Monday, January 28, 2013

Strikers 1945 (Saturn)

Vertical
Checkpoints OFF
7 Difficulty levels
8 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed fixed, selectable at start
- - - - - - -
Developed by Psikyo
Published by Atlus in 1996


Seeing Strikers 1945 in action immediately brings to mind Sonic Wings and 19XX, shooting game series that came before it and served as direct inspiration. In the case of Sonic Wings heritage goes beyond inspiration, since the guys behind Psikyo were part of the team that developed the first Sonic Wings. Strikers 1945 uses the same structure of Gunbird and Sengoku Ace, the previous shooters from the company: shuffled short stages guarded by bosses with increasingly faster/denser bullet patterns. Despite the similarities amongst them all and the stench of constant recycling, we all know these games established a particular style that’s unique to Psikyo, slowly gathering a strong following within the most dedicated fans of the genre over the years.

Strikers 1945 does pack some minor improvements over its predecessors from the other series, such as a slightly higher difficulty and a more developed, albeit incipient, scoring system. From my own previous experience I can say it takes dedication to start enjoying the pacing of a game like this, and sadly most people give up in the process. Endless credits don’t cut it here, for credit feeding sends you back to the start of the stage in the second half of the game. Come to think of it, that’s a nice way of adding fake replay value to a shmup (fake in the sense that unaware people will not beat it in 20 minutes, call it quits and say the game is too easy).

Once the war ended in 1945, an alien race thought it was the right time to unleash an attack on planet Earth. Nations ally and deploy six planes to fight the menace. These planes have a varied arsenal comprised of main gun, charged shot and bomb attack, with differing characteristics for speed and firepower. They strike in four locations before taking on the alien base (stage 5) and rocketing to outer space in stage 6. The only hint of alien activity in the first half of the game are the Decepticon-like creatures that pop out from bosses, which are initially just heavily-armored military craft. Later on a myriad of strange machines and outer space creatures (scorpions, puppets, crabs, etc.) take their places as the hero planes drift even further into outer space territory.

Swallow my fire, alien scum!

Each plane can be powered up four times (P items) and expand its bomb stock (B items). Each power-up adds an option whose function differs according to the craft. A fully powered-up plane will therefore carry four of these options, which combine somehow to provide the charge shot (using the charge shot requires at least one option). Charging time varies from plane to plane, as well as the effectiveness of the bombs – some of them have a panic effect, providing instant protection from death. My favorite planes are the BF-109, the P-38 and the Spitfire, since they have good combinations of firepower, charging time and bombs.

Straightforward blasting is the rule, careful item collecting is the fuel. Fuel for what, you say? Fuel for a higher score and fuel for an even higher level of frustration as you try to maximize gold bar value only to die like an idiot where you absolutely shouldn’t. The game gave me much more trouble to loop than before, when I wasn’t aware of the different bonuses related to the ground items (GREED is indeed a bitch). Gold ingots are uncovered from selected ground enemies and have a variable shining glow. Collect them at the exact moment when they’re at their brightest and you get 2.000 points, do it in their dullest hue and you get 200 points. Middle bonuses might be 500 or 1.000 points. It’s easier said than done, obviously.

Strikers 1945 is known for being swift and intense, with average graphics that are put to good use in explosions and boss animations. Regarding music, the soundtrack does a good job at establishing a military feel even though I can't say it's a remarkable one. From a standalone point of view the overall design is definitely creative, but it all falls short when you consider how much graphical recycling this game shares with Gunbird and Sengoku Ace. All these games are good fun in their own rights, and thankfully all three series were able to find respectable different paths in their second chapters. It might seem an eternity since I was able to loop Strikers 1945 II when I started this blog, therefore it’s not that surprising how my mindset (and general approach towards Psikyo) has changed since then.


Opening and attract mode for Strikers 1945 on the Sega Saturn
(courtesy of YouTube user koosterveld)

Shuffling the initial stages seemingly wasn’t enough to keep Strikers 1945 fresh at every credit, so Psikyo also added an aggressive rank system that makes each one of these starting levels play differently depending on the order in which they appear. The basic idea is that the longer you stay alive, the more powered-up you are and the more bombs you stock the harder the game will get, with enemies firing faster bullets at a higher rate. Once the opponents get too tough one of the strategies the player can use to lower rank is to collide against an enemy, this way you lose one power-up level and enemy aggression is immediately reduced. To keep things under control and have better survival chances I did this at least once in the game: prior to the fight against the 4th boss or as soon as stage 5 started. There are no timed power-downs as in Gunbird, so once maximum power is achieved every further P will be worth 4.000 points each. Surplus bombs also give extra points (maximum bomb stock is 6).

Gold bars and extra items are the main source of score boost, but other strategies can also be used to score higher. One of them is to destroy all parts of a boss and milk its destructible projectiles. Another is to procrastinate a boss fight to capitalize on the popcorn waves that appear regularly (be careful though, all bosses eventually time out and explode in a dangerous bullet spread). And then there’s the secret train in the Doramascher stage, activated by refraining from shooting and hovering over a particular tree for one or two seconds. This train (supposedly from Gunbird) releases a handful of power-ups. For more information refer to this great little page with explanatory pictures.

On the Saturn Strikers 1495 appears with a new animated intro and can be played in two YOKO resolutions (Original 1 and Original 2) and TATE (Arcade). The difference between both Originals is the vertical wobbling that's present in Original 2. Apart from some slowdown, the Playstation port is supposedly equal to the Saturn version. This time I played the game in TATE and was able to improve my personal Saturn best in 16%, again using the Spitfire (difficulty 5 - Normal).

No comments:

Post a Comment