The title of the game is a pretty fair assessment of what to expect here.
To Beat: Reach the ending
My Difficulty: 3/10
For as many classic NES titles as there are, there have to be others that fall on the other side of the coin. I’m sure there are many poor NES games that I will get to, but then there are others that are just kind of okay and don’t really stand out in any significant way. BreakThru seems to be exactly that kind of middling game that is buried deep within the NES library.
BreakThru was developed and published by Data East in 1986 as an arcade game. It was released on the Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, and Commodore 64 before making its way to the NES in November 1987. Data East was responsible for publishing over 20 NES games between 1986 and 1992 covering most of the NES lifespan. There really aren’t exact dates for NES game releases but from what I found BreakThru was released in the same month as Kid Niki: Radical Ninja and Side Pocket.
BreakThru is a side-scrolling shooting game where you take control of some kind of armored car. Your mission is to plow through enemy territory in order to recover a stolen aircraft. Your vehicle is equipped with a cannon that lets you shoot forward, and I guess it also has some sort of advanced hydraulic system that lets you jump. You can also speed up and slow down by moving backward or forward. Adjusting the speed more or less affects the scrolling speed of the game but you do need to speed up fast to make some jumps across obstacles. The jumping is also useful as a dodging mechanic since you can’t take any damage from enemy fire whenever the car is in the air.
There are five stages in total: Mountain, Bridges, Prairie, City, and Airfield. There are various enemy tanks, soldiers, and other hazards that stand in your way. There are no bosses in this game so levels end whenever you reach the end. The closest thing this game has to a boss is a giant helicopter that appears a few times through the course of the game. There are a few powerups that drop down on parachutes occasionally but there’s not much variety here. There are three powerups that all give you a three-way spread shot with the only difference being how long you have the weapon. There is also an extra life to grab. I found the powerups to look just about the same so I couldn’t really tell what the differences were without the manual, and they are also kind of tricky to grab in the first place. I think I had to jump to pick them up because they floated too far away if I stayed on the ground.
I picked up my copy of BreakThru a long time ago from a used game store. I bought it solely on the name. What I was really after was a breakout-style game and Arkanoid was too expensive for me. At that store the NES games were in a case with only the end labels showing so I didn’t actually get to see the game cart until after I paid. I think it was only $5 so it wasn’t that much, but unfortunately the cart had a huge crack in the back covered with tape. It’s the only copy I’ve ever had so it’s still in my collection. I took it home, played it once, and put it away for years. I wouldn’t pick it up again until it showed up in the NA weekly contest last year.
My run of BreakThru was really simple. In the prior contest, the object was to score as many points as you can before you start your last life. You only get three lives to start and they don’t show up in the levels that often, but you can also earn additional lives by reaching certain scores. I know you get one life for getting 20,000 points but that’s all I could reach. Under those conditions, I got roughly halfway through the second level. When I played this time obviously I could play however I wanted and it was much easier to get through. There are unlimited continues and each level has a pretty generous amount of checkpoints. You get to restart at those checkpoints after each death, even when continuing after Game Over. The game must be beaten in one sitting but you can just keep chipping away at it until you beat it. When I sat down to play I only intended to play for a little while just to get used to the early part of the game. I ended up finishing the game in a little over 30 minutes.
After the ending scene plays out, the game starts over from the beginning. I played the first level again just to see if it is more difficult the second time but it looked exactly the same to me. Because of that I didn’t bother completing the second loop. Now in the arcade version, I read that after beating all five levels you get to choose which level to start on the second time through. The game ends after the second loop. On the NES version, I couldn’t find any evidence of anything different after winning the second loop and there was no level select after the ending like in the arcade version. I didn’t want to spend any more time playing the game just on the chance of there being something more. If there actually is a true ending, then I guess I’ll have to go back to it sometime later!
The game may be on the short side with unlimited continues and checkpoints, but it does pose a moderate challenge. I could see there being several sections of the game that would take some practice to pass even though I got through it quickly without much trouble when I played. For instance, there are some large jumps from one bridge to another in the second level and they roll right into a first helicopter attack that catches you off guard the first time. It’s these kind of sections that put the difficulty near average. Now, if you are a purist that believes these games must be beaten on a single credit, then that bumps the difficulty quite a few notches higher. For my purposes, I think my difficulty assessment is appropriate based on what I’ve played, but of course that’s always true for these rankings!
BreakThru isn’t that bad of a game, especially as an early NES title. By today’s standards, the game doesn’t really stand out all that much and it shows its age. I haven’t played the arcade version but I’m betting it’s the superior experience of BreakThru. Either way, it’s a nice little game to check off of my list!