"While most of the game is manageable enough if your twitch gaming skills haven't grown too rusty, boss encounters can be a different story entirely. Even the adversary you face at the conclusion of the first stage is beefy, unleashing a wicked spread shot and heat-seeking missiles when he's not pelting you with standard shots from one of several turrets. Emerging from the encounter in one piece requires you to unleash your most convincing assault as quickly as possible, since dodging and weaving will only get you so far and is ultimately destined to fail if you have to keep it up for too long (plus your rating for that encounter will drop and you don't want that)."
I accept the fact that realistically, one plane could only make so much difference in World War 2. I've watched The History Channel, after all. I know about the limited ammunition supplies and I know how severely the odds were stacked against every pilot that took to the skies. The notion that one guy could bring down a whole squadron of fighters--much less an army--is absurd. Still, even though 1942: Joint Strike presents precisely that scenario, I can't help but enjoy it.
In the game, as in the past entries in the elderly franchise, you'll take to the skies in a single plane. You'll brave swarms of fighter pilots, dodge shots from gun turrets on land-based structures, return fire as ships pummel you with shells and at the end of each stage, you'll encounter a spectacular boss with enough ammunition to demolish a city block. Realistic? Not really. Fun? You betcha!
Pretty much every element that you would expect from the revival of one of Capcom's most beloved arcade franchises makes a welcome appearance. You'll hear familiar selections from the classic soundtrack, shoot groups of neon orange planes for goodies, target certain locations on the map to obtain bonus points and even channel the elements for the occasional special attack (or charge your standard bullets to unleash a substantial burst). It's standard fare but that's part of what makes it so welcome.
Backbone Entertainment has produced more than a carbon copy of past installments, though. The development team could have safely gone with a simple retro feel and perhaps even used many of the familiar assets, but that's not what happened. Environments here are fresh and aesthetically pleasing (love the water effects). The highlights aren't all saved for the end, either; even the first stage will find you flying up and over the rim of a volcano, while other early moments of note include a close-to-the-surface survey of some battleships being shelled by airplanes. These are all nice visual touches that didn't have to be there. Perhaps the only complaint I would offer is that the gritty visuals don't feel entirely true to the more colorful tones used in earlier arcade releases, but the new look is attractive enough that it's hard to complain too much.
A more substantial change to the classic feel is the power-up system. You're now able to utilize three basic upgrades to your standard, straight-forward shot. These are a spread shot (always my favorite in 1943: The Battle of Midway and still pretty useful here), a wider cluster of bullets (like in the original version of 1942) and a more refined laser shot. Each of these upgrades can be further improved by passing over the same upgrade a second time. There's no limit on how long your new artillery stays in effect, either. You'll keep your abilities until such a time as your plane is shot out of the sky. Try not to let that happen.
Your regular attacks aren't your only means of offense, by the way. Each plane comes with a stock of three bombs that are capable of clearing most smaller aircraft off the screen (as well as saving your butt if you are about to collide with the enemy's firepower). These can be replenished at key points throughout the stages, but the developers threw in an intriguing complication: you must choose between a health refill and one extra bomb. The the truly craptacular player often will face a tough choice: brief replenishment or the possibility of laying some serious hurt on a boss at the end of the current stage.
While most of the game is manageable enough if your twitch gaming skills haven't grown too rusty, boss encounters can be a different story entirely. Even the adversary you face at the conclusion of the first stage is beefy, unleashing a wicked spread shot and heat-seeking missiles when he's not pelting you with standard shots from one of several turrets. Emerging from the encounter in one piece requires you to unleash your most convincing assault as quickly as possible, since dodging and weaving will only get you so far and is ultimately destined to fail if you have to keep it up for too long (plus your rating for that encounter will drop and you don't want that). Then the attack pattern changes as you start to wear away at your opponent--a development that you can expect from later showdowns, as well--and everything grows that much more difficult. All of this from the first boss! 1942: Joint Strike is that sort of game.
Fortunately, it's also a game that doesn't mind you bringing along a friend for moral support and cover fire. In fact, you're encouraged to do so! The “Joint Strike” part of the title refers specifically to the multi-player mode, which can either local or online. When you wage war with a friend by your side, you can utilize joint strikes that inflict serious damage on your adversaries. My favorite example is one that lets you stretch an electric field between two planes, then pelt everything that passes through it with flaming fireballs while the special meter drains to empty.
Such attacks do more than look pretty. They're basically required if you hope to survive against opponents that seem capable of taking more abuse than ever now that you're playing with a friend. There also are achievements that reward you not only for playing online, but for surviving a good while with an ally present. You might suppose that it's easy to snag those rewards, but then you'll go online and encounter players who hog the health packs--even when they don't need them--and who avoid doing any serious damage to bosses because they're worried about saving their own skin. Definitely play with a trusted friend if you can manage it.
Of course, the sad fact is that many of us will have to go it alone. Even then, the game offers plenty of reason to keep playing. There are four difficulty levels, not to mention the significant differences between each of the three available planes from which you must choose. Taking to the skies as the hearty Mosquito (with a solid armor rating and capable standard shots) feels a lot different than tackling the enemy as the speedy (but relatively weak) Shinden fighter or even the generic Lightning. You'll want to experience each one. Then there are leaderboards that reward you for riskier play as you grow more comfortable with the flow of things. As remakes go, 1942: Joint Strike is quite the success story. It won't necessarily win over any new fans, but there's more than enough depth to justify the admittance fee for any of the returning veterans among you. Unfriendly skies await!
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 06, 2008)
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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