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Strikers 1945
Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Agetec
Developer: Psikyo
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
No matter what price you pay for this game, I can assure you it's worth at least 50 dollars more. That's right, when you factor in the hundreds of quarters you've pumped into games just like this in your lifetime, it all becomes clear. Strikers 1945 is a brilliant and true piece of gaming memorabilia, but unlike some memorabilia (think of your grandpa's prune juice), this is an experience you'll enjoy as much today as you did when Reagan was in office.

The top-down, scrolling shooter has seen many a great Arcade classic, and took as its departure point the static shooters like Galaxian, Gorf and (of course) Space Invaders. When I first saw a little bundle of sprites collated to form a spaceship cruising over terrain with enemies on the land, sea and air (I think it was Xevious), I near about lost my mind! Strikers 1945 came out already on Saturn, but the beautiful thing about retro Arcade games like this is that we don't need no stinkin' 128-bit graphics to enjoy them. In fact, I've heard from at least one person that the experience of playing Strikers 1945 on PS is more genuine and has less slowdown than the Sega version. There are two distinct modes of play, one more true to the Arcade experience than the other. The original mode features a forced scroll that moves steadily, while the original mode #2 adjusts the speed of scrolling according to how you move your plane. Logically, Mode #2 is closer to the original Arcade balance. ;)

Each fighter-plane has a unique set of attacks and the special-attack animations are simply awesome! Nothing says 'frag you' like a Mosquito assault force or A9A10 rocket. Enemies on the ground, sky and water are a hardy bunch with attack formations that keep you guessing and armor that will make your thumb sore from flailing on all available weapons. When bosses and mini-bosses arrive, you'll know it. These are the great, multi-stage, carpet-bombing, seemingly indestructible bosses we all love to hate, so immense they seem more a part of the landscape than an actual ship, plane or whatever... And 'whatever' is exactly the category some of these bosses fall into, ranging from normal planes, trains and tanks to weird humanoid, insectoid and other shapes. So much eye-candy to be had, and great rousing music to go along with it. The metallic sounds of a boss morphing into its next terrifying form, tanks and bunkers blasting away at you, and of course some great thumping beats to get you in the mood.

Some of you may find this title reminiscent of 1941 and 1942, which have a similar style of gameplay but aren't directly related beyond that, AFAIK. The missions are clear and simple in the 'kill or be killed' sense, but several interesting methods of attack and defense exist to suit individual tastes and gaming styles. 6 planes are at your disposal, each with a slightly different way of handling and unique attacks, sometimes more on the offensive or defensive side. Any plane features both a primary attack and special power-up attack, along with bombs. And when I say 'bomb' I should say 'holy wrath.' The bombs can be thought of as a screen-clearing, last-ditch-effort type of attack, but they aren't without their own unique character. Some planes will unleash a united front of attacking aircraft that linger briefly to provide cover, while others only offer one huge blast or more pinpoint attack that can leave you exposed. Using the different types of planes amounts to mostly a personal choice, but certain types are geared more for experienced players. Essentially, weaponry and response can load things in favor of the beginner, and the manual makes it clear how this works. With time and experience (and also because the game isn't that long) it's rewarding to try and win with each plane. Plenty of replay value for this alone, even if you're not tracking points or difficulty levels.

During a mission, destroying enemies obviously helps rack up points and points help you earn more planes. Blasting enemies can also expose power-up items. Along with shots and bombs, Strikers 1945 includes energy power-ups that drive the third attack method, the 'super shot.' This is somewhere between the bomb or 'support attack' and the sub-weapon, but since bombs are in short supply, a super shot is nice for those mini-bosses and hardy enemies. Once you learn to play to your ship's strengths, Strikers 1945 is a joy. Shooting down enemies will often reveal gold bars that earn more points and make it even easier to stay alive. Levels are fairly short, so don't expect too many checkpoints. Luckily, on lower levels where you still have some extra ships, dying in a boss fight doesn't mean you have to play your way through the entire level. But, in the final stages this does hold true. You'll have to face off against the final bosses in one sitting or make your pitiful way back through the gauntlet. Egads! As with most games of this genre, timing is everything, along with knowing when you'll need to call in the heavy artillery and get out of the way. Playing through on the easier settings will teach you the rhythm and let you move up to the big leagues. This really is Arcade revival at its finest.

Nothing defines a retro, scrolling shooter more than being frightfully difficult. The beauty of playing Strikers 1945 on PS is how much adjustment is built in to allow even the most incompetent shooter fan a chance at glory. I love, love, love that the difficulty levels range from Hard down to Easy and then on to Child and finally Monkey. If that's not a slam, I don't know what is! :) But, a monkey might still have problems with this game at its most intense, even on the easiest setting. Problem is, back in the day all we had was games like this that relied on raw hand-eye, a pocketful of quarters and the driving ambition to see your initials in the Top 10. Then, Arcades got about as cool as school on Sunday and we all retired to our Final Fantasy'ing, Tomb Raider'ing living rooms. Which is not to say I don't like solving puzzles and fighting random battles, but games like this just take dedication. There's no fancy movie waiting for you at the end (although you will see some footage from the Saturn version that used to serve as the intro movie) and there's no pretty girl. You'll master this game because you love it, or it will reduce you to the miserable, sniveling little worm we always knew you were.

Game Mechanics:
Simplicity is yet another feature that defines this type of game, in feel and control. I remember being really miffed when I first saw Defender, with all those buttons. Who needed more than fire and bomb? Really! So, I'm a throwback type for sure, and Strikers 1945 is right up my Jurassic park. Who couldn't relate to these controls:

  • You move the ship up and down and side to side
  • You fire with one button and bomb with another
  • If you build up your power gauge, you can hold down the fire key for a super shot
  • Blow up anything that moves...or looks like it might move.

Yes, it's really that simple. But in simplicity lies the genius of the whole thing. The game is short, and not as deep or graphically intense as its modern derivative offspring. The idea of active, exciting backgrounds such as seen in games like Einhander or Raystorm is great, but Strikers 1945 is all about the background being exciting just because it scrolls! It all depends on one's outlook, I guess. The PS2 settings don't do a thing for this one, so don't even bother. Enjoy it in its sprite-filled beauty or not at all.

Shooters may be a dying breed as the true 'combat flight-sim' becomes more of a reality, especially the retro variety. We're much harder to impress these days, and what might have been incredible 10 years ago can look awefully primitive by today's standards. One thing hasn't changed, and that's gameplay and substantive design. Strikers 1945 may not look like the technologically miracle, but it sure plays fine and brings back a lot of memories. And, nothing this cool should ever be too out of vogue.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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