Xbox 360 Review

1942: Joint Strike

Stevie harks back...

For those greying gamers old enough to remember its arcade origins, Capcom's money-hungry 1942 was a cabinet-based beast of a videogame. A relentlessly paced top-down aerial shooter, the World War II bullet bonanza dished up a blend of challenge and addiction that demanded the investment of serious coinage alongside superhuman control reflexes from anyone looking to progress further than its first end-of-level boss battle.

By employing developer Backbone Entertainment (Death Jr., Sonic Rivals) to revitalise its beloved franchise via the Xbox Live Arcade release of 1942: Joint Strike, publisher Capcom has opted to throw buckets of aesthetic gloss at the re-imagined series entrant, while remaining ever faithful to 1942's teeth-gnashing difficulty.

Moreover, from a graphical point of view, the otherwise plain Jane presentation of the scrolling original has been given a substantial facelift in 1942: Joint Strike. Backgrounds, sprites and effects detailing is polished to the point where players will almost be able to see their own reflections in the glistening waters of the Pacific or the heat haze of a volcano -- immediately before their perilously fragile fighter plane is blown to smithereens due to a momentary lapse of concentration. 1942: Joint Strike

Game sound has also received a significant overhaul, with default weaponry, engine roars, power-ups and explosions all resonating with a depth of impact today's gamers have come to expect from software content punctuated by incessant storms of hot lead, twisted metal and death.

Sadly, the classic 1942's simple yet memorable music has also been replaced by an improved soundtrack that's (admittedly) more befitting of a modern title. While a focus on aesthetic consistency is certainly understandable, the lack of even a passing homage to the twitch-inducing original is still a little disappointing in terms of shameless nostalgia.

The gameplay in 1942: Joint Strike clearly holds true to its source inspiration by tasking today's players to pit their supposedly refined skill and dexterity against the kind of game that used to (and, in many cases, still does) chew up and spit out everyone but the very best.

For example, players not familiar with classic coin-op arcade titles might think near-limitless ammo, hugely powerful weaponry, and simple controls will see them emerge effortlessly victorious from Joint Strike's progressively more challenging levels. They'd be wrong. This is not an FPS. 1942: Joint Strike

More pointedly, while impressive weapons and a choice between three agile fighter planes combine as huge plus points for the player, an ability to channel the evasive prowess of an adrenaline-infused gazelle dodging the snapping jaws of a ravenous lion is not quite so easy to come by.

Factor in the incredibly busy screen (which never stops scrolling), the never-ending flood of enemy fighters, bombers, ships, tanks, anti-aircraft emplacements and heavily armoured bosses - and getting your noob ass served up on plate scorched by splashes of aviation fuel and your own blood is a humiliation experienced all-too often.

Thankfully, unlike the original arcade shooter, 1942: Joint Strike enables more weak-kneed players to select from four levels of difficulty, ranging from the sweet, vanilla-flavoured accessibility of "Penguin" up to the 'so this is what death tastes like' challenge of "Wing King".

Yet, while the game does try to make allowances for the inexperienced when on its basic challenge setting, arcade novices are still unlikely to progress much further than a few bosses before their stock of available planes has been fully depleted and the 'Game Over' legend promptly returns them to the opening level's very first wave of enemies. 1942: Joint Strike

And those players brave/silly (deplete as applicable) enough to adopt a posture of stubborn defiance against "Wing King" should really only do so if they've recently had freshly transplanted bionic appendages grafted liberally about their person.

Played through from front-to-back until every last bullet has been spent, 1942: Joint Strike offers up single-player time game equating to around 45 minutes to one hour. And while that might seem somewhat brief, completion on anything other than the 'I struggle with Animal Crossing' setting is going to require a wealth of incrementally evolving failed attempts before hand-eye coordination and enemy anticipation becomes suitably attuned to dish out the pain rather than merely receive it.

The true appeal of 1942: Joint Strike lies within its title, however, with two-player local or online split screen bringing the frantic action into its own by replacing any gathering single-player gameplay frustrations with gratifying multiplayer fulfillment.

When embarking on the game in two-player mode, each player chooses one of the three uniquely configured fighters and also one of three accompanying "Joint Strike" special attacks that require both players to work in tandem to benefit from successfully inflicting immense amounts of damage on enemies. 1942: Joint Strike

For example, the Chained Lightning attack connects both planes across the screen via a stream of lightning (no surprise there), which can then be used to scythe through hapless enemies - but only if the players work together to move their planes smoothly around the screen and maintain their destructive connection. For some inexplicable reason, Capcom and Backbone chose not to include a single-player version of the attack power delivered by a Joint Strike, opting to only grace the player with a fairly ineffectual missile spread, which makes taking on hordes of enemies and the staggered level bosses feels like something of an uphill challenge packed with difficulty but light on fun.

While the multiplayer campaign is clearly the star attraction here, fractured online reliability further peppers 1942: Joint Strike's crowded airspace with annoying clouds of flak that only serve to hurt the game's overall appeal. Abrupt crashes, some pretty appalling texture dropout and ill-timed disconnections all combine to test player patience some way beyond the game's core difficulty.

Ultimately, only true hardcore arcade fans prepared to look beyond the relative gameplay brevity and sporadic online hiccups are likely to revel in the revamped iteration of 1942: Joint Strike. Those players fresh to Capcom's bullet-riddled cockpit should expect to suffer violent spasms of frustration unless limiting themselves to the relative cotton wool mollycoddling of the game's easiest setting - which kind of defeats the whole point of the words 'arcade shooter'.

E3 Trailer