A vertical shooter that started life in the arcades before being ported to the PS1 and Sega Saturn, Strikers 1945 hasn’t aged a day.
Taking place immediately after WWII, there’s some hokum about a faction called C.A.N.Y., who are joining the fray with tech that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Killzone game. Giant airships and mechs are facing off against your simple spitfires and flying pancakes, and the odds look like they might be against you.
You hop into your choice of six different planes from the period, and they all maneuver in much the same way. It’s shooter basics, with A to fire (hold to save yourself some carpal tunnel) and B to unleash a smartbomb, should you have one. The planes differ once you start collecting the power-ups that stagger up your weaponry. Some grow a fleet of smaller planes around them, acting as shields or mobile battery platforms, while others opt for overblown lightshows whenever you press the fire button. They each have variants on the smart bomb, but they’re mostly cosmetic.
The enemies are WWII ordinance, dialled up to eleven. Aircraft carriers open up like an autobot to reveal flying mechs. Ships snap into different crustacean-like shapes, as they move from scorpion to crab to lobster. It can be a little grey and repeated, particularly in the early levels, which bleeds some levels together, but you’re only thirty seconds away from the next boss, which will invariably be a multi-staged helicarrier of some kind. And that’s always cool.
There are eight levels here, which isn’t a spectacularly large number. Pull the difficulty down to 1 (several difficulties are available before each run), and we’d estimate that you’ll reach the end in something like twenty minutes. But Strikers 1945 is there to be replayed, as the eight levels are randomised, and each plane offers just enough variation to make them worth toying with independently. Achievements egg you on to do exactly that.
The secret sauce of why Strikers 1945 still plays well today is the controls. Each plane is incredibly maneuverable, and the bullet-hells that you are faced with are supremely clear. There’s no camouflaging of torpedos into the background: if you die, it will most definitely be your fault. There’s generosity, too, as a large number of the missiles and bullets wending towards you can be destroyed, giving you a means of clearing the board.
Better still, there is a packaged-in two-player mode, which ratchets the enjoyment up one more notch. It pushes at the ceiling of legibility, making the screen even noisier, but it’s worth it. There’s not much better than collaboratively taking down a space starfish.
So, why do we feel a little hollow when rounding up our Strikers 1945 review? The problem comes from its publisher, City Connection. This is a game that has been doing the rounds in multiple game compendiums – most recently in the Psikyo Collection Vol 1 and 2 on the Nintendo Switch. Those museums included multiple games for a reduced price, and came with some fantastic museum-like content. Yet, on Xbox, we’re getting the games independently (Sol Divide has been launched onto the Xbox Store on the same day by the same publisher), for the reasonably sizable price of £7.49. It’s also not the first time the game has arrived on Xbox, with the Neo Geo port available for £6.09.
Do we get extras to sweeten the deal? Unfortunately not. A game like this is begging for additional replayability, a reason to be exposed to its simple, chaotic thrills for another twenty-minute playthrough. Challenges, global highscores or similar would have been ambrosia. Equally, this is a game with a lot of history, having journeyed from the arcade to multiple systems and finally ending up on the latest gen. But we get nothing outside of what the original game offered us.
Don’t get us wrong: Strikers 1945 is definitely worth picking up. It’s a rush, a bombastic vertical shooter that gets almost everything right. Carving through a mech that erupts from a 1940s tank never gets old. But there’s some lamenting to be had, as it’s a repackaged game that has been repackaged better before. For £7.49, we would expect more than some fancy artwork.
You can buy Strikers 1945 from the Xbox Store