Review by DConnoy
"Not spectacular, but a welcome PSX shooter."
Just to clarify, this review is actually for Strikers 1945 II; Agetec dropped the sequel designation for the US release of the game ''to avoid confusion''. Since I write my reviews primarily for the US audience, I'm putting my review here, as I think this is where most people would look.
Famous for about a billion vertical-scrolling shooters on the Dreamcast, developer Psikyo didn't stray from their formula for this title. It's not a particularly notable shooter, but the PlayStation is bereft of this style of game (the mediocre RaySeries notwithstanding), so it's worth a look for those who would like a two-player overhead shooter for their PSX that isn't as flawed as Taito's offerings.
This is not a particularly colorful game--the creators were clearly going for a gritty, realistic World War II theme. But for a system that supposedly can't do 2D, it is quite a technical triumph. The landscapes you fly over are ever-changing and meticulously detailed, not just a repeating pattern, there are some quite amazing cloud effects, and the larger enemies explode and crash in glamorous, debris-intensive ways. While slowdown occasionally happens, it's very rare, and gameplay proceeds without a hitch almost all the time. The worst annoyance is probably that some of the fighters--mainly the blue Pancake and green Shinden--blend into the backgrounds, causing momentary confusion. Thankfully, unlike the RayGames, enemy bullets hardly ever get lost in the shuffle.
This would probably be a good place to talk about the two play modes. The arcade version of this game was played on a ''tall'' screen, so the playfield is windowboxed on the left and right to fit it on to a television, and the screen scrolls up and down as well if you play in ''Original 2'' (arcade) mode. This screen-scrolling in Original 2 is so nauseating as to make it unplayable in my estimation, even more so during two-player. So, the better option is ''Original 1'', a mode that fits the entire playfield on to one screen, and adjusts the number of enemies and the speed of their bullets downward to compensate for the smaller field. As far as I know, the US release of the game does not have an option to turn your TV on its side for a full-screen image, probably because Agetec didn't want to be liable for some doof damaging his expensive TV trying to make it do something it was never intended to.
Pretty straightforward shooter music here--generic synth-rock stuff. Nothing too special, but it's not bad either. I would have liked to have an option for sound balance, so that I could hear it more clearly over the sound effects, but oh well.
Sound is anything but average. Every fighter's weapons make characteristic noises (the Shinden's super-shot being particularly cool), giant mecha bosses clomp around, and enemies explode with exciting, crunchy blasts. Good stuff.
Eh, I sure would have liked more than just digital control. But, buttons are customizable, and there is a two-player simultaneous mode. Also, the left analog stick is supported for digital emulation; while not being any more accurate than the D-pad, it is definitely more comfortable for the thumb.
So, it's an overhead shooter. You fly vertically up the screen, shoot the enemies, and try not to get killed. I'd call it ''retro'', but that would surely offend some people. You have three different types of attacks: regular shots, which can be powered up to four levels, a ''super shot'' that upgrades as a meter fills at the bottom of the screen, and a support attack that calls in a squad of allied planes to help you out. Support attacks are picked up as items, and always lend some measure of invincibility when used, which makes up for the fact that your plane can be destroyed in one hit.
Gameplay is made a little more interesting by randomizing the first four (of eight) stages. This is a nice feature to lend some variety, but I would have liked the ability to choose my path (a la Thunder Force V) better. There are also six different World War II-style fighters to use, each with varying speed, weapons, super shots, and support attacks. For example, the Focke-Wulf can cancel enemy fire with its super-shot, but doesn't have any homing weapons and has a crummy support attack; on the other hand, the DH98 has immense firepower and the best support attack in the game, but is extremely sluggish. The trade-offs between the various fighters are the best-executed element of the game--each fighter has unique abilities that must be taken advantage of to do well.
Unfortunately, trying out the six different planes is the only replay value this game provides. There are no secrets to be unlocked as far as I know, and there are no particular rewards for winning at higher difficulties. In fact, it seems like the only way to see an ending is to win at one of the three lowest difficulty settings.
Indeed, it's the balance of the difficulty settings that most irritates me about this game. Some semblance of challenge is kept at all levels by the fact that using a continue in the second half of the game starts you back at the beginning of the stage you continued in, but I've been trying to beat the game without continuing at all and it's driving me nuts. ''Very Easy'' is just that--I almost always win, and usually have a couple lives left over. But then I go up one notch to ''Easy'' and the game devours my soul with aggressive enemies and literally screen-filling patterns of boss fire. I suppose it might be a little unreasonable to expect the game to cater to my particular skill level, but with seven levels of difficulty I was hoping to find one that was challenging but not impossible.
As I said in the introduction, this game might not be all that special on any other system. But on the PSX, with its shortage of both two-player shooters and vertical-scrolling shooters, it becomes a welcome addition to the library. While I dislike the difficulty scale and lack of unlockable stuff, Strikers 1945 still beats the heck out of the RayGames, and can probably be found cheaper too.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 04/16/01, Updated 04/25/01
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