Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Shooter Month: 1943 (NES)

  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release:
    • Arcade, 1987
    • NES, October 1988
  • Genre: Shoot-em-up
  • Players: 1-2 alternating (Arcade), 1 (NES)
  • Save: Password (NES)
  • Rarity/Cost: Common, US$10-30 (NES)
Previously on the SDP, I reviewed 1942, one of Capcom's earliest arcade games.  And it sucked, at least the NES port.  Well, it turns out that its sequel, 1943, also got ported to the same system, so have its developers learned some new tricks?  Well, not exactly, if only because the 1942 port was developed by Micronics, whereas Capcom did the 1943 port themselves.  But regardless, is it any good this time around?  Read on.

As can be assumed from the game's subtitle*, "The Battle of Midway", 1943 returns gamers to the Pacific theatre of World War II.  There are only 16 stages to the 32 in 1942, but this time around, most of them are split up into two parts.  They start out high in the skies, where you have to make your way through aircraft of all sizes, the usual fare.  But then you spot what looks like a small flotilla of ships in the water below.  Before long, what do you know -- you've entered the second phase of the level, where you strafe those ships, taking out their turret guns in addition to fending off the usual planes.  At the end of this section, you'll encounter some sort of boss ship, named after one of the Imperial Japanese Navy's own ships for that added touch of historical accuracy.  Oddly, you don't have to destroy the boss completely; rather, you have an unseen time limit when fighting these bosses.  When "time" runs out, you'll either move on to the next stage if you've destroyed enough of its weak points, or be forced to re-play the section if not.  I don't see why they have to complicate matters so, but whatever.

*Fun Fact: The Japanese release of 1943 instead carries the subtitle "The Battle of Valhalla".  So much for facing up to their past...
In addition to evasion loops, the A button can unleash screen-clearing super attacks.
The level progression format isn't the only thing 1943 shakes up from its predecessor.  As opposed to having a set number of lives and losing one each time you get hit, you instead have one life and a "fuel gauge", which depletes with damage, and also slowly over time.  For some reason, you'll never crash by automatic fuel loss alone, you'll just stay with a sliver of fuel until you get hit or find a replenishing power-up.  I suppose I should be thankful for taking yet another time limit out of the equation, but that annoying warning music is holding my tongue on that affair.  (Still better than the NES 1942's music.)  Speaking of power-ups, you can equip several unique weapons by picking up other items.  There's a wide-reaching 3-way shot (which, by the way, is way over-powered in the NES version and I love it), a thumb-saving auto-cannon, and a slow and generally useless shotgun.  Notably, unlike in most games of this type, you can shoot power-up items multiple times to change their type, which I guess is better than having fixed types, or worse, items that change type automatically.  (And I thought you were perfect, Raiden Project...)  And just as before, you might even chance upon the item which gives you two wingmen for that little bit of supporting fire.


Certain plane types are coloured
uniquely for better visibility.
Of course, 1943 got a port on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but considering the failings of the first game's port, is 1943 any better?  Actually, yes.  In lieu of trying to render the same realistic colours (for the time) generated by Capcom's up-to-date arcade hardware,  The music's far, far less of an earsore, although you could chalk that one up to the original version for having better music anyway.  Although the "danger" music, which plays when you're at low fuel", wears just as thin as the one song from the first game.  On top of the aesthetic trappings, the NES version adds two notable changes to gameplay.  One, you can hold the fire button to charge up a high-powered shot.  Sure, you won't be able to do it with the turbo switched on, but hey, that's why you can turn off the turbo on those special controllers.  Second, by shooting at certain secret spots in each of the levels, you can reveal upgrades for your plane's stats.  It's still easy to die, but hey, it's (based on) a coin-op game; gotta keep that turnover rate high.  Like 1942, the home version offers infinite continues, and this time around there's even a password system which saves your progress and upgrades.  Anyone who's taken the time to write down longer passwords for games like Metroid, Kid Icarus, and Metal Gear will be happy to know that these codes are only five letters long.

In short, 1943 offers the same stripped-down appeal of the original 1942, but with a number of twists on the formula to keep things fresh.  And for once, they didn't mess up the experience on the NES.  In fact, it's worth trying both of them out, as they provide unique takes on the same concept.  If you want to check out the original, you can get it as part of Capcom Arcade Cabinet, a download-only title for PlayStation 3 and XBox 360.  But if for whatever reason you wish to stick with the NES, you can sleep soundly with its interpretation of 1943.

Control: 5 out of 5
Design: 4 out of 5
Aesthetics: 4 out of 5
The Call: 90% (A-)

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