Shoot ’em ups from the arcade’s past – 1943: The Battle of Midway

This is a great illustration for the arcade flyer that was used for both the Japanese and United States’ markets. The reverse side had descriptions of the controls, screenshos, and another illustration showing the plane and its heroic pilot.

The actual Battle of Midway took place from June 4th through the 7th in 1942, but that didn’t stop Capcom from coming up with a sequel to…er…1942 with 1943: The Battle of Midway released to arcades in 1987.

Like 1942, this is a huge, vertically scrolling shooter pitting your heroic P-38 Lightning against the forces of the Imperial Japanese Navy and its air service. It’ll throw hundreds of planes into your path, but in a big change from the first game, it also has bosses which can take the form of titanic battleships, aircraft carriers, or even flying fortresses. Most of the stages, eleven of them, will actually dive down to the wavetops where the player will duke it out with battleships, destroyers, and other surface ships culminating in a battle against the ‘boss’ boat.

The good news is that you can co-op through the game and it’s also a lot more forgiving as players can now continue from where they died. Instead of single-hit deaths and extra lives, there’s an energy gauge which slowly depletes over time or in larger chunks when you take damage. Using a “special power”, like in the air where you can summon lightning or over the ocean where you call up a tsunami to temporarily freeze the action, will also take a chunk of that power. Then there’s the arsenal of power-ups.

Red planes will occasionally come in, flying a pattern, and blasting them all will usually drop a glowing POW icon. Grabbing the icon will refill a tiny bit of your energy tank, or you can risk shooting it before it passes by to transform it into a weapon you want. Sometimes you just have to grab what it turns into, even if it’s something you don’t really want, just so long as you have something because the game won’t let up.

“Flipping” the POW icon turns it from a POW, into a weapon (like the shotgun power-up), back into POW, and back into another weapon next, and so on, making it a challenge to try and blast it as fast as possible to get to the more powerful toys such as the machine gun or shell gun later.

This clip is from the reverse side of the flyer above showing the arsenal of weapons and other special items that the player might find on in each stage.

This clip is from the reverse side of the flyer above showing the arsenal of weapons and other special items that the player might find on in each stage.

I’m not a big fan of the shotgun which fires off an extremely short-range blast of multidirectional bullets though they do some decent damage and can destroy bullets but often found myself dodging more planes than bullets especially in the later stages. For one that I liked, there’s the super shell gun which fires in one narrow direction as fast as a machine gun but hitting like miniature trucks belched by your cannons

The action spans 16 stages of action over the Pacific. Even though it’s subtitled “The Battle of Midway”, it’s first and foremost an arcade shooter so it takes a lot of liberties in the name of fun. The bosses, particularly the ships, do share the names of the IJN’s most famous vessels such as the Akagi and the Hiryu (two of the carriers present at the actual Battle of Midway) all the way up to the Yamato (which was actually hundreds of miles away acting as Admiral Yamamoto’s flagship from which he directed the Japanese side of the Midway operation).

As soon as you start seeing ships down on the surface, it’s almost time to dive down to the wavetops to do battle. In a way, it’s also an indicator to breath a sigh of relief that you’re halfway there.

The surface battles are just as insane as the ones in the air. In addition to planes, ships will be firing at you at the same time with shells that burst into spiraling fire swirls adding obstacles to the play field. But you can also blow away their turrets for points, reveal hidden point bonuses (like a cow icon), or just because.

Fast, blistering chaos with a variety of planes coming in ranging from small bombers to fast “Zeroes” stitch up each vertically scrolling stage and the game throws a few more surprises further on. Small planes that look like mini Messerschmitt Me 262s (German jet fighters) also come into the scene (the Japanese did develop a jet, too, but only a prototype of one type flew before the war ended).

Other planes swarm in like an angry cloud of arrowhead shaped bees, sweeping the screen from top to bottom. There are even slow moving biplanes coming in from the sides or from the bottom (which many planes will do) to throw a winged wrench into the otherwise fast-moving action.

The ship bosses were great additions and came in a variety of ever-tougher versions from aircraft carriers to battleships that could also launch a few planes of their own. The carriers had spawners disguised as launch elevators, seen here as a burning wreck, which would continually throw planes at the player until destroyed.

The colossal battleships were awesome behemoths bristling with deadly turrets along with plane assists that came flying in from all directions. Trying to get 100% on some of these could be brutal, especially since the screen only occasionally paused long enough to get shots in if you didn’t use the special attack to buy a few more precious moments. Having a co-op partner helped. A lot.

There’s even an ending! Just don’t use what you read here in a history exam.

1943 was quite popular and it was ported to a number of platforms ranging from the Amiga and the Commodore 64 all the way up to being included in a “Classics Collection” of Capcom favorites made available on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. The quality of these varied, but the port for the Nintendo Entertainment System/Famicom version was particularly different.

Not only was the story changed (the game is simply called 1943 and the battle takes place off the coast of “Valhalla”), but the gameplay now includes an ‘upgrade’ system where the player earns points following each stage that they can use to improve different aspects of their plane. The music, especially the fist pumping opening theme of the arcade game, made it over with a near-faithful rendition along with the action. It didn’t look or sound exactly like its stand-up cabinet parent, but it was one of the more exciting games for the NES at the time and helped cement Capcom’s name as a developer to look out for.

The port had a few “changes” made to it such as the setting. Even the manual omits any mention of WW2 creating a strange, alternate world fighting it out with WW2 weapons. Valhalla Island!

The Famicom/NES version, like a number of arcade ports, was embellished with some great extras like this upgrade system and passwords to track your progress so you can continue later.

Japan would also get a “reworked” version of the game in 1987 — 1943: Midway Kaisen — which replaced the trusty P-38 Lightning with a biplane (which the Capcom Wiki – 1943: The Battle of Midway identifies as a Boeing-Stearman Model 75).

This featured new, enhanced, graphics, soundtrack, and even power ups that helped to add to its reputation as the “wild” version of the game. Though it was Japan-only (even the PC Engine port never made it over to its Western version, the TurboGrafx-16), it finally showed up on the Capcom Classics Collection for the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox in 2005. And just like its predecessor, it was packed with plenty of twitchy, if not sometimes bizarre, action.

In Kai, you flew a biplane and could pick up some pretty crazy, non-WW2 weapons like lasers. Yes, LASERS.

This is a typical results screen following a boss battle in 1943…

And here’s 1943: Kai’s. Even the success screens wanted to melt the cab down.

1943 demonstrated Capcom’s knack at the time for taking an idea and mustering enough creative juices to sometimes hit way above 9000 with the sequel. It’s the kind of game that can be used on a short list of titles that came away as far superior to the original. It blended together a fantastic score, blistering action, gameplay forgiving enough to accept everyone (but only those with the skill to survive without continuing got to keep their actual scores), and brutal bosses that would become templates for others to imitate long afterward. Top notch action from a top veteran of the arcade, it’s one of Capcom’s finest.


3 responses to “Shoot ’em ups from the arcade’s past – 1943: The Battle of Midway

  1. Pingback: Shoot ’em ups from the arcade’s past – 1942 | World 1-1·

  2. Pingback: Shoot ’em ups from the arcade’s past – 1941: Counter Attack | World 1-1·

  3. Pingback: Shoot ’em ups from the arcade’s past – 19XX: The War Against Destiny | World 1-1·

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