Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Shooting Down": The History of the 1942/194X Arcade Shumps

1942 spawned a series of Capcom shooters, but the original 1984 classic remains my favorite. If you're interested in the history of the 194x series and the cluster of related games, you're on the right blog.

You pilot a p-38 Lightning, the primary American fighter (alongside the P-51 Mustang) in the Pacific Theater. All of these planes would be outdated in about 7 years thanks to jet engines. Your enemy? The entire Japanese Air Force. Like most shooters, expect to die a lot before winning the war.

The game was ported to almost every system available at the time (and Capcom has a web-based version that is free to play, but the website is unstable in my experience). The NES saw a fantastic port which most people growing up in the 80s and 90s will remember. Every video rental store had 1942 or 1943, and the machines were common place fillers in arcades. If one were recreating an arcade today, 1942 would demand a spot.

It's easy to see why: the graphics and simple and clear, the controls are smoother than the other popular vertical shooters (Galaga and Xevious especially) and the game allows 3 shots on the screen. It is a small, but subtle, difference which drastically increases the excitement of the game. 1942 is anything but clunky.

Your fighter can power up with stronger machine guns, or two smaller fighters can join you and fight alongside your wings. Pressing the 2nd button will perform a loop-de-loop, rendering your plane invincible for a few precious seconds. These "loops" can be saved in exchange for points at the end of each level.

The game has 32 levels; it's a sprawling epic across the Pacific, so don't expect to finish this game in 20 minutes. You can continue, but you, thankfully, forfeit your score.

Capcom released the game in their XBOX/PS2 collection, and you can download and play it on your Wii. As long as you are Japanese. North American and PAL gamers will have to check the blogosphere every Monday morning this year in hopes of downloading the classic before anyone else. 1942 will be available for the Virtual Arcade, but the price remains unknown. Considering the game was packaged with many other games recently, I'm hoping for a 500 point download.

Unfortunately, the music sounds like someone forced to blow on a whistle a gunpoint. Bring your own soundtrack to this one. The "music" certainly is different, however, the series would soon become know for extremely epic tunes, most notably, the 1989 follow-up, 1943: The Battle of Midway. The sequel introduces some questionable mechanics (making the player attempt boss levels twice if they fail), Capcom preserves most of what was fun in the original and introduces other, positive elements (such as a health bar). The NES ports were both very faithful to the arcade in spirit. An "updated" version entitled "1943 Kai" was also released in Japanese arcades, supposedly the game "improves" the weapons, yet most enthusiast seem to dislike the upgrade for whatever reasons.

Then it starts to get crazy. Capcom releases 1941: Counter Attack the next year for arcades, allowing players to choose between different planes. It would later be released on Capcom Collections VOl. 2, and several PSP collections. Interestingly, this game created the convention of adding 1 point to the player's score upon using a continue.

19XX: The War Against Destiny, released five years later in 1995, would cash-in on the 1990s obsession with World War 3, and have the pilot stop a nuclear holocaust. Really this means the same game except with lasers.

Strikers 1945 might seem like it belongs in the series, but it was created by a totally unrelated company, Psikyo. It spawned its own sequels, but they never made it to America. It launched the same year as 19XX, except it showed the (5 sexy female and one male) pilots topless during the ending if the player earned Gold Medals on every stage. This was removed from the American release, but I've included (yes I have) a picture. The game was ported to the Saturn, Playstation, and Playstation 2.

Recently, 1942: Joint Strike appeared on the Xbox 360, and I know a few people who've purchased it (consequently I've logged some hours). It's great fun, to be sure, and a must-have for any fan of the series (or shmups). Supposedly it's a "remake" of the original, but it's more in the tradition of later bullet-hell shooters than the original 1942.

Finally, 1944: The Loop Master rounds out the list as perhaps the least-known title in the series. It's unfortunate, because 1944 proves its worth as one of the 194X series' shining stars. 16 Stages feels right, and the environments are extremely interesting to observe. Perversely, the game uses a horizontal orientation, very rare for vertical shooters. I distinctly remember playing this cabinet in a CiCi's Pizza around 2000~2001, but it has never been released for home consoles. It features as many powerups as one could want, plus simultaneous co-op. Time to fire up MAME32.

The 194X series has proven to be one of the longest-running shooter series in history. Although no new games were released between 2000 and 2007, Capcom has never exploited the series as much as, say, Street Fighter. Every game holds its weight when compared to the others, and because the games now come out so infrequently, they have provided gamers with exciting, intermittent adventures for 26 years. The games are so popular that they spawned imitators. 1945 Strikers maintains the formula very well, and it deserves to be associated with the other 194X games.

These games existed alongside the Raiden series to form the core of vertical scrolling arcade shooters. No doubt the two series cross pollinated, and clearly it is better to examine the 194X games not only in terms of their own series, but the genre as a whole. Except for 1942, all games feature great music, controls, character design, and challenge. Capcom should consider a spin-off F-14 198X series, but keep the toned-down balance that make 1942 and 1943 so classic. It would be a hit.

Like I said earlier, I'm really looking forward to the virtual arcade release of 1942, and I hope it generates a little Internet discussion about these great and influential games. I'd love to hear from any readers who grew up playing these games, or who have recently discovered them because of the Internet. 8bitcity will now, of course, post any breaking news on this series forever into the future. Fans would definitely have enjoyed the NES ports of 1942 and 1943 back in 2005, but I understand if Capcom doesn't want to publish the inferior versions of the games when they can release the arcade version in ports and via the same downloadable services. Whatever the platform, I hope Capcom continues to make a 194X game every few years.


Anonymous said...

Nice post! 1942 was my favorite game growing up. The bowling alley down the street from my family's house got a machine in 1984 and I must have spent $100.00 over the next decade. Along with Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat I could have bought a car, if not more. Thanks for the memories!

Anonymous said...

I love all the 194X shmups. One of the best serie of all times fo' shizzle! Spent countless hours and coins on these titles but gave a lot of joy in one's life.
People would pay money to replay this genre with updated or old school graphics! Sure I would.
Love to play Hydorah from Locomalito and just sent him some mullah!

sir jorge said...

i never knew it came out on playstation, i tore up the NES version and the arcade game is classic