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.