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Wrecking Crew (NES) artwork

Wrecking Crew (NES) review

"Did you know those bouncing enemies are wrenches and not snakes? I didn't."

Wrecking Crew isnít one of those old NES games that is fondly remembered by the masses. It doesnít come up a lot when gamers nostalgically reflect on the games they loved during their childhoods. Iím not sure why.

Itís certainly a unique game. Wrecking Crew leans more toward the puzzle side of early NES releases than the arcadey score attack side. The object of the game is to destroy every destructible object in each stage. These objects include different types of walls and ladders. Plaster walls can be destroyed with one good smack of your hammer, while brick walls require two or three strikes. As Mario (or Luigi, in the alternating two-player mode), you have to avoid enemies while determining the correct order in which to obliterate these objects. You see, itís very easy to smash yourself into a corner. If you destroy a ladder necessary to a reach objects on a high platform, or drop from a high place before finishing your work there, you might not be able to make it back up, which means youíll be out of luck until youíre eaten by a creepy eggplant monster.

There are a few objects and power-ups that can assist or hinder you, depending on how you use them. Bombs will explode and do one hammer bashís worth of damage to everything connected to it horizontally (this means if five concrete walls are placed one after the other, and a bomb is in the space next to them, it will destroy all five of them). Wise use of bombs is important. They can potentially destroy a great many objects very quickly, but they will also knock Mario to the bottom of the stage. You also have to be careful that they donít destroy a necessary ladder before youíre finished with it.

There are also barrels that will block your path. You can stand on them if you fall on them from above, but you canít walk past them if you approach them from the side. (Neither can enemies.) Certain pillars can (but donít have to) be destroyed, dropping anything resting atop them to the ground. Most of the time, doors scattered around stages are your only defense against enemies. Whack one to open it for a few seconds. Any enemy that passes in front of it will pass into the background and wonít be able to hurt you until they make their way back into the foreground somehow.

Thereís only one power up to speak of. You may recognize the Golden Hammer from Super Smash Bros. Brawl. This item appears, for all intents and purposes, randomly (thereís actually a formula for it that involves adding the number of the level to the number of times youíve swung your hammer and dividing by 8 and getting a remainder of 1 and destroying a certain bomb in the third stage, but itís not easy to abuse). The Golden Hammer will break anything with one swing. It also swings much faster than the standard hammer, and can be used to attack enemies and send them down to the bottom floor of the stage.

Wrecking Crew is a game that hasnít been copied much. Its specific brand of puzzle gameplay isnít found anywhere else. Even its own sequel, Wrecking Crew Ď98, is closer to a head-to-head match-three puzzler than a true successor. Stages reset when you die, indicating that reflexes are meant to take a back seat to planning. The game can get pretty tough, but those tough levels are satisfying to solve. Plus, of course, thereís an inherent feeling of joy that comes with using a hammer to rain destruction down on a level full of concrete walls.

Wrecking Crew doesnít really have any major flaws. The graphics may seem a little bland by todayís standards (there are no backgrounds at all, just a black void), and there are only three types of enemies. Mario Bros.-style fireballs show up semi-randomly, and they can potentially be impossible to avoid if youíre unlucky enough to be in the wrong spot at the wrong moment. Most routes through stages can be pretty easily planned by starting at the top and working your way down.

One of Wrecking Crewís strengths is its relatively large number of stages. There are 100 in total, which is impressive for a game released in 1985. From the title screen, you can begin playing on any stage you want. Much like Excitebike, Wrecking Crew includes a level editor. Also like Excitebike, that editor is somewhat useless in the original Western release of the game. In Japan, levels could be saved using the Famicom Data Recorder peripheral. As the Famicom Data Recorder was never released elsewhere, the ďSaveĒ and ďLoadĒ functions didnít work in most of the world. Thankfully, those features work in the Virtual Console versions of the game. Now you can create and save four levels, which are played one after the other like a miniature version of the main game.

Wrecking Crewís gameplay is unique, and it has a nice bit of content to take advantage of that fact. While itís never a great game, itís usually a solid one. Itís not necessarily an easy game to learn without an instruction manual, but once you figure out how everything works, Wrecking Crew becomes something of a hidden gem. Donít do what everyone else since 1985 has apparently done and ignore it. Give it a shot instead. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Rating: 8/10

Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (September 22, 2012)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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dagoss posted September 23, 2012:

I've never played Wrecking Crew. I actually thought it was one of those games that used Rob (which I don't own), so I just never bothered. Next time I see it cheap at a garage sale/flea market, I'll have to pick it up... based entirely on this review!

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