Review by CC DeVille

"So close to perfection."

This is not Gradius, or R-Type, or Raiden. While there is no unique power-up system, the choice of six planes - each with different characteristics - is what Strikers 1945 II lures you in with. Simple as it may sound, not since Parodius and its sequel have I played a shooter with different ships -- and along with R-Type Delta, these are all from the inferior side-shooter genre. Strikers is a vertically-scrolling, overhead shooter and with the title, you may have guessed that the setting is World War II: the final year. With that said, let's drift off-course somewhat and take a look at Layer Section: it used a laser weapon to strike down upon ground targets; only the airborne flamed from your shots. But while that member of the Rayforce series was a fine game, it was perhaps too strategic for its own good. You see, your ship was very large which made the factor of classic evasion seem unwelcome and out-of-place.

Strikers doesn't stray from the tried formula. It focuses less on strategy, and more on pure reflexes. Impressing yourself (and your friends) every time you play; mesmerised by the flying bullets as you avoid them, and at the same time asking yourself ''How the hell did I do that?'' Your ship is purposely minute, giving you more space on-screen to avoid the flaming dots. But although the six ships are competent and variable, you'll find your niche in little time. I discovered mine within a few plays, and after trying out Hayate for a change, I was soon chastising myself for not sticking with the big, blue blob of batter. That's really what the ships are there for -- not so that the player can take control of many planes, but so he can find the one best suited to him. And to me, power is not a high priority. For the inexperienced power-hungry it may seem that the most important quality is strength to destroy...but without speed here you're as good as dead.

You may start playing in one of several game modes, with the unlearned choosing to take the road of non-moving screen action. While I initially made the same mistake of choosing the mode which stayed locked in position for eternity, I soon realised that the option of a moving camera allowed more space up and down, thus allowing a larger space in between bullets should you be at the bottom of your TV screen. Make a trip to the hangar and it's time to choose your plane...go ahead, try each one...you'll come crawling back to the Pancake every time. Each ally has their different weapon and level of speed; the former which can be upgraded three times by collecting power-up symbols from flying shrapnel.

With only eight levels, Strikers can be completed within 20 minutes. Levels are short, most only around two minutes long. Ironically, I know this because upon completing the shooter a list of times is displayed for each level -- as if showing off the vast length of the stages. They're filled to the brim with action though. Piloting the Mosquito, taking down seemingly juggernaut tanks take no more than a few shots. Various backgrounds of crops and other farmland blend in extremely well to emit an atmosphere not unlike how it was back in those hard times (not that I would know). Jungle and desert terrain, as well as subterranean submarines try so very hard not to let you make a name for yourself.

Like the arcade counterpart, the first four levels are chosen for you in random order, increasing in difficulty each time. Bullets whistle past your wings while you dodge the dogfighters themselves so as not to lose your weaponry. Bosses provide much of the pain - consisting of different forms - with the regular enemies proving to be just a warm-up. Enemy sprites great and small fill the screen with poorly-aimed bullets, whilst you attack with aggression trying to raise your special meter. This meter has three levels, and should it be used it will help you out with a welcome special attack of the respective level. With this, your regular weapon and what in other games is referred to as a ''bomb'', you have with you a forceful armory. The ''bombs'' are the good kind -- pressing either R button calls upon a horde of allied fighters that don't suffice with just attacking on-screen enemies; they shield you from enemy fire in the process.

The explosions look choppy and distorted, but everything else looks just like the coin-op save for the fact that it's a scaled-down version. Huge grey planes hover down above scattered cloud, kilometres above the green ocean and rugged forest. Monstrous bases open up as you approach them, sending huge balls of light your way. Bullets still hide in the desert where you are likely to get shot. Sounds of explosions and shooting drown out the excellent music so idiosyncratic to shooters, but the generated electric guitar rock suits the action fine. At heart, it's an outstanding shooter. But the lack of...anything can't be ignored. No analogue support...are they mad? How can an arcade game so heavily based on maneuvering not support the stick? Aside from a few unfathomable clips of each plane taking a spin in the hangar, there's nothing. Eight short levels, no secrets and an ending that was actually better than what I expected (I had no expectations).

It's not Raiden. Even more so, it's not Raiden 2. But it is a much-needed shooter for the Playstation. Adding to the cause by neglecting to go to the dying arcades, I had found myself without a decent overhead for too long. However, I had played this; up the back, always by myself. No one joined in, and that's how I liked it -- my concentration unbroken; power-ups without ownership. And now that I own this excellent home version, the thirst of a great shooter has finally been quenched. It is everything I could ask for in a shooter, without asking for too much.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/15/02, Updated 01/02/04


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