Buckle up and hold onto your joypad! There will be love, hate, action, violence, death…… in one word: Shmups! Join The Engine as we take to the pixelated skies and beyond to earn our wings in a new feature we are dubbing “The Pilot Project”.
As a recreational Shooter (STG or Shmup) fan I do quite often enjoy blasting wave after wave of bad guys, theres just something about the genre that gets your blood pumping! Against all the odds your tiny craft can single-handedly take out an entire army and save the universe! It’s pretty epic stuff! But that’s how it’s supposed to play out, often in reality the bad guys shaft you hard and the universe is destroyed. Your sent home with your tail between your legs asking yourself, where did it all go wrong? Oh how I love a good shooter!
The Pilot Project (or PP for short) will log my journey as I attempt to play, review and beat every Shooter in my PC Engine library of games. Let me start by saying I’m by no means an expert when it comes to Shooter’s, I enjoy them immensely but skill-wise I’m still a humble rookie! All games will be played on the default difficulty settings with standard credit and checkpoint options.
© CAPCOM / NAXAT (1991)
GENRE: VERTICAL SHOOTER
Before we get ahead of ourselves and jump straight into hyperspace I thought it would be quite fitting to begin this project by going way back to 1943 (actually 1991) for a little bit of good-old-fashioned wartime action! Where better to start than with this classic from Capcom! Ported to the PC Engine in 1991 this version features a number of additional stages and original music.
WW2: The Pacific Ocean, somewhere off the coast of the Midway Atoll…..
Japanese forces have launched an aerial assault on the American fleet. You must pursue all Japanese Air and Sea forces, make your way to the battleship Yamato and destroy her.
- Boeing-Stearman Model 75 – A conventional bi-plane of rugged construction equipped with default twin fire Machine Guns.
- 3-Way – Spread shot covering a large area.
- Laser Cannon – High powered peiercing twin Lasers.
- Shell Cannon – Powerful shells with no spread.
- Shotgun – Short range anti-aircraft spread shot.
- Side Fighters – Extra firepower in the form of 2 wingmen flying in formation either side of your craft.
- POW icon – Refills 8 units of your ever-depleating fuel/health.
- Energy Tank – Refills 24 units of fuel/health.
- Yashichi – Completely refills your fuel/health.
- Several Bonus Items – A number of hidden items which give additional bonus points when shot.
Bomb / Special:
- Aerial lightening strike – Sacrifices an amount of fuel/health to unleash a screen clearing lightening strike which only damages airborne enemies.
- Tsunami – Sacrifices an amount of fuel/health to unleash a screen clearing tidal wave which only damages enemy battleships.
- Evasive loop maneuver – Performs a loop-the-loop to avoid enemy fire, the amount of remaining loops is indicated by the number of ‘R’s at the top of the screen.
Take control of your trusty Stearman and fight your way through seven missions consisting of both aerial and sea battles. Missions are often split into two segments, the first taking place at high altitude and the second flying lower to the ground with a boss battle at the end. Failing to defeat the fleet leader when fighting over sea will result in a replay of that section, fail twice and you will skip to the next stage. After each mission the player is graded according to their performance, if 70%+ is achieved an amount of fuel/health will be restored to the Stearman. Destroying a complete formation of red enemy craft will drop the POW icon which when shot will loop through the arsenal of weapons available, eventually turning into an Energy Tank. The classic Capcom special items can also be picked up by shooting certain enemies scattered throughout the game for bonus health refills and points. Super bombs come in form of a lightening strike and tsunami costing the player a small portion of health, the type of bomb attack depends on what type of area you are in. The player can also perform an evasive loop by pressing both buttons simultaneously for when things get too hairy!
Based on the original Arcade game the first seven stages are typical 194X fare but once the player defeats the battleship Yamato a cutscene will show the Boeing Stearman E75 being upgraded, after which the player is taken to the extra stages exclusive to this version. There are a total of four extra stages which feature all new graphics and music, as well as exclusive bosses. The game also features a great 2 player mode!
1943 Kai employs an interesting mechanic in that the fuel/health of your plane will constantly depleat over the course of a stage. To add further depth to the gameplay the weapon system also functions in a similar way by triggering an on screen thirty second timer once an upgrade is collected, the time can be extended to a maximum of eighty seconds by picking up more of the same weapon icons. This mechanic keeps the gameplay fast and furious by making the player strike a perfect balance between restoring their health and increasing firepower.
When it comes to weapon choice the Laser Cannon is by the far the most powerful and is the go-to upgrade in most situations, especially useful against the large battleships. The Shell Canon is very similar but has a smaller sprite animation which limits it’s firing range, it is a decent backup to the Laser if in a tight spot. The 3-way and to a lesser extent the Shotgun also come in handy, the wide spread can easily clear the screen of weaker enemies allowing you to collect power-ups a lot quicker. Bombs typically are not that useful and should only really be used if you are overwhelmed by the enemy. Picking up the Side Fighters will greatly increase your firepower and is always recommended as long as you can keep them alive, just one touch from an enemy bullet will see them destroyed. Once you hit the extra stages all weapons function the same but recieve a major upgrade in both range and power!
To be honest I was never really a big fan of the original 1942, that’s not to say I didn’t like it but the game never really captured my imagination as much as Irem’s R-Type or Konami’s Gradius. Maybe it was the backdrop of WW2 which didn’t really appeal to me at the time or the bland graphics, for whatever reason I never really gave the game the chance it deserved. 1943 Kai was my first foray back into the series and I sure as hell wasn’t disappointed this time around!
The game starts off in typical 1942 fashion, nothing overly flashy or original but its a solid shooter with tight controls and catchy tunes. The level design is a tad on the drab side and lacks variation, your either high in the clouds or over the ocean, so a lot of blue backgrounds! Due to the similar design of each stage the game can feel like a bit of a slog at times and it isn’t until the original mode kicks in that 1943 Kai really comes into its own. Every aspect of the game gets dailled up a notch on the awesome scale! The soundtrack, the graphics, the weapons, the enemies, even the blue backgrounds! It’s like a whole different game and it really does shock you the first time you play it.
All in all 1943 Kai is a great little game, the interesting fuel/weapon mechanic and fast pace keeps you on your toes, throw in the original mode and the game goes from a good shooter to a great one. Controls, learning curve, and difficulty are all spot on, both the hardcore Shmup fan and newcomer can have fun with this one. Naxat did a stellar job in converting the arcade game for home console and some would argue that it is infact the better version.
I beat the game on default settings with 3 credits remaining and achieved a high score of 611,300.