After yesterday’s venture into the world of Varth, I decided to go back to its roots with the baseline Capcom shooter: 1942. It wasn’t their first game, but I would argue it represents the starting point of their greatness. Thanks to the combined talents of the PlayStation Vita and Capcom Classics Reloaded, I was able to do so in what surely has to be the most spot-on rendition of the game outside the original arcade cabinet. Sure, the tate orientation is a little uncomfortable given the placement of the Vita’s thumbstick, but those pixels! My goodness.
I remember playing 1942 in the arcade back in the late ’80s, but for the most part my experience with the game has come in the Micronics-developed NES version. That version is, technically speaking, butt. Going back to the arcade edition, I found myself surprised by how not butt it is. The action zips along at a speedier pace with far more happening on screen than I’d expect from a shooter of 1984 vintage, the scenery offers more variety than the flat ocean that dominates the first few stages, and the music… uh, well, the music’s pretty bad. But not as bad as the NES version’s.
In addition to all the bad guys zipping around the screen, the other big innovation 1942 offered to the genre came in the form of its power-up schematic, particularly the little wingmen who would fly in and bump up your firepower. A lot of what 1942 did seems to have been cribbed directly from Galaga‘s playbook — the wingmen, the special ship formations that drop bonuses when destroyed — but they didn’t come with the same penalties and tradeoffs as in the older game. You can see the evolution of the genre at work here as the nature of the game grows more chaotic, with formations splintering into splintering, unpredictable swirls of ships and bullets. Enemies appear from directly behind your ship, forcing you to be mindful of where you position yourself. It’s a long way from Radiant Silvergun, but I can’t think of another more exciting and manic shooter from that era.