After Irem established the genre with 1984’s Kung-Fu Master, the side-scrolling beat-‘em-up was well and truly established by 1990. There was, after all, only so much you could do with a genre that only allowed you to walk left and right, punch, kick, and maybe jump up to different platforms if you were lucky. And with the likes of Double Dragon and Capcom’s Final Fight adding a modicum of strategy by letting players walk in and out of the screen, the traditional side-scrolling brawler was beginning to look decidedly staid by the end of the eighties.
With Two Crude Dudes (alternately known as Two Crude or Crude Buster in certain regions), however, Data East managed to spice the genre up a bit with a cunning new concept: giving players the ability to pick stuff up and throw it. Data East wasn’t a stranger to making big, brash brawlers by 1990: two years earlier, it came up with Bad Dudes Vs DragonNinja, in which you and a friend battered an army of villains who’d somehow kidnapped the US president – unabashedly modelled on Ronald Reagan. In some respects, Two Crude Dudes was more of the same: you and your equally beefy compatriot trudged from left to right, pummelling everyone and everything that strayed into view.
The ability to throw stuff, however, completely changed the game’s feel. Bits of scenery, ranging from steel girders sticking out of the scorched earth to street signs, could be used as blunt instruments – something gamers had already seen in the aforementioned Double Dragon and Final Fight, which both made a feature out of injuring strangers with assorted bats and knives left strewn on the ground. But then the realisation dawned that just about everything else in Two Crude Dudes could be picked up and lobbed, too.
See that row of five or six goons running straight at you? Grab the unlucky chap who’s at the front of the group, and you can throw him at the idiots following behind, knocking them all off the screen in one devastating move. Those cars left to rust in the apocalyptic landscape? Try picking one of those up and watch what happens when you throw it at anyone foolish enough to get in the way.
It was also possible to punch and kick in Two Crude Dudes, of course, but Data East evidently wanted the focus to remain on throwing things: while old-fashioned fists and feet had their uses, they were far less powerful and satisfying than, say, flinging a dog straight into a discus-throwing strongman’s face.
With all this power at the player’s disposal, you might be wondering about Two Crude Dudes’ balance. How can you make a game where two mountainous guys throw cars clear across the screen even remotely challenging? Data East evidently struggled with this area, since they essentially made the enemies increasingly cheap as the game goes on: there are curious little individuals that hop around too quickly for you to grab; those dogs have a tendency to clamp their little jaws on your exposed nipples if you don’t time your attacks correctly; and then there’s the demented ‘Psycho Santa’. This squat parody of Saint Nick carries a sack full of deadly bombs and hypodermic needles that leave you constantly left stunned and open to yet more attacks if you don’t dodge them in time. Like a lot of arcade games of the era, these moments are nakedly designed to empty your pockets of spare change.
Still, Two Crude Dudes is simply too brash, kooky, and downright fun to be entirely sunk by its clear lack of balance. In 1990s arcades – and later on the Sega Mega Drive (see box) – there simply wasn’t anything else that looked or played quite like it. Come to think of it, there hasn’t been a brawler like Two Crude Dudes since, either: developers large and small have long since raided gaming history for mechanical ideas, yet nobody appears to have thought of making another game where just about everything in sight can be picked up and flung about with gleeful abandon.
If there’s an indie studio out there thinking of making a modern take on Two Crude Dudes, with a bit more depth to the combat but still plenty of picking up and throwing random bits of scenery, we’d happily play it.