shouts to Crazydazed who helped me put the wiki together and DandyDLC who helped me get footage for the videos. Also, Abo “Scrubnanny” Babychan helped me out by just playing countless hours of different matchups while we learned the ins and outs of the game’s strange system. The SRK wiki was put together over a few weeks by doing research with boring stuff like recording player interactions in the emulator and looking at what was happening frame-by-frame in different scenarios, but mostly just from playing matches.
LHG: Any particular fond moments you had playing Breakers with others? On- or offline?
DC: When I first started playing this game, it wasn’t on GGPO yet. So I only really played with a small circle of people using (online matchmaking service) Kaillera. Collectively, we could play all the characters with varying degrees of proficiency, but with small communities there just isn’t the same amount of innovation possible as there is with bigger communities.
I think the most memorable time I’ve had playing Breakers was getting my ass kicked on GGPO a few months ago. I can’t remember this guy’s name but he steamrolled me with stuff I’ve never seen before. He had his own crew that he had learned the game with and they had come up with totally different combos and strategies. Some of the stuff was straight from the SRK wiki, but a lot of it was totally new to me. I was mostly just glad that the game didn’t die and stop evolving, and that GGPO had helped breathe life into the game again.
LHG: What advice would you give anyone interested in trying out Breakers?
DC: Get on GGPO! There are a ton of great games on there and Breakers has some of the best pick-up-and-play potential out of any of the games on there. The SRK wiki has movelists and combos for all the characters and the main page has a system breakdown that explains what sets Breakers apart from other fighters. The combos aren’t particularly hard to do, and you don’t have to spend any time training to be able to play. I get the impression that people think that old games are all too hard and not worth it, but Breakers is so easy to play casually and it’s just a lot of fun at any level.
LHG: Thank you very much for your time.
DC: You’re welcome! Thanks for giving Breakers some much-deserved time in the spotlight!
Be sure to check out the Breakers Revenge entry on our wiki for more info.