I’m taking a different approach to reviewing multiple games this week, given that I have two titles here from the same publisher that were released on the same day. Taking a look at the second title from Zerodiv, we move now to Striker 1945, which has a distinctly different feel, story and idea than the title that launched alongside it, Gunbarich. This title also suffers from the same issue regarding rotation, so there’s no reason to retread the same complaint when I’ve already voiced, if only because it would be nearly a copy and paste. To sum it up quickly before we dive into the main review: rotating vertically is the best view for the game but there’s not currently a good way to do that without a strong home monitor setup or making a custom Switch holder. Alright, let’s move on.
Striker 1945 is a big nod and takes a lot of inspiration from the World War II vertical shooters that populated the arcades and the home consoles back in the 80s and early 90s. The fact that the year specifically is referenced is indicative of what kind of fighter planes you’re likely to see, specifically six variants of Japanese dog fighter planes. The concept of the game doesn’t need to be explored too deeply, as it’s basically “shoot those who are shooting at you.” As it’s also an arcade game, the main purpose is to get the highest score possible through collecting gold bars that some enemies drop and staying alive for as long as possible. We’ll get to that a little more in a moment.
One thing that stands out pretty quickly in Striker 1945 is a good amount of variety. While certainly newer than recent NEO GEO titles that have been ported, Striker 1945 still hails from the far distant 1996 and had the honor of being on the late, great Sega Saturn. You have six planes to choose from, each with a different kind of shooting pattern, charged shot and bomb attack. You also have seven difficulty levels to decide, from “Very Hard” all the way down to “Monkey.” I kind of love the fact that Monkey, level one, is one notch lower than “Child,” even though a lot of people would argue a monkey is smarter than a baby. Anyways, each plane has its own strengths and weaknesses, be it a smaller plane but fewer bullets or being a hell fire machine that moves like a tortoise. Even on the highest difficulty, the number of bullets on screen don’t compare to those of modern bullet hell games, such as Castle of Shikigami, so novices to the shmup genre don’t have to stress about possibly becoming awash in death too early on.
Much like Aero Fighters II (also developed by Psikyo), you get a really clean, diverse play from each of the planes in Strikers 1945. Generally speaking, the planes here tend to be zippier and a little more responsive than your average “historic” shooter, which works out well given the number of ships you end up with on the screen at any given time. The bosses are large but relatively predictable and, if you save your bombs for the end of the stages, boss battles are next to nothing on your radar. It becomes a HUGE pain in the ass to take a shot later on, because, as you probably guessed, it knocks out any powerups you may have collected and only releases one or two into the air for you to recover during your limited invulnerability. Of course the game wants to reward you based on skill and not getting hit, but the penalty feels incredibly harsh, as the red planes (the ones that drop powerups) seem to become quite scarce after the third boss or so. Still, mostly, it’s a great play on the television.
However, and this is a bit of a sway, I really, really cannot recommend the game in handheld. Since Striker 1945 is also meant to be enjoyed on a vertical screen, it has static frames to make everything squared away when you have a landscape display. Not a problem, we knew this going in. But the screen feels so cramped on the Switch that even the first couple of stages are a practice in squinting and praying that you don’t secretly need glasses, and God help you if you do. There’s simply too much happening at once and your plane is way, way too small to track all the time . I would even argue the harder difficulties play better in portable mode because your strategy changes so much from easier levels. With the lower difficulty tiers, you can fly around more of the stage, grabbing items earlier but, as a result, losing yourself in the shifting background and the appearing enemy planes. Harder means you want to pull back to the edge of the screen so you can focus on bullet dodging and it’s much easier to keep an eye on yourself there. I don’t feel like this is a personal choice, I genuinely feel that I can’t see the bloody game well enough to trust myself to have freedom of movement.
One last, slightly hilarious note about Striker 1945. For video game historians, you may know that Striker 1945 has a small touch of infamy in the video game world by having a secret ending for incredibly skilled players. You don’t know that a majority of the pilots (five out of six, in fact) are women until they step out of their planes at the very end. And, if you were especially skilled in flight and didn’t lose a single life, they really made sure you knew they were mostly women through a series of undressed stills that I guess were your reward for winning. Don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t anything pornographic about it, and you can’t see any female nipples (the one dude pilot is rocking a banana hammock and shades, so I guess there’s that), the whole thing feels about as raunchy as a hot rod calendar your dad may have had in the garage growing up. But can you imagine that scene in an arcade? You and your buddies are having the best game ever, flying and dodging like a damn champion, and then you finally beat the game and BOOM, mostly naked people up on the screen! What do you even do? Giggle? Run away? Get hit by your mom who was watching and has now confirmed all of her biases about video games in one moment? Switch owners do not need to worry about this potential unlock, as it has been removed for this newest iteration, but I thought it pertinent to mention for gamers who were maybe honing their skills to see if the sprites were updated for 2017.
I think classic shooters may not necessarily be the games for me, and that’s OK. I like shmups to be more fantastical and sci-fi in general, so I just always had a small feeling of bored when I was playing Striker 1945. It’s a small bias that was only exacerbated by the handheld shortcomings, but were still tempered by the variety of ships (yet none of them were dolphins!). Psikyo and Zerodiv do arcade games well, for all players, and I am excited and appreciate this additional entry on the Switch. Arcade players may soon start migrating more and more to the Switch to get their fix of updated and preserved classics, and, for those lucky enough to own a Switch, it’s a growing market each and every day.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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