There is one game I have always remembered from my childhood, and that’s Aerofighters. If you know anything from the arcade scene in Mexico, we didn’t have the best variety in the world. We would have a lot of King of Fighters arcades, but other than that, we would only get what was popular at the moment. Because of this, most of my shmup formation was console bred, with Aerofighters being a game I would commonly rent from Blockbuster.
There’s a lot of things I love about the series. The wacky pilots and their variety. the faithful representation of military ships and bosses. Procedurally breaking parts of the colossal enemy bosses. With that being said, I can’t believe no one ever bothered mentioning that there was an arguably superior game with everything I loved about Aerofighters: Strikers 1945.
Developer: Zerodiv Inc.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: Aug 03, 2017
Strikers 1945 is a 2D vertical scrolling shmup set in the immediate post-WWII period. You play as one of 6 pilots with the mission of stopping an organization known as CANY. Perhaps one of the most important things to mention is the pedigree of this game. Strikers 1945 was created by Psikyo, who is credited with creating many other fantastic shmups. Psikyo is also made from ex-Aerofighters devs.
Review note: I’ve been told that Strikers 1945 II plays very similar to I. At the beginning I considered grouping both of them as the same review. In the end I chose against it because the purpose of the ranking is to rank each individual game. This means that even if II is a very similar game, I could rank it higher if I consider it “better”.
From OG bullet hell developers
One of the things that sets Strikers 1945 apart from the pack is the bullet count. Bullet hell games don’t seem that foreign to us now, but back in the 90’s shmups weren’t trying so hard to deliberately kill the player.
It is this bullet hell spread that really makes me feel like in the middle of a war. While WWII is not a “rare” setting for a shoot ’em up game, it is one of the first time I’ve felt the danger. Better yet is that tough patterns aren’t exclusive to bosses or mini-bosses, they are wielded by pretty much every ship.
Strikers 1945 also made me appreciate how the genre has evolved. Keep in mind that shmups have evolved to turn the focus on dodging and grazing. This makes Strikers 1945 feel a little bit rough when compared with modern games. Commonplace quality of live improvements like seeing your hitbox, being able to slow your speed or even watching the enemy HP at the bottom of the screen are understandably absent. And yet, even without all that good stuff, Strikers 1945 feels like a fantastic shooter that could be released today and be thoroughly enjoyed.
Piloting your ship is as straightforward as you could possibly imagine. You move your ship with the directional pad, you shoot with Y and bomb with X… and that’s it! Well, there is actually one more thing which I didn’t discover until BEFORE THIS REVIEW. By holding the shoot button, your wingmen (options) will get into formation and start firing on their own when the button is released.
If there is an element I feel I must mention, it is the bombs. Bombs actually work as they should, but their usage has evolved and maybe a slight reminder is in place. Bombs will shoot a ship specific massive attack that deals tremendous damage. It will briefly make you invincible, but it won’t clear the bullets on screen. This means that getting out of a rough spot is not viable by bombing and clearing the screen.
Because of this slight difference in bombs, I propose an alternate skill path. Instead of learning how to dodge harder and harder patterns, learn to manage your bombs. Far from being a game you can best by just dodging, you will discover that sometimes some enemies need to go down fast. Strikers is quite generous in regards to giving you bombs, and they come back if you get hit. Don’t value them as much for the invincibility or hail Mary factor, but rather for the DPS they provide.
The actual gold mechanics
I might have overextended before reaching the actual point of my previous header, but what I wanted to talk about were the gold bars. Gold bars work as the scoring mechanism of this game. Clever usage of it will allow you to maximize your score.
So, what’s so special about gold bars? I’m glad you asked! Mane other reviewers I checked mention that gold bars award you a random amount between 500 and 2000 points. The thing is, this amount isn’t random at all. The gold bars have a “shining” animation that loops over and over. If you collect the gold bar while it is shining, you will score 2000 points. After the shine, the score goes back to 500, but gradually increases as it approaches the shine part once again.
I’ll admit I wouldn’t have been able to decipher this either if it wasn’t because of Gunbird. At one point I remember hearing that gold coins had a similar effect, so I just put 2 and 2 together and found this. Being able to collect the bars at the appropriate time is your way of scoring high. It is also harder than it seems. Not the actual timing of the gold bar, but having this cycle present in your mind while you try not to die.
