Review by K. Mroczko

"A welcome return to the vertical shooter..."

Long ago, when the console world was ruled by the 16-bit generation, shooters were big. The genre was as prevalent as the first-person-shooters of today. Each year saw the release of a windfall of titles, and while a good portion were highly derivative and poorly made, there were a select few that became classics, and endure even today.

In the early 1990s, a game by the name of Raiden changed the course of vertical shooters forever. Raiden's brash style and feverish intensity captured the hearts of many. Players had to become adept at dodging screen fulls of bullets, not solely relying on rote memorization, but rather on true skill. This was the refinement necessary to complete the shooter as a genre, and it solidified its style and legacy.

Enter Strikers 1945. Developed by Psikyo, the Strikers series, now in its fourth iteration, carries with it some of the play mechanics of the Aero Fighter series. Both games share similar weapons, the brevity of levels, and massively mechanized boss characters. This version of the game is actually Strikers 1945 II, but due to a fear of customer confusion, the localization team, Agetec, decided to drop the II. Call me crazy, but this makes things more confusing for those who are actually in the know with the series. You might expect to get the original (which was released in Japan), but you'll instead get the sequel. In any regard, the game is good enough that the name really doesn't matter.

As the title implies, Strikers 1945 is a vertical shooter in the vane of Capcom's venerable 19XX series. The time period is World War II, and the Axis powers have aligned with an alien crab (?) race of incredible might and technology. Basically, all you need to know is that there are eight levels for you to storm through with your assortment of flying machines. You are equipped with a standard-issue rapid-fire cannon, a special weapon, and a bomb; all three exclusive to each craft.

The gameplay is rather simple, but it still employs a bit of strategy. Unless you possess cat-like reflexes, your survival will likely depend on the correct deployment of both your bombs and special weapons. Each can dispose of bosses quickly and can get you out of a tight situation when necessary, but the correct balance of conservation and tactical deployment is essential.

The levels vary, but overall, are fairly short in length. Each time you play, the first four levels will randomly switch up for a bit of added variety. It should be noted that the difficulty level progresses the further you advance. So regardless of which levels you get first, the difficulty will increase in a linear fashion. Psikyo, as evident with their past games, seem interested in getting you to the boss battle quickly, as if they see it as the highlight of the gameplay. I have issues with this thinking. While it's true that the end-of-level bosses are both difficult and exciting, the essence of a shooter should be a quality traversal to the boss, such as in the Raiden series. In this respect, you may find the game lacking.

Graphically, Strikers 1945 is a mixed bag. There are a few high-points in character design and the bomb attacks are eye-catching, but overall, the Playstation port is lacking. The resolution seems low, colors are heavily-dithered, and the animation is anemic. No wonderful explosions here. Success, the developers of the port, appeared to have difficulty with the Playstation's 2D performance and memory constraints. While everything is adequate, it just feels like something is missing when all the effects and animations are so minimal. On the positive side, slow-down is almost non-existent in single-player, something that the Saturn and Neo Geo versions can't match. So the game flows smoothly and quickly, although with little flash or wow-factor.

In the sound department, the effects do the job, and the music is, well, there. There's nothing too snappy, and the game seems to realize this as it plays back at a subdued tone. Again, like the graphics, it's not going to win any awards.

One thing must be said about Strikers; it is downright difficult. The normal difficulty setting (of which eight are selectable) is damn-near impossible to the average shmo. While Agetec allows you infinite continues until level 6, if you get stuck continuing at this level, you're in for a tough final battle. The translation team should have instead offered a limited number of continues that you could use at your discretion. This would have made much more sense, and would have improved the mechanics of the game.

The insane difficulty of the game stems from the boss battles. Once you reach the midpoint of the game, these giant mechanized beasts will sometimes spew an impassable barrage of bullets that require either a bomb or loss of life. You will soon realize that it's in your best interest to dispose of these monsters as quickly as possible, which entails the storage of special weapons and bombs for the encounter. I will criticize this play mechanic in that it skews the line of skill and impossibility. There should always be a way to maneuver through enemy fire; it's the unwritten rule of a good shooter.

In terms of extras to the home version, quite frankly, there are practically none. There is the option to save high scores, to adjust difficulty and settings, and to select whether you want the letter boxed screen to scroll up and down a bit, or to remain stationary. There are no intro movies or other Playstation-specific features to speak of.

Despite the game's nagging faults and shortcomings, I must admit that at least for a short while, I was hopelessly addicted to the game. It's fairly short, highly chaotic, and very exciting. You might be surprised to find yourself wanting to complete the game with each plane, as it is a noticeably different experience depending on which you choose. If you're in the mood for a simplistic and highly challenging shooter with no frills, give Strikers 1945 PSX a spin.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 02/28/02, Updated 02/28/02

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