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1942 (Arcade) artwork

1942 (Arcade) review

"Seventh verse, same as the first six. Twenty-seventh verse, same as the first twenty-six..."

The first vertical shooter I ever played was 1943: The Battle of Midway on the NES, which my dad only bought because my great uncle was apparently a tail gunner during World War 2. We only owned four or five other games at the time, so I got a lot of practice blasting my way through the Pacific theater as envisioned by 8-bit game developers. Eventually, I grew to love the experience, which explains why when I saw 1942 advertised on posters that came with old Capcom games, I wished I could play it.

Years later, I've finally had my chance to make that wish come true, since Capcom has released 1942 in an arcade compilation or two and more recently brought it to Wii's mostly ignored Virtual Console. I decided it was high time I put some serious time into the game and write a review.

1942 is a boring, boring shooter. Maybe I should have led with that. When I started playing it, I knew to expect a more limited take on the genre. I figured that 1943 would have expanded on its predecessor a bit. What I discovered is that 1943: The Battle of Midway (which I believe is based on 1943: Kai) actually expanded on it a ton. Very nearly everything that made me love the series is missing from its first installment.

1942 (Arcade) image1942 (Arcade) image

As the game begins, you launch from an aircraft carrier. The on-screen text advises you that there are 32 missions ahead of you, the same number featured in The Battle of Midway. What it doesn't tell you is that nearly all of them are similar enough you might as well dismiss them as identical. There are only occasional differences between them, and those differences aren't nearly enough to keep a typical gamer entertained for however long it might take to reach the end of the campaign.

Not long after you leave the carrier, you'll see the first planes headed your way from the top of the screen. They like to twirl and fire bullets, so you need to be ready to weave between them and return fire. You have to pay close attention so that you don't take a hit, because a single hit here is death. There are a lot of enemies on-screen, which means it's difficult to get very far without running into a bullet. Fortunately, you can perform a loop-de-loop if you get backed into a corner. Doing so will temporarily render you invincible, just long enough that any shots should pass through your former position. You have little control over where your plane goes while performing its aerial aerobics, though, and the move could very well set you up to take a hit once you recover. You also can only perform so many of those evasive maneuvers for each life or mission.

As in 1943 and most other shooters of the era, you'll soon encounter special groups of aircraft that you can shoot down to produce power-ups. There was strategy required in The Battle of Midway, because you could shoot the "POW" icon and turn it into one of several different abilities, particularly in later stages. Here, you take whatever the game decides to award you, whether that be a more powerful shot, or two smaller planes that ride by your side, or just some extra points.

A single credit gets you three planes, which should be enough to get a practiced pilot through perhaps a mission or two. Stages boast numerous checkpoints along the way, so you never lose a lot of progress if your plane goes down in flames. You can then hold the Fire button and press Start to continue as often as you like, assuming you have credits remaining. However, your score will reset and you'll probably feel a bit embarrassed about how quickly you're burning through those credits, even if they're only virtual.

1942 (Arcade) image1942 (Arcade) image

At the end of a mission, you typically return to your carrier to refuel, and then you launch once more and everything repeats. The next stage will often be indistinguishable from the one you just completed, except in special cases. Once in a while, you'll find yourself in a mission where the enemy planes don't fire on you. They still try to crash into you, but you can dodge them or blast them out of the sky easily enough. This is a great time to build up a high score. In other cases, you may be about to finish an area when suddenly you find yourself going up against a giant plane called the Ayako.

The Ayako takes up much of the top portion of the screen and it fires a lot of bullets in your direction, plus it tends to come at the end of a gauntlet of smaller planes that are just plain annoying. As the Ayako tries to blast you out of the sky, you must return the favor, peppering it with your own shots until you have hit it enough times to send it hurtling toward the ocean. Then you don't have to worry about encountering it again for another eight stages or so. Meanwhile, I can't help but remember The Battle of Midway, which pits players against several different battleships and planes over the course of the campaign, while sometimes allowing players to shoot to reveal hidden areas where they can upgrade their plane to deal or withstand more damage. That was all cooler than anything you'll see here.

A final point worth mentioning is that 1943 had a number of repetitive but still fairly memorable tunes playing in the background. Capcom's composers did a good job there. Here, on the other hand, they went with the sound of drums. The result is not unlike a marching band that is warming up to produce some sort of music, but then never does. The drumming quickly grates on the nerves, and it doesn't stop until you mute the volume or gouge out your ears. I recommend the former of those two options.

I'm grateful that 1942 exists, because without it I don't imagine we'd have 1943: The Battle of Midway. I still love that newer game, but I'll admit that I can happily do without 1942. It's a (somewhat) interesting piece of history and worth a quarter or two if you have the opportunity to play it in an arcade and you're sick of your other options, but otherwise you're better off skipping it.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 17, 2015)

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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GTi_bel posted March 25, 2015:

Hi Jason,
It seems you didn't enjoy the real thrill back then when we first saw this game at the yearly fair.
It had good color, nice z80 sound and was a score killer with me and my friends. And you could play it for 15 minutes with one coin!
I was 12 and got maybe 100 (Belgian) franks (2,5 euro now) to play with :)
Coming from Space Invaders, Galaxian, Galaga and then this was a welcome new surprise. We didn't had Arcades back then, so the fair was the only chance to see what was new.
Just call it nostalgica :)
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honestgamer posted March 25, 2015:

Nostalgia is a tricky thing. Games always seem to improve when you have a personal story to go with them. Thanks for reading my review, and for sharing your story!

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