High scores aside, is it worth it to optimize your gold bars as a casual player? Probably not. The reason for this is that the extend threshold is at 600,000 points. I usually hit this threshold around stage 6. Being optimal probably won’t give you enough extra lives for your troubles.
Not the WWII I remember
Strikers 1945 has a stage layout very similar to Lightening force. It has 8 different stage, with the first four being randomized in order. The stages slowly go up in difficulty. If a specific stage gives you trouble, you might be lucky enough to get it as the first stage. Or you might get it at the 4th, and have to challenge its highest difficulty.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of Strikers 1945 is the boss fights. At the beginning of a stage, you are shown which particular WWII weapon is your target. Be it a giant blimp or a ground tank, your task is to eliminate it. But there is a catch! Bosses go through phases and in their final phase they transform into a robot. YES, THEY ALL TURN INTO ROBOTS! Sorry about this, but I find this fact all sorts of amusing and fantastic.
I already mentioned my love for Aerofighters, but there is one aspect I’m particularly fond of and which is brought back. I’m talking about destructible bosses. I love it when you can attack different parts of a boss to varying effect. Stuff such as destroying a boss’s left wing or right turret will disable it from the fight. There is probably some strategy to disabling troublesome elements of a boss, but I am simple man. I see wing, I destroy wing.
Ok so maybe I was a little misleading before. Not all stages have bosses that turn into robots. Stage 8 is all about crabs. Why? I really don’t know.
Also, neither me nor my parents existed at the time of WWII, so maybe there were giant robots back then?
Meet the pilots
In Strikers 1945, you can pick one of 6 different pilots. Each pilot has its own shot type, charge shot wingmen and bomb. But the really important thing is that each has its own speed.
If there is any importance to picking the right pilot, it is because of the speed. Remember when I mentioned the commodities of modern shmups? Consider the lack of a button to slow down your speed. You will always move at the same speed, so it is extremely important that you pick a ship that moves at the speed you want to move for the entire game.
Medals of honor
After you beat the game, you will see a recap of each stage. Each stage will show the clear time, number of gold bars collected and number of enemies destroyed. For each of these numbers, you will be awarded a gold medal, a silver medal or no medal.
According to the wiki, there is a reward for getting all gold medals. By being good enough in the original arcade release, you could unlock a special pictures of the pilots topless. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the first 5 pilots are female and only the 6th is a male.
So, the question is, was this easter egg brought back to this release? I really don’t know, on my best run I was missing 2 gold medals. I could do my part and give it another go, but I’ll let you bang your heads against a wall to see if the easter egg made it in.
Feedback loop from hell
Like any respectable shmup from the 90’s, your firepower increases as you collect powerups. Also like any respectable shmup from the 90’s, you lose all of them when you are hit. And also like any respectable shmup from the 90’s (actually, I just realized I’m probably just thinking of Aerofighters), a couple of them are spawned upon death for you to collect.
Unfortunately, this also brings back the dreaded death loop. This is what happens when you die, respawn and try to collect your fallen powerups, only to die again. Is it annoying? Certainly, so learn not to be greedy.
The second loop
If you were good enough to beat the game (or you just set your continues to unlimited), then you will unlock the second loop. The second loop is a second go at the game with increased difficulty and also no continues. Or maybe there are continues? I don’t think I ever made it to the second loop with more than 1 remaining credit.
I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed Strikers 1945. I wasn’t really exposed to the Psikyo games growing up, so all of them are new to me. I usually expect old school games to be regarded with a healthy dose of nostalgia. What I mean is that most of them don’t actually hold on, but rather are carried by fond memories of arcades.
This was absolutely not the case with Strikers 1945. There is probably an argument on how the game channeled by love for Aerofighters (also coated in nostalgia), but I stand by my argument that Strikers 1945 is a great shmup that focuses of what makes the genre so enjoyable.
The ranking so far:
- Psyvariar Delta
- Devil Engine
- Rolling Gunner
- Steredenn: Binary Stars
- Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax
- Sky Force: Reloaded
- Strikers 1945
- Black Paradox
- R-Type Dimensions EX
- Shikhondo – Soul Eater
- AngerForce: Reloaded
- Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
- Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
- Switch ‘N’ Shoot
- Last Resort (ACA Neogeo)