Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Strikers 1945 (Playstation 2)

Checkpoints OFF
7 Difficulty levels
8 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed fixed, selectable at start
- - - - - - -
Developed by Psikyo
Published by Taito in 2004

As is usual with companies that aren't ashamed to squeeze everything they can from their brands, Psikyo didn't hold back when deciding to grant the Playstation 2 with collections of its shmups. Three official volumes were released (plus a special edition for the Gunbird series), with the first one highlighting Strikers 1945 and Strikers 1945 II, two sci-fi military themed shooters that had already been out for the previous generation of video games. Having both titles in a single disc is a nice way to experience the classic Psikyo gameplay, even if this particular release fumbles certain aspects in the most awkward manner.

Strikers 1945 is an obvious evolution to Psikyo's earlier Gunbird, sharing many of its features while boosting the challenge level a little. Half the game has shuffled levels, rank increases steeply the more powered up you are and a second loop proves to be in a completely different level as far as difficulty goes. An assortment of planes is available to the player in a mission to stop an alien race from taking over the planet, in a divergent World War II timeline that urges pilots from the most powerful nations to unite. Co-op is possible, which makes things even more insteresting if you care about the historical details of these once very powerful planes.

Experimenting with all planes is essential to find out the one that suits your play style. Each plane behaves differently in terms of hitbox, firepower and speed with controls provided by three fully configurable inputs: shot, rapid and bomb. The purpose of the shot button is to activate a charge attack when you have collected at least one power-up, giving the option(s) a more powerful and useful formation. It’s possible to collect a maximum of four power-ups (P), thus increasing the plane’s firepower and acquiring up to four options. Extra bombs (B) can be stocked up to a maximum of six, while gold ingots at ground level provide extra bonus points.

Japanese plane Shinden takes on the evolved Doramascher mecha

Since this is my third time having fun with the game I didn’t want to choose the Spitfire or the Messerschmidt Bf-109 again, so I decided to go with the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, the same fighter plane made extremely popular by the 19XX series from Capcom. It even has the same type of looping animation on the bomb. It’s got one of the quickest charging times of the bunch, even though the charge shot lacks defensive capability and concentrated power (options are evenly spaced in a fixed straight arrangement). That’s why at times it’s better to just fire at will due to the extra homing shots provided by the options, kinda like the homing bunnies from Gunbird’s Marion.

One of the most distinctive features of Strikers 1945 is the random order of the first four levels. This of course wouldn't be anything special, however the progressive difficulty makes these stages play out much harder the further they appear. Bullet speed, bullet density and bullet patterns from bosses get increasingly harder. The only way to tone down rank is by dying (not acceptable) or by colliding against a flying enemy, an action that doesn't kill you but rather takes away one power level, instantly reducing enemy aggression. It's a valid resource alright, one that I used whenever possible against bosses during the second half of the game.

On the subject of scoring, this is also another game that has an interesting mechanic based on item collection. There's a varying shining effect on all gold ingots, and if you take them when they're the most bright you'll get 2.000 points (a different sound cue will be heard instead of the regular sound effect when you get 200, 500 or 1.000 points). Timing the collection of gold bars amidst the evergrowing barrage of bullets brings up an interesting risk/reward ratio. Another more simple source of points is collecting power-ups and bombs in excess for 4.000 points each. Don't get greedy on bombs though, it's better to use them than die with a full bomb stock, furthermore they don't amount to any bonus whatsoever at the end of the levels. On a last note, a single extra life is achieved when you score 600.000 points.

Unless you're going for the crazy hard second loop, bombing specific boss patterns is a good strategy to conquer the first loop, especially when you start to encounter those random midbosses in the last couple of stages. During the second half of the game continuing sends you back to the start of the level, which seems cruel but is actually good for practicing and coming back stronger next time. 

Strikers 1945's Original 1 mode on the Playstation 2
(courtesy of YouTube user Arcade Forever)

Originally released for the Japanese Playstation 2 market, Psikyo Shooting Collection Vol. 1 - Strikers 1945 I & II eventually appeared in Europe with a shady art design under the title 1945 I & II - The Arcade Games. The box artwork for the Japanese package is rather beautiful to look at, and if you manage to snag the first edition you'll also get a special DVD with five superplays. The ports themselves are very bare bones with no saving functionality, mirroring the same display modes found in the standalone versions for the Playstation or the Saturn. In the case of Strikers 1945 it's Original 1 (fixed YOKO), Original 2 (wobbling YOKO) and Arcade (real TATE). Strikers 1945 suffers from an incredible oversight though, which is the activation of an immediate continue if you keep any of the shot/rapid buttons pressed when you lose your last life. That's certainly annoying because then you can't register your initials at all. Continues add a single point to the score, which keeps counting when you continue the game. Weirdly enough, this problem doesn't happen with Strikers 1945 II.

Below is my final result with the P-38 plane on Arcade/TATE mode in difficulty setting 5 (Normal), dying in stage 2-1. I know I should focus on the next titles in the series from now on, but if I'm still urged to play this one again there is at this moment at least one more Psikyo compilation waiting for a little bit of shmup love. But more on that when (and if) the time comes.

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