Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

19XX Series (Capcom)

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I figured we would start of this Shmuppreciation month right with one of the first examples of a true shoot ’em up: Capcom’s 19xx series.  It’s a bit funny that I even reference it as such, because to the best most gamers are only aware of the first two titles and they are quite similar: 1942 and 1943: Battle of Midway.  The lesser known three titles are 1941: Counter Attack, 1944, and 19xx.  There are, however, many different iterations of each so we will discuss the premise, differences in versions and significance to the series.  Over the years I have come to realize that shmups make for pretty poor screen shots; it can be nearly impossible to discern what’s going on in most stills so this year I will be providing gameplay video.  While it’s ideal for all video to be shot by me from my own consoles/arcades, it’s a lot of work so I will try to capture my own video when I can.

Capcom is definitely no stranger to the arcade scene, but before they generated monster hits with Final Fight and Street Fighter II, they managed some strong success with 1942 in 1984.  Set in the Pacific front of World War II, it was pretty interesting to see that this title had you flying a “Super Ace” to destroy the Japanese air force and attack Tokyo.  You would think that a World War II title out of Japan wouldn’t focus so much on some of the rougher international relations with the United States, but regardless of that fact 1942 not only came out but was a runaway hit in both regions.  Known best for the distinctive twin booms of the plane, which closely resemble the Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter plane the Super Ace was clearly designed after, and the ability to perform a loop-the-loop that made you temporarily invisible.  1942 introduced the vertically scrolling shooter, gun power-ups and small assisting planes, all significant staples to shmups moving forward.  While it wasn’t the first Capcom arcade to get a sequel, it was definitely the most popular.  As such, this title has been ported to several systems including the NES/Famicom, MSX, PC-8801, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, C64, Gameboy Color, Playstation 2/Xbox/PSP (in a Capcom collection), and even a recent revival on PC/PSN/XBLA as 1942: Joint Strike.

The video above demonstrates an extremely solid run of the game.  After a gruelling 32 levels – at least in both the arcade and NES versions – you will reach the final boss plane, Ayako, which is crafted after the significant Japanese bomber the Nakajima G8N.

Ports

Of all the ports that 1942 has received, I feel that the most significant are the NES and MSX versions.  For those that are interested, we actually reviewed the NES version, so feel free to read up on that.  Below are comparison videos of these versions, both of which you will see come close to capturing the arcade experience.

NES Version

MSX Version

1943: Battle for Midway

In Capcom’s 1987 sequel, 1943: Battle of Midway takes place in the Pacific theater as well, this time at the battle of Midway Atoll.  Yet again you will pilot a P-38 lightening, at least under most circumstances, and take on a shortened 16 levels for the main campaign.  This time around significant changes were made aside from the obvious upgrades in graphics and sound.  A time element was integrated that forced the player to not only be conscientious of the enemies, but also the clock.  If time ran out, you got a game over.  Throughout the level you could get various weapons that also had depleting timers, so it was important to collect the correct weapon as often as possible to create long streaks.  Each level was broken up into two parts: an air battle and a final battle closer to the water/land.  In the second part a boss encounter would complete the level.  As you can see from the video below, it was important to know the weaknesses of the bosses, because they were the easiest way to have the timer run out on you.  1943 was known as Midway Kaisen in Japan, which is loosely translated (there’s no literal translation) as “improvement via practice”, a fitting title for this game.  While probably the most difficult in the series, 1943: Battle of Midway is easily the best title as well.

In Japan, a remixed version of the arcade game was released called 1943 Kai: Midway Kaisen and featured the following changes: better graphics/sound, the signature P-38 was replaced by a Boeing Stearman E75 N68828 biplane, and unrealistic tweaks like lasers on planes and ships that drove on land.  Since it only released in Japan in 1988, few US players had ever gotten their hands on it.  Thanks to MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator for PC) it’s now quite easy to play this interesting retooling.

Ports

Although it is the better game, 1943 only received two ports that I know of, on NES and PC-Engine (Turbografx-16 in US, although no TG16 port was produced), and both had significant changes from the arcade version.  I’ve heard of versions on many of the micro computers (ZX Spectrum, C64, Amstrad) but I have been unable to see a working copy myself although I’m sure they existed.  In addition both Battle of Midway and 1943 Kai were in the Capcom collections on PS2/Xbox.

The PC-Engine port was actually 1943 Kai, which made sense given the year of release and the Japan only regionalization.  It was developed by Naxat Soft (responsible for the amazing TG16 title Alien Crush among others) and featured extra levels/bosses and co-op, a rarity for the home ports of these titles.  As you’ll see in the video, it’s a bit rough and the PC-E version doesn’t look a whole lot better than the NES version, however Naxat has unique music and sounds for the game that make it a worthwhile version.  If you have the converter card, this game will play on the region free TG-16 for a relatively low price.

The NES port of 1943 is probably the most distinct from the group, which we also reviewed for this site, because it features a persistent upgrade system for your plane.  Both the Famicom and NES versions are based on the original arcade version of 1943: Battle for Midway aside from the inclusion of new levels and bosses like the PC-E port.  Figuring out the timer system can be a bit of a chore (although our review includes a PDF download of the instruction manual) but otherwise it’s a solid port.

In full disclosure, I have not had an opportunity to play 1941, 1944, and 19xx despite having a MAME cabinet – I just didn’t get the opportunity.  For your convenience, I have included videos of the three arcade games here:

1941: Counter Attack

This arcade game was also one of the elusive 5 games that are exclusive to the SuperGrafx system that came out of Japan as a PC-Engine/Turbografx-16 upgrade.  Supposedly it’s not worth it with the re-release of this game in Capcom collections and of course it can easily be found on MAME.  Below is a video of the arcade version.

1944

This game seriously shows off the impressive ways Capcom could utilize arcade games and re-create much of the core gameplay of 1942 with all the amazing graphics and sound of the mid 90s.

19xx

This title gave you the option to select different ships, so I included the Lightening run just so it all feels consistent.

As you can see, by 19xx this series has become a full-blown shmup.  Well there’s your first introduction to the beginning of another great Shmuppreciation month.  Hope this finds you picking up one or a few of these titles and enjoying them as much as I loved 1943 as a kid.  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Shmup of the Day: Gradius!

Written by Fred Rojas

March 1, 2012 at 3:01 pm

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