Video Game Rentals Delivered

1942: Joint Strike (XBLA)

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-07-30 06:43:24

1942: Joint Strike (XBLA) - Rank B

Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Publisher: Capcom
Date: 7/23/08

Also available for PlayStation 3 (PSN)

Capcom's vertically scrolling arcade shooter returns with this Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network release. It is in no way a proper sequel, but more of a distillation of the series gussied up with modern visuals. While not quite cut and pasted, certain elements are directly lifted from 1941: Counter-Attack and 19XX: The War Against Destiny. Nevertheless, it's a clean, nostalgic update that reminds us why we hustled for quarters when we were kids.

Joint Strike is set in a bizarro alternate World War II where you shoot down endless swarms of enemies with frickin' laser beams. You'll be constantly mashing the fire button, holding it only to charge up power shots against sturdier foes. A second button fires missiles - these are the game's unique feature, and success depends largely on understanding how to accumulate and use them. The third button is the requisite loop-de-loop escape/nuke maneuver. It's all a very traditional exercise in thumb endurance, pattern memorization, and bullet-maze navigation.

In one way, Joint Strike is actually harsher than its arcade progenitors. You're given a set number of lives, determined by difficulty setting, with no continues. You can't simply pop in another quarter if you die at the final boss. (On the other hand, at least Capcom isn't trying to charge 20 Microsoft Points for more lives.) However, this was a smart decision. The game consists of only five levels, which take roughly 30 minutes to vanquish in a single run through. This arrangement forces you to improve at the game and take in its subtleties, instead of blowing through it in one go. Don't worry, though. It's nowhere near as punishing as other reviewers are making it out to be. You have a life bar instead of one hit deaths, and the gameplay is more forgiving than many other arcade shooters (I didn't notice anyone docking Ikaruga for being brain-fryingly difficult). If you set it to the easiest difficulty setting, you stand a solid chance of beating it on the first try. As a 1942 veteran, I managed to barely defeat the default difficulty on my first attempt.

What is difficult, however, is racking up an impressive score. Joint Strike features a points multiplier that increases the closer you are to your kill. To give you a sense of what a skilled player can pull off, merely stumbling to the finish will result in a few hundred thousand points. One of the achievements is to top two million. Hardcore players will enjoy trying to rule the penis-measuring insanity of the leaderboards. There's significant arcade-driven replay value here, if you devote yourself to improving scores.

Online (and local) co-op play is the major selling point. With another player, your missile attacks become the titular "joint strikes", allowing for coordinated two-player offense. It seems slightly more difficult with two players, but as always, is much more entertaining with a buddy.

There's no doubt that Joint Strike could've been better. This wasn't developed internally by Capcom, but farmed out to a Western company. The devil's in the details, and the zany Japanese understand how to sprinkle Faustian sexiness all over these sort of games. It's not that Backbone did a bad job by any stretch, it's just that the controls, pacing, art design, and music lack the tightness, impact, intricacy, and quirkiness of Joint Strike's predecessors. The bosses, in particular, fail to display much inventiveness. Missing are the multiple stages and sense of scale, like a destroyer flipping over to become a submarine, or a massive mobile armored base twenty times the size of the screen. All five bosses are conventional, uninteresting retreads.

Still, these criticisms are nitpicks. A slightly watered down version of the 19xx series is still a cut above most arcade games. The only real problem is the cost. At ten dollars, it feels slightly overpriced for a thirty minute game, especially when the other games in the series can be emulated for nothing. You're paying for the updated graphics and a handy way to play 1942 online. For me, this nostalgia value in a modern package was well worth the money.

If you're torn about which version to get, they're largely indistinguishable. Choose whichever platform your friends will be most likely to join you on, or if gamer scores are important to you, the Xbox 360 version packs the standard 200 achievement points while the PlayStation 3 version is devoid of trophy support.

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