Thanks to HAMSTER’s Arcade Archives and ACA Neo Geo series there are a number of retro titles available on Switch, but they’re not the only company providing games from yesteryear. Zerodiv have slowly been adding high quality titles from Psikyo’s back catalogue such as Gunbird and Zero Gunner 2. One of their first releases was vertical shmup Strikers 1945 and now the sequel arrives on the eShop: Strikers 1945 II.
Once again you pick from one of six aircraft and then battle your way through eight levels, shooting down the enemy forces and collecting gold bars for extra points. Each of the ships (two returning from the first game) provide multiple ways to tackle the game thanks to differences in their primary cannons and sub-weapons, including missiles and lasers. Power-ups can be collected to increase the effectiveness of your attacks and each craft has different charged and bomb attacks. Although they are listed as bomb attacks, these limited use moves tend to call in other aircraft to help you out, providing a bit of cover as they tear through the swarm that was causing you trouble.
As before there are two buttons you can tap away at to fire your primary weapon, with the difference being what happens when you hold each one down. One is used for the always useful rapid fire, enabling for a constant stream of bullets while you focus on weaving between those fired by the enemy and the other is used to charge up an attack. Charged shots include the likes of missiles and energy blasts and work a bit different than in the first game as there is an energy meter that builds as you shoot down the enemy forces; its level determining the power of attack once unleashed. Letting the meter build as much as possible is advised, but it resets when you lose a life so be sure to use a lower charged attack if it will save you from an explosive end.
Gameplay is fast, frantic and fun with lots of weaving about in order to shoot down your attackers or just slide past their bullets. Attacks come from multiple directions and angles as you consider whether to use one of your precious bomb attacks or maybe start a charged one. As well as various shapes and sizes of aircraft, you’ll find yourself being shot at by boats, tanks, trains and a number of turrets that are scattered about. Boss battles are fun too, often starting with you against something like a large plane or battleship, before a mech breaks away from the smoking tangle of metal to begin phase two of the encounter.
Visually the game has you flying over locations such as a forest, a town, an icy sea and through a factory. Locations can change during the levels such as the one that begins with you flying high over the countryside, through some clouds before emerging over the ocean. The visuals are in the same style as the first game, but a little less fantastical; although there are plenty of mechanical sights that wouldn’t have been seen in 1945, there’s no trip off-world this time around.
There’s quite a bit of detail in the surroundings, but the many bullets that are raining down stand out on the screen and sprites avoid merging with the background even though the action is confined to the middle third of the screen. This is of course due to the portrait orientation of the original arcade display. Dive into the settings menu and you can rotate the screen to recreate this; scanlines can be added for extra authenticity. You can play this way on the big screen, but naturally it’s a lot easier to play this TATE mode undocked.
The game soon gets tough and you can find the screen dense with bullets, no bomb attacks left and little opportunity for a charge attack. Practice makes things easier and you can also bump the difficulty down from 'Normal' (5) all the way to 'Monkey' (1). Two higher difficulty settings are also available should you wish to try a harder challenge. You have three lives and two continues, but this can be tweaked to nine lives and unlimited continues should you be struggling with the game. This will not completely remove the challenge however, as from the fifth level onwards continuing will send you back to the beginning of the stage. Apart from on the first few difficulty settings, clearing the game will result in a second loop that is much tougher and adds extra challenge as there are no continues.
The game is a lot of fun throughout as you sweep about the screen, getting into a rhythm, missing bullets by pixels and blasting away at the various attackers en route to a battle with the boss. The levels for the first part of the game are not in a set order, so there is some variety on subsequent playthroughs. On those playthroughs you could try a different aircraft; perhaps the spread of the Flying Pancake’s main cannon would be useful or maybe the Lightning’s charged missile attack? There’s fun from experimenting with the different aircraft, or combinations of if playing in the co-operative two player mode.
The addition of a two-player feature also adds to the enjoyment with you combining your talents to clear away the stream of attackers. Though helping each other out you’ll also be looking to shoot down more aircraft and collect a larger amount of gold to finish with a higher score at the end of it all. Trying for a high score adds to the replayability of solo play too, with each difficulty setting having its own high score board. Like all of Zerodiv’s releases there’s no online option, but there is still fun in improving your own scoring. Crucially (unlike with the first game) there is a score reset upon continuing, so these boards are not pointless additions.
Strikers 1945 II is a lot like the first (already great) game, but improves on it thanks to its frantic gameplay and new approach to charged attacks. Two-player is a lot of fun whether played on the big screen or undocked in TATE mode with detached Joy-Con and trying to improve on your high score adds plenty of replayability. The game could benefit from an online high score board, but Strikers 1945 II is a joy to play through each time and is one of the best shmups available from the growing range on Switch.