Hall of Fame Inductee
Original Release: 1984 (Arcade)
Designed by: Yoshiki Okamoto
Developed by: Capcom
Published by: Capcom
The fact that 1942 was the first successful shoot-em-up for the start-up Capcom back in 1984 is something that could not have been predicted by most. 1942 was not Capcom’s first game in the genre. Nor was it its best-looking or complex at the time. However, 1942 still managed to be a huge success for the company and took away many quarters from much more impressive looking games. Its simple charm was seen by most as a good thing. Even today, with the game looking like an antique even compared to other 2D shoot-em-ups, it still can entice gamers to lose hours in trying to fight off enemy ships while flying loop-de-loops.
Capcom had released their first video game in 1984 titled Vulgus. It was an above average shoot-em-up which helped give the newly-minted Capcom some respectability in the video game world. However, Vulgus wasn’t really all that popular in arcades. Even though it holds a special place in the heart of those who developed the game, it has become one of Capcom’s forgotten gems. Perhaps the problem with Vulgus is that it was too ambitious a project. Considering that the most popular shooting games at the time were Space Invaders and Galaga, Vulgus was much more complex. The most popular arcade games at the time were those that were simple to get into yet hard to master.
Capcom went backwards with 1942. While some purists may grumble that Capcom devolved by making something rather rudimentary, 1942 quickly became a popular hit. It may have not been as graphically dynamic as Vulgus, but the game could certainly hold its own. It was graphically comparable to Galaga and blew Space Invaders out of the sky. They kept the concept simple and made it so that the difficulty curve was perfect (very easy to get into but quickly got more difficult to ensure gamers were constantly putting quarters into the machine).
It’s kind of weird though that the game was as popular in Japan as it was. The game is based on the Japanese theatre of World War II with the player controlling a single plane for the American side. The goal is to beat all 32 levels to make it to the centre of the Japanese aerial fleet and destroy them in Japan before they can launch their assault against the United States. It’s especially bizarre because Japan has had national controversies over scholars and government officials trying to downplay Japan’s role in World War II. However, this game puts them front-and-centre as the evil antagonist. Yet it did incredibly well in Japan where the arcades had been dominated by Space Invaders and Galaga.
Perhaps it was the right time for 1942 to come along. People were beginning to have their fill with some of the mainstays in the arcade. There’s only so many times you can play the same game over and over again. At least with 1942, not only was it differently, but it didn’t feel like you were playing the same level over and over again. The game changed the level layout as the player progressed. It helped keep players hooked.
This is all despite the fact that there really weren’t any special gimmicks to the game. Still, the game offered quite a number of power-ups that the player could get to help them out of a thorny situation. One of the more notable things this game provided was the ability to perform an emergency loop-de-loop. This allowed players to quickly maneuver out of the way of an incoming enemy. However, players only could perform this maneuver a few times throughout the game. It was a neat feature (almost cute in a way) but only felt beneficial when employed properly. Contrast that against a power-up like a screen clearing bomb which some would argue doesn’t involve any sort of strategy (although that power-up is available as well). Players also had the ability to obtain extra wingmen, increase their firepower, and stop enemies from shooting for a brief period of time.
As stated before, the game performed very well for Capcom and it eventually became their first full-fledged franchise. The game was later ported to a variety of consoles such as the NES, Commodore 64, Game Boy Color, and Windows Mobile. The game was also made part of compilation discs for the Sega Saturn, Playstation 1, Playstation 2, and the original Xbox. The original game also received a face-lift (titled 1942: Joint Strike) and was published for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 downloadable services with additional features such as online leaderboards and updated graphics.
The first sequel was released a year later. 1943, while not as successful as the original, still had a decent following. Other releases followed such as 1943 Kai: The Battle of Midway, 1941: Counter Attack, 19XX, The War Against Destiny, and 1944: The Loop Master. None of these games came close to the popularity that 1942 had, although 1943 did manage to become a staple in the more established arcades.
Sometimes simpler is better. That’s what the public said about 1942. While most who played Vulgus enjoyed what the game had to offer, it was just easier and more enjoyable to play 1942.It was simple fun that became incredibly addictive.