January 7, 1942, US President Roosevelt proposes a budget to build 125,000 aircraft. 27 April 18, 1942, US B-25B Mitchells raid Tokyo and Yokahama. June 4, 1942, The Battle of Midway, 479 planes lost, 332 are Japanese… and so it begins!
While Capcom do set this game in the same year and in the Pacific during WWII, it dispels with all historical realism and events, and instead concentrates on big guns, even bigger planes and of course, kicking ass!
Originally released into arcades in 1984, Capcom’s 1942 pitted you as a pilot of the ‘Super Ace’ fighter against wave after wave of Japanese fighters, bombers and heavy artillery, in a bid to reach Tokyo for the final showdown. It’s fondly remembered as ‘The’ classic vertical (top down) shooter and is still played in retro arcades to this day. In 2008, 1942: Joint Strike was released on Xbox Live arcade and took the age from it’s humble 8bit beginnings into glorious 2.5D and mixed many of the gameplay elements of the original with other parts of the subsequent games (1943 etc) as well as adding some new.
First up, how does it look? Well, while not coming close to the spectacle of the Xbox version, it’s certainly looks better than the original 8bit game. It sports a full 2D design but with more colour and detail, looking like something akin to 16bit but with higher resolution.
Strangely I prefer this look, as it has both an old and new feel about it that was lost in the Xbox version, and to me feels more like 1942. The planes, while basic in design, all look great and animate as you’d expect. It’s with the big bosses though that things get more exciting, with large bombers and super tanks all detailed, and intricate, and dwarfing your fighter, even on the iPhone screen. The backgrounds lack depth though, missing even parallax effects, with only the shadow of aircraft to give you an indication of height. But, again, I assume this is more of a classic retro design move, than any laziness on Capcom’s part. The presentation overall is good, the menu’s work well and have a WWII feel about them, and levels themselves are tied together with cool little CGI cutscenes that introduce the area you are visiting, and set the scene. Sound is also utilised well, with a rousing military soundtrack that changes with each area.
Essentially, it’s all about the gameplay though, and whether it can offer an authentic 1942 arcade experience accurately. It’s a little bit of a mixed bag here though, with some parts working well, and others less so. Let’s start with the good. The levels themselves are well designed and offer a good challenge. Each of the three environments comprises of two or three levels (eight in all), with the last of each, ending in a boss battle. Unlike many shooters these days, that can over run you with multiple enemies early in the game, there’s a longer difficulty curve, with death only really threatening to rear its ugly head around the forth or fifth levels. The design of various enemies and their attack patterns keep things interesting, especially the previously mentioned boss battles. Weapons too are a joy, with your main weapon allowing for upgrade pickups, which can, in turn, be powered up even more. Two bonus weapons in the shape of heat seeking missiles and bombs are also available and despite looking cool in motion, also help hugely in moments you get overrun. Other power-ups such as wingmen also make an appearance, allowing you to effectively triple the size and firepower of your aircraft, as well as give you more protection.
So, everything is sounding pretty rosy right? Well yes, but unfortunately Capcom haven’t quite got the controls nailed. There are two options to choose from the menu (as well as on-the-fly during sorties), and these are…. drumroll…. touch and tilt. While both are perfectly playable, neither do a stellar job, which can lead to frustration. Take the touch based option… this requires you to drag your finger around the screen causing your plane, placed at the tip of your finger or thumb, to follow you every move. However, it seems a little slow to react at times, with not quite one-to-one control. But worse, the main problem comes when an enemy plane appears from the bottom of the screen. With your finger covering up that area directly below your plane it’s all too easy to get a Mitsubishi A6M Zero up your tail pipe!
One way to counter this of course is to play using the tilt option. But, despite offering full calibration both in the main menu and during flight, it just doesn’t feel right playing it this way. It’s just not accurate enough to allow pin point accuracy to avoid incoming flak from enemy fighters. To get as far as I did in the game I had to employ both control styles switching from one to the other, and to me that doesn’t work.
Ultimately then 1942 falls short of expectations. Maybe they were too high to begin with, due in short to the family of games it belongs to. The core experience is there, and is well presented, but with lacklustre controls it can’t match, dare I say, better clones of this style of game. And that, from Capcom, is unacceptable really.
In conclusion then, if you are a die hard fan of the series, you will get some fun out of this game, but that will be at the expense of the authentic replica of the original experience you expect. Perhaps only a real joystick can work for this kind of game, but I’d like to think Capcom can at least give it another look, and fix or tweak the controls in an update.
1942: First Strike is out now for $2.99. Get it on