Capcom’s 1942 in 1984 and its sequel, 1943: The Battle of Midway in 1987, were two exciting shooters sending players into the Pacific Theater of WW2 to blast the Imperial Japanese Navy and its air service into itty bitty pieces. And now in 1941: Counter Attack, would-be hero pilots are being sent (presumably) to the European Theater to bring down colossal wunderwaffe such as V-3 mega rocket to the infamous Bismarck.
Released in 1990 and running on Capcom’s cartridge-based arcade hardware, the CPS-1, 1941 took the basic core elements of the first two games and added “more” as in more bullets, planes, and chaos onscreen. The action tore across six stages of varying length (the last being the longest of them all) as players, in two-player co-op or as a solo flier, fought their way to a final confrontation in this vertically scrolling shooter.
As usual, solo players head off in a P-38 Lightning but this time, the second player gets to fly a de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito. Enemies have been patterned against German counterparts such as the Bf 110 fighter, U-boats, and Tiger tanks. The bosses have also been inspired in the same way from the V-3 rocket (which didn’t exist) to the battleship, Bismarck (which did). The final boss was called the “Gotha” based off of the Ho 229 (or the Gotha Go 229 after its manufacturer) flying wing fighter/bomber which never fought but actually had prototypes made and tested before the end of the war.
Instead of taking the sky-only approach of 1942 or diving down to sea level from the clouds as in 1943: The Battle of Midway, 1941 changed up what would be ahead instead. Players could find themselves navigating through a narrow canyon, over a hidden factory, fighting U-boats surfacing and submerging as they took potshots, smash through cranes in a secret dock, or battle through a gigantic launch tube chasing after the V-3 rocket.
The weapon system had also undergone a big change. Timed special weapons were back, dropped by familiar red planes flying in formation, as icons that changed on their own (instead of having to be shot as in 1943) or remained as one type. POW icons, which restore one segment of your now four-part health gauge, are also dropped from certain enemies. Super attacks, which eat one segment of that valuable health gauge, are also back allowing players to devastate the entire playing field (or severely batter bosses) in a pinch. Hidden icons, like Capcom’s famous Yasichi, are also hidden about.
This time, players could also hold down the attack button to “power up” their guns and release a spread of missiles everywhere. The flying wing power-up is also back from 1943, attaching to the sides of your plane to increase your firepower. A new power-up creates a trailing series of shadows behind your plane, each shooting whatever your primary weapon happens to be at the time.
Flying into “walls” (like canyon walls) or other impassible obstacles wouldn’t kill you or dock you health. Instead, your plane would spin wildly around and if you were still shooting, send your fire all over the place making it a strange though sometimes useful tactic in getting an edge over the enemy.
The action was hugely intense given the variety of the bosses, their attacks, and the preceding flood of enemies sent in to soften you up before meeting them. This was a game that wasn’t why about throwing tons of stuff at you whether it was on land or in the air. At the same time, the game was remarkably shorter than its predecessors at only six stages.
It was also a bit more forgiving when it came to dying — you kept your score and picked up right where you bit the final bullet as well as keeping whatever special weapon you had — though dying meant you had to drop a quarter into the machine to keep going as it did in 1942.
1941 didn’t see as many ports as its predecessors did, but it escaped the arcade to find a home on the SuperGrafx (an upgraded PC Engine that was released exclusively in Japan) and later, as part of volume 2 of the Capcom Classics Collection for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox released in 2006. It also came to the PSP in the same year as part of Capcom Classics Collection: Remixed.
It seemed that with 1941, the solution to updating the formula was simply to throw more stuff at the player in a smaller number of stages. The music didn’t seem as memorable but visually, it certainly looked good alongside the blistering action and tweaked weapon system. It may not be quite as “epic” as 1943: The Battle of Midway felt, but Counter Attack still had enough red hot pieces as a solid workhorse entry in Capcom’s WW2 shooter series.