Currently there is no Virtual Console on the Switch, but there are still a few options for those seeking ye olde gaming thrills, such as Namco Museum and the various Neo Geo ACA releases. Now Zerodiv is adding to Switch owners’ retro choices by bringing a number of titles from the Psikyo back catalogue to the eShop. One of the first re-releases is Strikers 1945, a vertical shooter that originally hit arcades in 1995.
At first glance the game brings to mind 1942, being of the same genre and with a similar name; indeed the first of the selectable aircraft will look familiar to anyone who has played Capcom’s 1984 game. Of course coming so many years after that title, the visuals have a lot more detail and more variety is offered up in the gameplay. Also, whilst the two initially share an aesthetically similar setting, Strikers 1945 quickly introduces the sci-fi element with alien craft joining the attackers, and later stages see you fly into space and battle on the moon.
Gameplay is straightforward; simply blast your way through eight stages, avoiding enemy fire as you go. Along the way you can collect gold bars for points, additional bombs to help you out and powerups that increase your offensive capabilities whilst also seeing small support craft join you. You have a button to shoot (hold down for rapid fire) and one for your bomb attack. A third button also shoots, but here holding it down charges up your “Formation attack”; release and your support craft will help you out with an attack of their own.
There are six planes to choose from in the game that handle differently and have different bomb and formation attacks. The “bomb” attack of your chosen craft may actually be a focused energy blast whilst the formation attack may offer lasers or see your support craft cut a path through oncoming enemy fire.
The stages are visually varied; even before you travel off-world you’ll be flying over the likes of airforce bases, seas and forests. Activity can be seen below, sometimes leading up to the deployment of further trouble, with compartments opening up in the ground.
Enemies include swarms of small simple-looking craft and ground-based attackers, but you’ll also encounter larger more detailed foes (some stretching off the screen) who slowly crumple away as you blast at them. Sometimes it may be a couple of large craft in your way, other times you’ll be blasting parts off of something as it deploys smaller nuisances. These various attackers send their bullets at you in different ways and you’ll soon be weaving about the screen, sliding between attacks from all directions.
Numerous times the screen becomes dense with bullets, requiring a bomb attack to get you out of trouble - assuming you have one left. Of course if you are out of your special attack and somehow survive the onslaught it’s very satisfying. Boss characters detach themselves from something you’ve been blasting at, before transforming into robot form to sweep about the screen causing you trouble; bullets rain down or spiral at you, but they are fun fights.
The game can be cleared in under twenty minutes, but (at least with the default settings) it’ll be a while before you can do that. You are given three lives and two continues, but getting to the end will be tough until you’ve learnt how best to tackle the waves of enemies; even then executing your carefully planned manoeuvres can be tricky. Things get steadily more intense as you progress; gently sliding out of the way of a bullet gives way to frantic weaving as you miss a block of them by a pixel or two. It also becomes trickier to find time to charge up your formation attack during a wave as there are too many enemies for you to ignore.
To make things easier the game has seven difficulty settings; 5 is the “Normal” mode, with 1 being classified “Monkey”. The lower difficulty settings are a good way to get to know the game, but even here moments of inattention will quickly lead to your fiery demise. Each difficulty setting has its own high score board, but these are largely meaningless due to tweaks you can make in the options menu.
If you are struggling with the game, the options menu allows you to increase your stock of lives to 9 and even have unlimited continues. This doesn’t completely remove the challenge, as in later stages using a continue sends you back to the beginning of the stage, so if you can’t get through it with nine lives you’ll be stuck repeating the same section. This does mean, however, that you can obtain a higher score from playing badly as you do not suffer a score reset upon continuing; it’s unfortunate that the game doesn’t include a highscore mode (ideally with online support) that limits the number of lives/credits. It should be noted, however, that upon completion (apart from on the easier settings) the game begins a second loop, with just your remaining stock of lives and no continues available (irrespective of settings), so there is some enforced challenge at the end as you try to see how far you can get the second time around.
Elsewhere in the options menu Zerodiv has included three screen filter options. The standard look, one that adds scan lines and one that removes the subtle blur to give crisp pixels but a blockier appearance. Display settings also allow you to change the display orientation, allowing you to play in TATE mode; your rotated Switch being a close match to the portrait screen of the old arcade machine.
Other options include the ability to adjust the music and sound effect levels. There’s a good range of explosions and zinging effects and the music has a militaristic and adventurous tone that suits the onscreen action. It's not must-listen stuff, but the option to crank up its prominence should a track tack your fancy is a welcome one.
There’s a lot of fun to be had here, but the biggest replay value comes from the two player mode. Tackling the game undocked in TATE mode with a detached Joy-Con each is a great way to play and leads to enjoyable competition as you both weave about the screen, working together to take down the enemy forces, but hoping to outscore the other player come the end of it all.
A variety of different craft to pick with different offensive options, varied stages and enemies come together to offer a fun, frantic challenge that caters to players of all abilities. Lives and credit options mean high-score chasers (and those using their system) will need to show restraint if they take such things seriously, and it is a shame there is no high score mode with enforced restrictions. The option to play in TATE mode adds to the appeal and the two-player feature is a good option when looking for quick bout of competitive gaming. If Strikers 1945 is an indication of the quality of titles Zerodiv will be bringing to the eShop, then Switch owners are in for a treat.