"On the surface, there really wasnít that much wrong with Capcomís first two World War II-based shooters. Both 1942 and 1943 had loads of fast action complete with an unbelievable number of planes and other vessels quivering with the uncontrollable urge to blast your little plane from the sky. But after playing those two classics from the days of yore for an extended period of time, some major problems began to emerge. "
On the surface, there really wasnít that much wrong with Capcomís first two World War II-based shooters. Both 1942 and 1943 had loads of fast action complete with an unbelievable number of planes and other vessels quivering with the uncontrollable urge to blast your little plane from the sky. But after playing those two classics from the days of yore for an extended period of time, some major problems began to emerge.
To put it simply, those games were long and repetitive. Take 1943, for example. Imagine blasting your way through more than 20 stages that all look similar in order to fight a boss that almost always is either a big ship with a bunch of little guns or a big plane with.....a bunch of little guns. Itís the type of concept that probably did play out well in the glory days of the NES, but just didnít age well. After about 10 stages, the average player of today probably will start wondering when the game will end. After 15 stages, they probably will be just about ready to yank it out of the console and throw it into their pile of games never to be played again (right next to Super Pitfall and Hydlide). After completing the game (assuming they have the fortitude to endure the enormous number of stages that 1943 encumbers the player with), odds are that unless they are extremely masochistic, they will abstain from ever gazing upon it again.
Fortunately for that gamerís sanity, Capcom took a bit of a different direction with their third game in the series, 1941: Counter Attack. Instead of working through a huge number of short and repetitive stages, you get to play through six very different levels, each with their own challenge.
The first level will be quite familiar to veterans of the seriesí earlier games. A short and sweet jaunt through the unfriendly skies ó blasting everything that pops up on the screen ó is what greets the player. And, to keep the similarities going, the level comes to its conclusion with a dogfight against a big plane.
The similarities stop there. This plane is a bit more intimidating than the ones that appeared in 1943. Taking up a good percentage of the screen, Leviathan looks to be a daunting foe (as do most of the bosses in 1941). Fortunately, in this case, looks are deceiving and the great metal monstrosity should go down in flames without too much of a fight.
The rest of the levels send you to many diverse locations. Whether you are speeding above a river in stage two, going through an enemy base in the third level, flying through a city in the fourth level or having a rematch with a dramatically upgraded Leviathan in the fifth level ó this game will deliver the goods in both aesthetic and gameplay value. Itís truly no surprise that this game was released for the short-lived enhanced version of the Turbografx-16 ó the SuperGrafx. Wonderful graphics and music (for the time period) really help to create the feeling that you are blasting your way through a number of very diverse zones.
And thatís not even mentioning the sixth level ó a lengthy and very difficult trek over grasslands, through a fortress, over railroad tracks and then far above the land while fighting thousands of enemies and FOUR bosses. Believe me, if you are looking for a challenge, youíll find one here. At a couple of points in the level, the enemies will be coming at you in such large numbers that avoiding damage is next to impossible.
In fact, there are some parts of the game where you might get the distinct idea that Capcom intends for you to take damage no matter what you do. Unfortunately, your plane does not and never will get the capacity to fire at enemies approaching from behind. Not being able to do that will hurt you at several times throughout the game, as a number of foes seem to feel that sneaking up on you is the way to go. At one particular area of the final level, what seems to be dozens of planes will attack from behind, forcing you to attempt to move behind them and shoot them down before the next set moves onto the screen. And while thatís the most brutal example of enemies getting the drop on you, itís not the only one. As you progress through the game, there will be a somewhat substantial population of enemies looking to essentially shoot you in the back before you can get around them to get even. It just seems that in a game where so many enemies come up on you from the rear, it would be a logical idea to give the player some sort of opportunity to blast them without being forced to wait until they can maneuver around the foes and get them in their sights.
Fortunately, Capcom was considerate enough to allow your plane to shrug off a few hits. At the beginning of the game, you start out with a three-segment life bar. Each hit you take will turn one segment blue. After all your segments have changed color, the next hit will be lethal. As you advance in the game, your life bar will increase in length, making your plane more durable to partially help make up for the increase in difficulty as you progress.
Taking hits isnít the only way that your life bar will diminish, though. Perhaps taking a cue from Capcomís Final Fight series, 1941 charges one life bar segment for each use of your planeís special attack. Thatís right. Instead of picking up bombs and whatnot to use, you must determine whether it is worth essentially taking a hit to use a stronger attack. Personally, I found my answer to that question to be a resounding ďNO!Ē, but other players may have different ideas.
Fortunately, your life bar is capable of going up, too. Occasionally youíll run into a little icon on the screen that will completely refresh your life meter and there are plenty of power-ups that will replenish one hit. As far as offensive power-ups, the pickings are fairly slim. I only noticed a couple of different weapons for your plane and those have a limited duration so you canít rely on them for as long as youíre able to stay alive. More useful is the pair of ďoptionĒ planes that you can collect to effectively triple your firepower. While these mini-planes can take damage and be destroyed independently of your plane, they are very handy to have when in a tight battle. While not an actual power-up, your ship also can release charged shots. Just hold the fire button down and watch a little meter go up. Let go at the right time and youíll let off a much more potent blast. Itís debatable as to how often youíll have the chance to hold the fire button down for a few seconds without getting blasted all over the sky, but itís a nice touch.
And nice touches are what this game is all about. Capcomís 1941 is a fine example of how pure action should be done. You donít have to sit for what seems like hours listening to some dolt yammer on about how you have to go to Point A and pick up Item B ó you just start up the game and get to work blasting everything that crosses your path while enjoying crisp play control and some fast-paced, intense battles.
Itís not the best game in the series, as the next two attempts by Capcom (19XX and 1944) both outshine 1941, but it is a worthy game. While the lack of optional weaponry and somewhat worthless special attack makes the game a bit one-dimensional and the abundance of enemies that come up on your unprotected behind can make things a bit frustrating at times, the positives that this game possesses definitely makes it an above-average effort.
Featured community review by overdrive (March 30, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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