If you take a look at a Breakers game, it may seem a little familiar. Not because you are secretly twins who were separated from birth, and not even because you may have played it in a past life. No, there’s no getting around it: Breakers is a little derivative. The Capcom and SNK fighters of the 90s clearly influenced Breakers in a big way.
With that in mind, it may be a little surprising that something like the Breakers Collection, which lovingly ports this series to modern hardware, exists. Most companies reserve that kind of treatment for the truly unique or influential. Breakers may not be able to claim to be either of these things, but it does contain important value nonetheless. Sometimes you need to give a game a break and appreciate what it does well.
Although society values uniqueness, it can be hard to define what exactly uniqueness is supposed to be. When you praise something for being unique, you are putting forth the idea that nothing else is like it. Unless you know everything in existence, that’s a hard statement to justify. Yet if you have to qualify your statement with a “…that I know of,” the statement loses its impact. The only one who knows what you know is you.
Are we then trapped between a rock of hyperbole and a hard place of avoiding saying anything of substance? In truth, everything comes from something. What we create is a collection of the things we experience. Yet also in truth, that is where the uniqueness lies. No one lives life in the exact same way or experiences the exact same things. Two people can go through the same events and turn out completely different. If nothing else, how you live makes you unique.
Your experience informs what you put out in the world, and more importantly, how you execute it. The Breakers games were tossed into the raging waters of the 1990s fighting game market. If they had to rely on their premise alone they may have drowned. What kept them afloat is their execution. Despite any qualms you may have with its originality, Breakers games happen to be very well-made 2D fighting games. Their steadfast quality keeps firmly planted, like a sturdy iceberg in the middle of an ocean: an iceberg named “Breakers.” It probably sank the Titanic, hence the name. Breakers released on NeoGeo consoles around the same time as the Titanic movie – just saying.
I should clarify that although the Breakers Collection collects two Breakers games, there isn’t much need to distinguish between them. Breakers and its sequel, Breakers Revenge, follow the fighting game trend of the follow-up being more akin to an update than a full-fledged sequel. The main differences lie in some minor balance and presentation changes as well as the addition of one playable character in Breakers Revenge (plus the final boss is made playable as a secret). Aside from that, the games generally look, feel, and play the same. Even the endings in arcade mode are the same! Basically, I see “Breakers” as a single game with two slight variations, and Revenge as being the definitive take. After all, it has the ninja guy in it.
Beyond the ninja, Breakers offers a lot of amusing characters. Blanka’s sister makes an appearance, Dhalsim moonlights as Egyptian royalty, and the secret child of Ryu and Chun-Li finally comes out of hiding. On one level, these characters amuse me because the starting points of their designs are so blatant. This principle, however, actually rounds them out to being genuinely interesting on their own merits. Breakers twists these familiar design conventions in ways that, dare I say it, make it unique.
These characters begin with archetypes you may recognize and then execute them just differently enough to feel fresh. The Vega (or Balrog…or Claw, depending on your preference) stand-in trades his claw for a Zorro aesthetic and sword. While he retains the basic idea of being a long-range poker, his airborne acrobatics focus more on close-range assaults than long-distance confusion. This change transforms him into a more grounded and straightforward character than his counterpart. Every character makes similar changes (or at least mashes multiple archetypes together) to create new variations that are fun to play.
Breakers separates itself from its obvious Street Fighter inspirations most prominently by playing a lot more closely to an SNK game like Fatal Fury. These games were all built for NeoGeo hardware, so that makes sense. In fact, the Breakers Collection actually contains an interview with the producer of the Breakers games, who confirms that SNK helped a lot with development. If you didn’t care for all that pontificating about uniqueness, now you can say you actually learned something.
Through its mixture of Capcom design sensibilities and SNK gameplay, Breakers melds the strengths of both. It offers a lot of the fundamentals that make fighting games fun and Street Fighter II emphasizes: spacing and prediction. By putting a spotlight on that core simplicity, Breakers balances the appeal of fighting games with its hidden depth well. I found Breakers to be exceptionally easy to pick up and play competently. Moves serve clear purposes, combos are generally easy to perform, and there’s few mechanics to complicate things. The more Fatal Fury-esque touches like dashes and rolls energize the game without convoluting it.
The energy Breakers exudes may be the most fun thing about it. Your super meter plays a big role in a typical match because it fills quickly and has multiple levels of use. Flashy super moves fly out on a regular basis, spicing up a relatively simple gameplay into something consistently exciting. The excitement further gets emphasized by the detailed sprites and animations, which while sometimes borrowing a little too heavily from their inspirations to give full credit, are consistently great.
When you borrow from your inspirations, you run the risk of those inspirations consuming your whole identity. Breakers provides a rare example of blending your inspirations into something compelling and well-made. These are fun games, pure and simple. I think it’s wonderful that the Breakers Collection exists to keep them alive.
As a collection, the Breakers Collection builds in some essentials like a training mode and the expected online mode, which are appreciated, but also adds in a neat bonus “Team Battle” mode that lets you fight through the arcade ladder with a team of two or three fighters. Between that and making the boss character easily playable, the Breakers Collection gets just about everything to do with porting the games themselves right.
I gotta nitpick, though. I always do. Here we go:
What’s the deal with the UI button prompts at the bottom of the screen that never go away? I hate when collections do this kind of thing. If you keep the screen size to its smallest resolution, this isn’t that big of a deal, but any screen option bigger than that and they permanently cover up part of the image. As far as I can tell, you can’t turn this off and it’s ruining my life. Well, that and this collection locking some of the unlockable gallery images behind playing the ranked online mode – what a pain! Not to be mean, but you should really be picking unlock conditions that won’t be totally impractical a month out from release when only the hyper-niche hardcore players remain. Anyone still playing probably won’t even be playing ranked anyway!
There, I think I got all of that out of my system. I may have some minor issues with this collection, but you know what? I’ll give it a break. My nitpicks are exactly that. The Breakers Collection accomplishes its core task of bringing these fighting games to modern hardware very well, and that’s a task well worth celebrating.
Jack's background is in law, but he's been writing about games since long before that. He aims to capture a game's essence in (hopefully) new and interesting ways with his writing. Occasionally he will even make his articles fun to read. Results vary on that. Talk to him about Mega Man! Preferably not in the third person!
Breakers may not be the most original fighting game franchise around, but it is an extremely solid one that offers some fun spins on its inspirations. If you’re willing to give it a break, the Breakers Collection is well worth playing.