A review of Strikers 1945 II poses something of a challenge. We could copy and paste the entirety of our Strikers 1945 review, and very little would have to be tweaked. It is, for all intents and purposes, an encore of the first game.
That might seem like a criticism, but it’s not – not really. It’s an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ sequel, and – in the case of Strikers 1945 – there wasn’t much broken. Strikers 1945 was also slimline, offering only eight levels and a fifteen minute playthrough; getting another eight levels and another fifteen minutes is more than welcome.
As with Strikers 1945, the shoot ’em up quality is high. This is a vertical shooter from 1997 that came with a strong reputation, and you can see why. There’s not an ounce of fat to it. Your choice of WWII plane is nimble and small enough to duck into the gaps between missiles, allowing you complete control over your own success and failure. It allows the designers to have fun throwing wave after wave of enemies, creating a bullet hell that is simultaneously intense and manageable.
Controls are simple. You won’t be lifting your finger from the fire button, as you duck and weave through the level. You can tap B to fire your smart bomb, which is something of a misnomer: more often than not, it’s a fleet of planes, simultaneously dousing the screen with fire, as well as protecting you from bullets. You soon get used to dropping one when you are about to be dinged by incoming fire. Each plane has a different version of this smart bomb, offering marginally more offense or defense.
Levels are also simple, but not enough to be repetitious. They start off with some scattered planes or tanks, dropping power-ups that stack to give you more impressive armaments (like the smart bombs, the basic fire patterns are different according to the plane you have chosen. Our favourite, the Flying Pancake, fires willy-nilly in every direction, and the spread can be potent on higher power settings). A miniboss soon arrives, often an aircraft carrier or submarine that’s been overspending on its defence budget. Then it’s onto the big boss, often a mech that not only destroys you, but destroys any historical accuracy the game might have had.
If there’s an improvement over Strikers 1945, it’s that levels feel more varied. There was a predilection for industrial bases in the first game, and there just seem to be more biomes and backgrounds this time round. It’s hardly a game-changer, but we’re getting desperate for differences to mention in the review.
Zerodiv and City Connection have done a decent job of curating this Psikyo classic, particularly in terms of the options tossed your way. It’s possible to tweak the difficulty, lives and continues, for example, so you have absolutely zero excuse for not seeing one of the game’s many endings. Visual filters are also customisable. We would have taken more museum elements, like galleries of concept art and interviews, particularly when Psikyo themselves have added exactly that to collections of these shoot ’em ups in the past, but it’s hard to criticise the range of options that are actually here. Other remasters have done far worse. Although, we would have taken an Xbox Series X|S optimisation.
Which is a neat segue to the largest criticism that we have of Strikers 1945 II, which – as you might expect – was the same criticism that we had in the first Strikers 1945 review. There’s an abiding sense that there isn’t much value to be had. At £7.49 each, these retreads of Psikyo classics are on the pricey side, particularly when you consider that they have been launched as Neo Geo Classics for a lower price, and that they have been put out as compendiums and collections on other systems. There’s a whiff of the mercenary to how these games are being released, one at a time, onto the Xbox Store, and we would have much rather seen them released together.
The fact that Strikers 1945 II feels like DLC for Strikers 1945 only underlines that criticism. This is more of the same, so shelling out twice – and a reasonably big shell at that, at £7.49 – becomes a harder decision than it really should have been. Seeing the Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium releasing at a similar time, and how much curation and content you get for your money, makes it stick somewhat in the craw.
Strikers 1945 II is peak Psikyo shoot ’em uppery. It’s fast, overblown and demands to be replayed. In any other situation, we’d be lauding it and telling everyone to buy, buy, buy. But we hesitate because these Psikyo classics are being chopped up and sold independently for high prices, and – when Capcom are mastering the curation of their back catalogue – it feels a touch on the greedy side.
You can buy Strikers 1945 II from the Xbox Store