The year is 1942, and the world is at war. You play as an American fighter ace who embarks on a solo mission to defeat the entire Japanese air force. Hmm… a Japanese company making a game about a lone American single-handedly destroying all of Japan’s national defense? Well, I suppose it’s like Takagi said in Die Hard, “We’re flexible. Pearl Harbor didn’t work out, so we got you with tape decks.”

1942 is a port of the vertical arcade shooter of the same name. In it, you pilot a large attack plane against kamikaze hordes of Japanese fighters. That one sentence has essentially summed up all 32 levels of this game.

Graphics here are fair for an early NES title. You fight a large assortment of planes against scrolling backgrounds ranging from open ocean to island jungles. The game seems to follow the “island hopping” strategy from WWII, so as you progress you fly over various islands that increase in size, and eventually over towns and cities. However, the ocean is a simple blue texture repeated endlessly. The land masses, though better looking, are still rather bland, and are made up of too many reused colors and simple textures. Since there aren’t many colors to work with, bullets and planes often blend in with areas of the background, resulting in briefly invisible enemies. The whitish sand of the beaches exhibit this most prominently, as do the green planes flying over green jungles. Throughout all of these battles, you will fight the same planes flying in predictable patterns. Minor graphical changes appear to the craft as you get further in the game, but these never change their overall behavior. Minor graphical breakup also tends to occur when too many enemies are on the screen at once. This is both rare and brief, but can be troublesome in the heat of an aerial battle.

Sound… yuck. Who’s strangling the digital cat? The music appears only as random blurts of sound with a muffled military drum beat in the background. It’s enough to make even a jingoistic Republican want to avoid war. Bullets all produce the same quiet scratching noise, and explosions are almost impossible to hear. Poor show in this department.

Controlling your craft feels slow and sluggish. Even Space Invaders on the Atari 2600 moves faster than this one. Your plane is certainly not as nimble as ships in other shooters, but it is on par with the movement of your enemies; sort of evening the odds in a particularly unexciting way. You shouldn’t have much trouble dodging gunfire and charging aircraft, but the overall game moves at a snail’s pace. Shooting can be something of a bother. The button can be held down for an extremely slow rate of fire, but to get the kind of rapid fire you’ll need, you have to tap the button repeatedly. This can start to get tedious after ten or so levels.

Following in the tradition of vertical shooters, one bullet hit or one collision with another plane results in death for you and the smallest of your foes. This makes coordination and reflexes a must, and the controls are good enough to generally respond well, once you get used to the slow movement speed of the aircraft. In addition to your flying skills, you can add acrobatics to your dodging abilities. Pressing the A button pulls your plane into a high loop, making it effectively invulnerable for a brief period of time. This can save you from certain disaster, and is very useful if you activate it in time. You are limited to three of these loops per level.

Though it’s a very early shooter attempt, 1942 can still be quite challenging. There are usually enough planes and bullets flying around to keep you on your guard. Boss fights, though rare and limited to fighting a single ‘superplane’, can be difficult while never impossible. It’s an overall fair and addictive balance, probably why the game is considered to be a classic. You are given an unlimited amount of continues however, so beating the game is just a matter of how much time you are willing to invest. The game can also get a little monotonous, even for shooter fans. Ground units, or a greater variety of aircraft and locations would have helped alleviate this. It still deserves its classic status, and it’s still worth trying out and taking a crack at completing, but it pales in comparison to later shooters.

The Good

Challenging, early vertical shooter.

The Bad

Icky sound, sluggish speed, shoot planes, rinse, repeat

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