Strikers: 1945 (PlayStation) review
"Everything remains steady the whole way through, even when enough sprites are flying around the screen that the sweating geek inside of you cringes and expects smoke to start pouring out of the Playstation. It's amazing to see so much solid detail to the levels and so many projectiles peppering the environment, but no noticeable drop in framerate."
Someday, a sweat-drenched nerd will stroll into a dance club like he owns the place, pull off his steamed glasses and wipe them on the ink-stained shirt he wears because he's too cool for pocket protectors. He'll flash a smile highlighted by glittering braces, and all the girls in sight will swoon. The members of the football team will shake their heads in disgust and the one thing they'll all be saying is, ''Darn, I wish I were more like that guy.''
It's a day that perhaps isn't so close as some would like. It's a day I mention as the opening to this review only because it's when that day comes to pass that suddenly, a game like Strikers 1945 will flourish again. The perfect mixture of teeth-gnashing action, cool explosions, and style, this is Psikyo's masterpiece...and a $20 bargain game not many are even aware exists.
Like many shooters of any kind, Strikers 1945 has the inevitable slew of weaknesses. I'll get to them one at a time, of course. But before I do, you should know one thing: they don't hurt the gameplay all that much.
The first real weakness is two words that can be applied to any great game. Too short. Strikers 1945 is about fifteen minutes of bliss and then you're done. Even at $20, the price you'll pay if you manage to pick this one up, that can be a disappointment. Fortunately, Psikyo realized that and packed in some replay. It's not enough to justify more than a rental for any but fans of the genre, of course, but the fact that you can play as six distinctly different planes is something pretty special.
Yes, planes. You're not flying a spaceship in an effort to be a bug up some alien force's butt. Instead, you're taking apart the enemy at the end of World War II. Hence the '1945' part of the title. The setting feels very similar to the one in another favorite shooter of mine, 1943: The Battle of Midway. It's clear Psikyo took some notes from that masterpiece. Try and fight the nostalgia as the beeps Morse Code out your mission before you swoop into action. Grin because each mission has an objective and it's generally not alien. This is how a shooter should be!
It's a shame, though, that Psikyo didn't take a few more notes. While 1943: The Battle of Midway gave itself immeasurable depth with an upgrade system that let you truly customize your plane's increasing strength in a number of important ways, Strikers 1945 avoids that and instead lays a few simple facts on the line: you're an airplane pilot, you've got some bombs, and you can use the occasional special attack. Otherwise, you better move fast.
Like I said, they don't limit you to just the one pilot. Nor are you restricted to a single special attack. There are six planes and each looks a bit different on the screen. They also move just a bit differently and fire slightly different bullets that range from concentrated destruction to spreading sprays of destruction. Any of them will go down in flames if you take a shot, though. That's where special attacks come in. Not so much an offensive measure (though they can serve as that) as a defensive powerhouse, you're typical special move fills up around a third of the screen and shields you from bullets for a time if you've deployed it properly.
Progression through the stages quickly becomes a matter of collecting around 4 powerups so your shots are maxed out--something that takes perhaps an eighth of a stage--then worrying about keeping a supply of special attacks so if you're trapped in a corner with a bunch of bullets, you can pull out temporary invulnerability and come away from it laughing.
Enjoy the laughter while you can, though, because soon enough you'll find yourself facing a boss. The bosses in this game are admittedly rather similar in function, whether it's a submarine you're facing or a massive plane, but they're still cool. A round with the fearsome baddie usually begins with a somewhat generic but nicely-rendered opponent that fills most of the screen. Your little plane looks rather pathetic as it weaves in and out of rounds of gunfire from the opponent (none of the near-impossible Mars Matrix variety, thankfully). The whole time, you're pelting it with shots and pretty soon, down goes the outer frame and out pops the real threat. At this point, the battle grow more intense for their duration. With the exception of the last boss, this is the routine you'll grow used to. Still, it's not bad, nor does it skew itself toward either end of the difficulty scale.
In fact, the difficulty scale in this game is just about perfect. You can choose from numerous levels, ranging from the aptly-named 'monkey' to 'very hard.' The normal level is actually about right to provide an average player with all the challenge he or she can swallow. It's also a good place for two players to start.
Yes, two people can play simultaneously. It's really good to see that option available. While two-player simultaneous play is pretty standard in the genre, there are some games that don't permit it. The lack of cooperative play could definitely have been a nail in this one's coffin. Its inclusion, however, isn't the saving grace one might expect. The action on the screen is so fast and so furious--particularly with both players using their special attacks close together during mid-level when numerous planes are swooping down from the top--that it's hard to keep track of where you are. Duck to the side to dodge bullets and you can be left squinting at the screen, moving carefully and hoping by the time the next volley of shots arrives, you've found your plane.
Of course, there's a silver lining to the cloud created by so much on-screen action: the game doesn't slow down in the slightest. Everything remains steady the whole way through, even when enough sprites are flying around the screen that the sweating geek inside of you cringes and expects smoke to start pouring out of the Playstation. It's amazing to see so much solid detail to the levels and so many projectiles peppering the environment, but no noticeable drop in framerate. That's not to say things are ever blazingly fast, but the game never reminds you that you're playing with what some might now consider ancient hardware. At all times, you're either mobbed by small planes or you're facing a boss sending out enough shots to destroy a small nation.
While you're enjoying the visuals, though, you're likely to be thinking to yourself that the audio department is at least a little schizophrenic. While the sound effects are first-class, with the typical booming explosions fans of the genre have grown to love, the music also grates on the nerves. Not a single track is memorable in the slightest. After one play through, you'll probably be sick of all of them, not because any single one is annoying to an extreme but rather because they're all so similar that it begins to feel like the ringing in the ears that accompanies a bad headache.
In the end, though, the criticism of the sound is about the worst that can be leveled against Strikers 1945. It's a truly delightful game, with 8 quite lengthy levels and enough difference between the 6 available planes that play can last several hours even before one drags a friend over to the television set for a few rounds. But things get back to the whole nerd scenario at the start. The fact remains that it's really hard to squeeze more than four or five hours out of this disc without succumbing to nerdy fantasies of that unbelievably high score that must be attainable. That's a fate for just about any title in the genre, though. So if the nerd in you is looking for the next itch to scratch, consider this the one.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (April 14, 2003)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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