Tag Archives: Shoot ‘Em Up

#28: 1942

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up Released: 1984 Developer: Capcom

Every time we went to holiday parks or the seaside when I was a kid, I would beg to be taken to the arcade. I think at first my mum thought I had a gambling problem, but in actual fact I didn’t pay the slightest bit of attention to the fruit machines  – I only had eyes for all those wonderful arcade games.

Although having said that I’ve always quite liked those machines with the sliding racks of 10 pence pieces – does that still count as gambling?

1942-arcade-cabinet

Anyway, going to the arcade was a real treat when I was young. There was a huge gap between the quality of games in the arcade and the quality of games for home systems, so seeing the latest coin-ops was like taking a glimpse into the future. It’s completely different now of course – if anything, home systems are actually slightly ahead of most arcade machines, and most arcades are completely dominated by the same old shooting and driving games. Add to that the fact that the cost of console games has come down while the cost of arcade credits has gone up (or at least stayed the same), and there suddenly seems to be little point in visiting the arcade anymore.

Still, back in the eighties it was all different, because a trip to the arcade meant you could play something mind-bogglingly amazing… like Out Run, Double Dragon, Shinobi, Chase HQ or 1942.

1942_screenshot

I always made a beeline straight for the 1942 cabinet whenever I went into an arcade. The other games I mentioned are all excellent in their own right, but for some reason I was totally hooked on this shoot ’em up.

I don’t even know what it is that I like about it so much – maybe it’s the simplicity, or maybe it’s the well-balanced gameplay. It’s a hard game, but it’s never unfair, so every time you die you know you could do better next time if you just moved that little bit quicker, or tapped the loop-the-loop (evade) button a tiny bit faster. The risk/reward ratio is just right as well – diving for the power ups is always worth it, even if it might end in a fiery death (and the loss of a 20p credit).

1942_screenshot-2

Having said that, it looks incredibly dated now. The graphics could be generously described as ‘dull’… I mean, just look at it – you spend most of the game staring at what looks like stippled blue wallpaper flecked with bits of green snot. Also, there’s hardly any variation in the enemies  – some planes are red instead of green (whoo) and sometimes a slightly bigger plane turns up (although these planes are usually green as well). Understandably, the gameplay gets pretty repetitive quite quickly. Also, the music was pretty damn awful, even by the standards of the time (just listen to the video below to see what I mean).

1942_screenshot-3

I haven’t played the original in years, but I found a remake (1942: Joint Strike) on Xbox Live Arcade that looked promising. It has the same repetitive gamplay but it’s still somehow compelling: I think this game – in all its forms – must generate some kind of Pavlovian response deep in the cerebellum that keeps your trigger finger twitching long after your conscious brain has entirely disengaged.

1942 – a flawed classic. But I’d still happily bypass all the Time Crisis and House of the Dead cabinets to play on it if I saw it in an arcade now. Especially if it still cost 20p.

Lewis

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Filed under 1984, Capcom, Coin-Op, Shoot 'Em Up

#18: U.N. Squadron

Format: Super NES Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up Released: 1991 Developer: Capcom

Back in the day, I used to be a massive fan of shoot ’em ups (or ‘shmups’ as people are trendily abbreviating them nowadays). I don’t play them so much anymore, but there’s still something satisfying about a good shooter – the frantic button hammering, the screen-filling bosses, the feeling of constantly being no more than a gnat’s hair away from explodey death… yeah, there really is nothing like a good old shoot ’em up.

un squadron box

Having said that, I think you do need a special kind of gaming autism to really enjoy them: the hallmark of the genre is a level of difficulty that cultivates armchair-gnawing, joypad-snapping frustration in most gamers, but shmup players have developed the Zen-like patience/sheer bloody-mindedness to not only persevere with but enjoy these most unforgiving of games. In this respect, U.N. Squadron was a little more lenient than its peers, featuring – horror of horrors – an energy bar. Energy bars are like kryptonite to hardcore shoot ’em up players, who believe that they detract from the intensity of the shoot ’em up experience. For sane people though, they offer the opportunity to get past the end of the first level without retrying several hundred times.

un squadron first boss

Despite the energy bar, U.N. Squadron was by no means easy, although it was a lot more forgiving than some of its contemporaries, such as Gradius III. It also had the added bonus of featuring various paths through the game, something that we take for granted now but which at the time was fairly rare. This meant that it was rare to get stuck on one level, and the sheer variety of planes and weapon upgrades was a compelling reason to keep playing (and replaying).

un squadron chopper

Surprisingly, U.N. Squadron had a plot. I say ‘surprisingly’, because I’ve just found out that it’s based on an old manga called ‘Area 88’ – you can read all about it here. I’m always surprised when games like this have a plot – it seems so utterly unnecessary and ridiculous, like the ongoing plot of Tekken. I mean, in what possible situation would a single plane go up against an entire air force? I’m not sure where the U.N. come into it either – I presume that in this scenario the G8 have withdrawn funding, so the U.N. can only afford to send one plane at a time on peacekeeping missions.

un squadron stealth

Looking back at this game, it’s clear just how much gaming has moved on in the last twenty years, and I even remember thinking at the time that shoot ’em ups were ‘a bit old-fashioned’. The entire genre is based around repetitiveness, and any attempt at complexity rarely extends beyond choosing which special weapons to equip. Having said that, it’s hard to beat shmups for a pure adrenaline rush, and now that I have less and less time to play games, a quick five-minute blast on a traditional side scroller like this has more and more appeal. U.N. Squadron was certainly one of the better genre efforts, and it’s surely overdue for a revival.

UN Squadron clouds

Shoot ’em ups are a sort of prehistoric gaming genre that has somehow survived into the 21st century – like the Coelacanth, they keep being declared extinct, and then a thriving colony of them pops up somewhere unexpected. After all, a healthy clutch of shooters was recently spotted on PS2, and reports of new shmups being released on Dreamcast persisted long after the console’s ‘demise’. Here’s hoping that  U.N. Squadron will throw off its extinct status and resurface on Xbox Live Arcade sometime soon.

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.mobygames.com)

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Filed under 1991, Capcom, Shoot 'Em Up, Super NES