What was once a genre that dominated the arcades, the vertical/horizontal shooter pushed gamers' quick reactions and pattern memorisation to the brink only to push them that little bit more in a blaze of bullets and explosions. Today however with almost all arcades closed it seemed this genre was going to die with them only to be kept alive by hardcore shooter fans and anyone looking for a little nostalgia. Xbox Live Arcade has seen quiet a few of these shooters make a return from the undeniably classic Xevious to one of the Dreamcasts' hardest games Ikaruga. Now Capcom bring us a remake of an arcade classic 1942 entitled 1942: Joint Strike.
When you first boot the game up you'll see the menu system which, at first seems rather cool, when you select what you want to do a fleet of silhouette airplanes whizz by the screen in a roar of engine noise which gives a forewarning that this game is going to be 'loud' in more than one sense of the word. This however brings up a problem, this sequence of planes flying past isn't short and it does it every time you select a new menu and the engine roar gets very tedious after a short time.
The two main game play modes consist of simply either offline or online play, offline offering single or co-op play on one TV. Unfortunately I am unable to review the online multiplayer experience for the simple reason, there's no one online, not a soul. I even tried at different times of the day...nothing, I then thought about making my own match to see if someone would join, I left the lobby screen up for 15 minutes and no one joined. For a game that sports online co-op and as the title suggests 'Joint Strike' further enforcing the multiplayer aspect as a core part of the game to have no one playing online kind of makes me feel like I'm not getting my moneys worth out of the game, but that is simply an opinion.
Right anyway since I can't review the online experience lets move on to offline play and single player mode, when selecting how many players you would like you are also given the option to set the difficulty as listed below:
Slick Sleeve **
Dragon Fly ***
Wing King ****
The 'star' rating equals difficulty, one being the easiest and four the hardest. Playing single player on Wing King difficulty is not so much hard in the sense there are more enemies on the screen, which there are, it's that unlike 'Penguin' difficulty where you are given eight lives Wing King difficulty only gives you one with the option to pick up more lives in later in the game if you know which enemies drop them. This difficulty was obviously put there for online play and any 'normal' gamer that maybe doesn't play shooters often will find more than a challenge in the Slick Sleeve difficulty.
Lightning - Firstly the lighting, this plane is a basic all rounder and doesn't excel in stats anywhere making it a good plane to run through with the first time to get a feel for the game.
Mosquito - The mosquito has more health and power than the lightning making it more durable but it sacrifices speed and power in its secondary attack.
Shinden - The shinden is quick and has a rather powerful secondary attack it does however loose health and power in its primary attack as a result.
These three types offer some strategy in how you can play the game, but ultimately if you're playing with a friend you both cannot use the same plane so if you prefer the Shinden and your friend chooses it then all the strategy is gone as you'd have to go with a plane that doesn't fit the way you play the game.
Right with your difficulty and plane selected you are now ready to start the game after a quick load screen a border appears resembling the old style film reel frames and encases the outer edge of your screen, inside your plane slides into view and the border disappears, you now have control, you get a few seconds to fly around a bit before you are hit by wave upon wave of enemy aircraft, everything from small dogfighters to bombers and helicopters will attack you from the air and ships, tanks and machine turrets from the ground/sea.
To attack simply continuously tap the A button or hold to charge for a powerful burst attack, I thought this seemed rather redundant because you have a secondary attack anyway why can't you just hold down A for continuous fire, the only explanation I can conjure is that Capcom want to retain the button bashing feel of the arcade to the home console and as nostalgic as it is it would have been nice to have the option to switch to continuous fire in the option menu.
Secondary fire works by destroying planes with your primary attack. At the bottom left of the screen there is a meter that charges as you destroy planes, when the meter reaches the top you get one secondary attack, you can store eight in total. The secondary attack launches a small wave of rockets at a target, personally I found that they don't always hit the target you want and I found myself using around four of the attacks I had stored to eventually hit the target I wanted.
As for power-ups, most shooters I've played have a tiered system where you collect a certain power up and you can continuously keep powering that weapon up until it has reached its maximum power, 1942: Joint Strike follows this rule, almost. You start with a slow and unimpressive machine gun which can be powered up in one of three ways. Firstly there is the higher capacity machinegun which shoots a wider hail of bullets, the second is a spread gun that shoots at an angle at either end making a cone of bullets in front of your plane and the third is a laser....Yes a laser. This laser will pass through anything causing damage to anything directly in front of the plane as the beam is very narrow. Now as for upgrades you can upgrade your weapon once, the laser becomes a double laser, the spread shoots more etc. I found that rather disappointing because with the visual effects of today we could have had some very awesome looking master weapons that shoot off in all directions and cause maximum damage but no you can only upgrade your weapon once.
And finally your third weapon, what would a world war two game be without bombs? Within the game you are given a limited supply of bombs which you can replenish by collecting certain power ups. These bombs are your standard survival in a sticky situation tool in that if you are being followed by those planes on stage four you can simply press Y and they are all gone.
The graphics have received the standard XBLA remake treatment and look very shiny and polished, some textures are little suspect but the entire game is crammed down into 150mb so don't expect graphics in the vein of Gears of War, however they are very detailed and for the most part the models for the enemies are correct in style for the era the game is emulating so no real problems there. One thing I would like to point out is that the water and explosion effects are rather good.
With this game being released on XBLA and designed for use on wide screen TVs it does seem that the game is maybe a little slow and clunky, I frequently found myself waiting for the next wave of ships for me to destroy and the actual time it takes for you to move your plane, even if it is the Shinden, to the other side of the screen is too long to attempt whatever you wanted to do. On the subject of planes I found that it wasn't so much the enemy bullets that did the damage as the little enemy planes don't really attack, it was the formations they fly in. Several times I had to quickly move my plane from the bottom of the screen because enemies were coming in left and right and I didn't see them because I was too focused on what was ahead.
In all honesty none of the music from the game was memorable, it fits the game but feels maybe a little too safe, like it's trying to be epic but isn't sure if it's allowed to be Epic! The sound effects were rather good from the buzzing of the warning before a boss fight to the different sounds of the weapons right down to the explosions of the different types of enemies all helped make the game pleasing to the ears.
Boss battles mainly consist of shooting certain spots until it is destroyed, the fights seem rather illogical as when you destroy a bosses primary weapon its secondary is much stronger or shoots more bullets at a wider angle. To me this kind of broke the experience a little but looking back on it but most gamers will merely see it as another challenge.
In summation after all has been said the game is fun, a little frustrating and the harder difficulties are impossible for any gamer unfamiliar with the genre and will even give a few who are a run for their money. But the overall crippling part is not the lack of online multiplayer, it's there, but the complete lack of anyone on it, maybe if Microsoft lowered the price to a more budget remake friendly price of 400 points then we may see the game shine yet for now with the lack of online multiplayer it's merely going to get lost in XBLA's online catalogue of games.