I’m gonna be completely honest; when the rest of the staff began raving about the return of 1942 I was skeptical. Having never played the original I could honestly not understand what all the hubbub was about. Then they proceeded to inform me that the game should be right up my alley due to the fact that I love vertical shooters. After engaging in some quality time with the game I have to concur; this is one of the best arcade shooters I have ever encountered. In fact it has quickly become my all-time favorite in the genre. Sorry Ikaruga, you will have to move aside, there is a new love in my life.
The first thing I noticed from this top-down shooter was the look. Before you actually start a mission (during the loading screen), you see a blueprint of the boss you have to face. The blueprint highlights where the weapons on the boss will be. When the level loads, you are treated to watching the plane you chose (you can choose from three: Lightning, Mosquito and Shinden – all with different attributes) fly in against a black and white background complete with film grain to give the appearance of an old-time movie. Then you get your first glimpse of the game itself and come to realize this is one of the best looking titles currently available on either downloadable service.
From the outset of the game you will come to realize a pattern: each level has a theme behind it. The first level is all about planes. All of these come flying at you in organized rows reminiscent of the glory days of Galaga; they even throw in some kamikaze plans for good measure (and of course a bit of added challenge). Once you reach the boss you will begin to appreciate the blue-print you saw at the beginning of the level.
Each boss takes up nearly the entire screen and if you are unsure of where to fire they can wear your health down much faster than you realize. The amount of on-screen action is impressive to say the least and it all flies by at a smooth clip. It can become extremely hectic and difficult fairly quickly, but it never became frustrating, which is probably one of the game’s most endearing qualities. No matter how many times I died never once did I want to stop playing.
The controls are simple enough: you control direction with the left stick, fire with the A button and you can even hold down the button for a charge shot. The Y-button releases bombs, and the X-button and B-button shoots missiles or activates a joint strike. The joint strike is a co-op move you can do when playing multiplayer. When in a co-op match, you choose the plane you want then you can choose from three joint strike attacks – chained lightning, shot link and clash blast. These attacks come in pretty handy when facing off against the huge bosses in this game. These guys are tough, even when teamed up with another player. You will have to use your bombs and joint strikes wisely. Luckily, there are power-ups you get throughout each level. They range from multi-shot to lasers. There are also health power-ups, 1-ups and medals you collect for extra points (which are useless in and of themselves, but can earn you more points and even Achievements).
As I mentioned earlier the game is a visual showcase for what downloadable titles can look like. The levels are vertically scrolling visual tour de forces and rarely miss a beat when it comes to frame rate issues. The explosions are incredibly satisfying and the animation on your planes and the enemies is top-notch. The soundtrack contains a nice mix of military drum beats and spot-on sound effects that further enhance the experience. Blasting this one through the surround system could cause veterans to have frightening flashbacks, so blast it at your own risk.
There are a few set backs to be wary of. First and foremost this game follows the handbook when it comes to length. It seems almost every arcade shooter released has five levels, and 1942 is no exception. Once you master what is here you can plow through it in an afternoon. Thankfully the addition of co-op and leaderboards keeps you entertained on multiple play-throughs. The second problem could actually benefit the first issue, and that is difficulty. While there are only five levels, a majority of gamers will probably never see all of them. Even on the easiest difficulty this game contains no continues, no stage select and will likely force you to start over time and time again which will likely grate on some players faster than others.
Overall Capcom has delivered yet another top-tier shooter for Xbox Live Arcade. If you loved the original 1942 then Joint Strike will likely conjure up memories of the golden days of shooters. However, even if you have never touched the series Joint Strike has enough new-car smell to attract all types of gamers. Even with its short life span and punishing difficulty there is more than enough here to warrant your 800 space bucks. The Summer of Xbox Live Arcade starts off with a bang delivering one of the best shooters of all time and easily the best among the current crop of titles already on the service.