Format reviewed: Arcade
By the mid-Nineties, regular athletics games were no longer enough for gamers – or at least, that was Namco’s perspective. Eschewing the charms of real-world athletes like Daley Thompson, Numan Athletics was a cult hit featuring superhuman athletes achieving extraordinary feats. Namco was pleased enough with its performance that it quickly put a sequel into production, and Mach Breakers arrived the next year.
Mach Breakers offers players a choice of seven extraordinary individuals with blindingly ordinary names, like the American all-rounder Johnny and the Japanese speedster Makoto. They’re pitted against each other in a variety of events, and while the opening sprint is just extraordinarily fast, things quickly turn bizarre. There’s no 110 metre hurdles event here – instead your chosen superhuman needs to kick their way through thick walls of ice. Even stranger events await too, from monster-hauling to missile-chucking, and even miniature shoot-’em-up sections that resemble a light version of Atari’s classic Tempest.
It’s a rather excellent multiplayer game, with up to four players able to join in and simple controls to allow even first-timers a fair chance of success. This is aided by the game’s structural improvements over the original Numan Athletics – events are now easier to pass and players are offered a choice of events after the initial sprint is complete, and there are simply more events overall. The game is visually very appealing too, with the kind of gigantic sprites and scaling effects that had become commonplace in 2D games by the mid-Nineties. In fact, much of the game’s appeal lies in the sense of humour conveyed by the visuals, as it conjures up some ridiculous sights. Our favourite is the Godzilla stomp that follows a failed monster-hauling session.
It’s not hard to see why Mach Breakers didn’t make it home, as it’s one of those titles which clearly illustrates the differing expectations of the home and arcade markets – there’s simply not enough content here to justify a home release, especially given the multitude of conversions that would have been needed in the generational transition of the mid-Nineties. It’s a multiplayer classic that is at its best when swallowing coins, and we’re glad that Namco recognised that.