NES ABC: 1943

Since we’ve reached the midpoint of the GameSpite Quarterly 1 online edition (both in terms of content and in terms of the quarter itself), I’ve decided to take this week off from the rather time-consuming process of online prep. Instead, I used my weekend to ride herd on the deadline for next issue’s content (we’re just missing three articles out of fifty now, I think), to kick off a new project I’ve been mulling for a while, and to play Dragon Quest IX. Um. Mostly the DQIX thing, actually. But also, the new project is below, and hopefully should shed a little light on what I’ve been working toward for the past few days. Perhaps you will think it’s dumb, but who knows! Maybe not.

ToastyFrog’s NES ABC: 1943 – The Battle of Midway

Capcom | Vertical World War II Shooter | 1988

Snappy Internet pundits can’t seem to resist mentioning the fact that Capcom’s 194X series is a group of vertical shooters developed in Japan, and whose premise revolves entirely around one American fighter craft single-handedly striking down upon the Japanese fleet what might be the nation’s single most humiliating military defeat in its entire history. Lots of people like to speculate that this speaks of some sort of collective contrition or self-effacement on behalf of the people of Japan, but I’m pretty sure that’s a load of hooey. (I asked Rorita about the psychology behind this game and she kicked me and told me to leave her alone, which suggests the Japanese retain their indomitable spirit! Or at least no small measure of early-morning crankiness.)

Nah, I don’t think 1943 is Japan’s way of saying “We’re sorry for World War II,” because by many accounts the game and its predecessor (bearing the unexpected title of 1942) caused a bit of a stir upon their release many, many years ago. And any time someone mentions Dragon Quest these days, some Internet kid thinks it’s the height of cleverness to post a link to articles about how DQ composer Koichi Sugiyama is a hardline nationalist at the vanguard of a movement to proclaim to the world, “Screw you guys, we were totally awesome in World War II, and we’d happily pillage the Chinese mainland again if we had to do it all over!” OK, sure, that’s pretty questionable, but the dude’s like, 90. His nationalism is pretty much the celebrity version of a cranky old man shouting at kids for wearing loud clothes.

So no, 1943 doesn’t say anything about Japan as a whole. But it does say a lot about series creator Yoshiki Okamoto: namely, that he’s a wacky sumbitch.

Anyway, you might wonder why I began this A-Z chronicle of unique NES releases with a game whose title begins with a number, and which is probably better known for its arcade incarnation. For the former, I can only say it was a pointless arbitrary decision. For the latter, however, I’ll say that 1943’s NES port deserves a mention for being probably the most conservative of Capcom’s late ’80s arcade-to-NES conversions. The company’s early NES ports like 1942 and Commando were, let’s be honest, kind of terrible. But starting with Section Z, someone in the publisher’s dank bowels realized that Nintendo’s home console just wasn’t up to snuff when it came to depicting high-octane arcade releases, so they’d be better off building replay value by adding some depth rather than churning out more shallow, watered-down efforts such as Trojan. This philosophy reached its pinnacle with Bionic Commando, which took loose inspiration from a pretty wretched arcade game and made it excellent. The nadir was Strider, which… yeah.

1943 came midway (pun only slightly intended) between Bionic Commando’s inspired rethinking and Strider’s completely missing the point. On the surface, it looked to be a visually downgraded, if fairly faithful, rendition of the arcade game. Players controlled a P38 Lightning against endless waves of Zeros before diving to a low altitude for a strafing run on a fleet of battleships. It didn’t look as pretty as the arcade version, but everything else about it was satisfyingly consistent. However! As an NES-exclusive embellishment, Capcom added a tiny touch of what modern-day PR flacks would call “RPG elements” in the ability to upgrade the P38. After every few stages, players were given the opportunity to enhance different aspects of their plane, boosting its defensive power, or the duration of its special weapon counter, and so forth. It’s a modest addition, but it adds some variety and replay value to what would otherwise be an utterly straightforward shooter. So that’s good.

In any case, I don’t feel bad about blowing up the Japanese fleet in this game, ’cause Japan went and dredged up the Yamato to turn it into a spaceworthy vessel while in the thrall of some sort of manic, rekindled nationalism the ’70s anyway.

9 thoughts on “NES ABC: 1943

  1. Man, I had this exact idea for a feature. Without the catchy artwork, of course. And, okay, it was just a one-off way to showcase my NES collection by showing that I owned a cartridge for every letter of the alphabet (and explain why I chose certain ones for certain letters).

    1943 may not have changed much from its arcade version, but it was still a really fun game. It might be my favorite shoot ’em up on the NES. And NES Strider is a perfectly fine game, even if it doesn’t live up to the fun or spirit of the arcade version.

  2. I’m fully behind this idea, though I have to wonder what happens when you hit something like C (Contra or Castlevania?) or M (Mega Man or Metroid)?

  3. Wasn’t the P38 in 1943 pink in the NES game?

    sorry to subject everyone to tl;dr stuff, but I gotta nitpick over the term ‘hard line nationalism’ used for a stubborn old man like that, you might as well use the term ‘conservative barbarian’.

    That stubborn aspect of WWII Japanese culture was more of a distorted sense of warrior code meant to be feed into an expansionist philosophy its ruling (military) authority adopted following the meiji restoration. WWII Japan’s Busido was in line with the psychotic Nobunaga notion of uniting Asia under one (Japanaese) sword choosing to disguise it with bizarro political concepts incorpoarting asian Buddhist theories dealing with ‘spheres’ (no really, they called one the Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere look it up) and feeding into Asian racial sensitivies with mottos like ‘asia for asiatics’ and anti-western colonialism when it was all about Japan gobbling up territory and resources for itself. Any way you slice it, anyone who sticks up for WWII Japan is endorsing the spirit of Oda Nobunaga, a barbaric dionsaur who felt he could win if he simply killed everyone in his way.

  4. Is it too early to start wondering about when a second volume of either Game Spite:Year One or GS: Quarterly might hit?

  5. I always assumed that 1942 was done from the American perspective because Capcom wanted a product that could localize without too much trouble. Heh, imagine the hilarity that would have ensued if they had created a Rambo-like revisionist game in which a Japanese plane singlehandedly reverses the course of the war, and then had to localize it into an American perspective.

    Anyway, it’d be interesting to read one of these accounts of it causing a stir; I haven’t been able to find much. You got links for us on this subject?

  6. I wish I could remember specifically where it was I read about the 194X kerfluffle. It was in an EGM interview with Okamoto, but I think it was the raw interview text… that part may never have made it into print.

  7. Not much to say about 1943, but I heartily approve of this feature. And the artwork is aces, I think the rust is shaking off quite nicely there.

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