The 194x series of games were some of the earliest successful vertical scrolling shooters. They were also one of the few examples of the genre not steeped in a sci-fi mythos. 1942: Joint Strike plays like a long lost entry in the series, though it’s interesting to note that despite the success of titles like Pacman: Championship Edition and Space Invaders Extreme, Joint Strike plays it comparatively safe. Certainly, what made those reimaginings successful was the way they modernized gameplay concepts while leaving the core mechanics untouched. Joint Strike, on the other hand, is largely content to present itself as a graphical update. This is not inherently bad, particularly considering that scrolling shooters are fairly timeless, and that by and large Joint Strike is presentationally top-notch. Finally, the electronica-inspired aesthetics of Pac Man: CE and Space Invaders Extreme would certainly be out of place in the context of 1942.
While not quite difficult enough to earn the description of a “bullet-hell” shooter, there is more than enough challenge in avoiding enemies and fire. There are three available planes that vary in key statistics, any of which can take more than one standard enemy shot without exploding, but it’s probably best to behave as though any shot can take your plane down. The three weapon types are standard, and it’s easy to imagine players will have different favorites. The reality is that much of what makes Joint Strike enjoyable is what has always made it so. The widescreen support is welcome, since it gives the game the opportunity to present more enemies, at the same time as it gives the player more room to maneuver. This is especially noticeable in cooperative play.
Although they have very recently undergone something of a renaissance, scrolling shooters have certainly waned in popularity with the demise of the arcade. Along with traditional beat-’em-ups, arcade shooters had the quality of essentially being beatable by anyone willing to continue paying money when they died. Because adding another credit traditionally just topped off your health and lives precisely at the point where you perished, it was generally possible to simply buy your way to the ending. That’s not to say skill wasn’t rewarded, but the reward had to do with the monetization of that talent as measured by money saved. This is something of a different idea than that of a pinball master getting endless replays or a fighting game wizard taking on the competition for hours on a single quarter, in that those game situations don’t really have discrete endings.
In their transition to home consoles, then, with no money leaving the pockets of the player once the game has been purchased, many shooters have instituted much more stringent life and continue policies. Certainly, in the arcade, there is more money to be made by allowing less skilled players to continually buy their way back in, but in the absence of this pay-to-play environment, there is a tendency to impose restrictions on the player in the home console versions, essentially limiting the number of virtual quarters the player has. This necessarily removes some of the accessibility of these titles in favor of an artificial difficulty, but is likely the best compromise available. Joint Strike is no exception to this, and in order to unlock level selects and continues, you must beat the game straight through.
In many ways, Joint Strike is a prime example of what’s good about downloadable games from the perspective of an established company, revisiting a classic franchise. While it certainly doesn’t contain enough content to warrant a purchase as a full priced game published on physical media, a quality common to many classic arcade games, it works perfectly as something downloadable on a whim, imbued with both modern graphics and classic gameplay.