Shoot ’em ups from the arcade’s past – 19XX: The War Against Destiny

Although the Arcade Flyer Archive only has one flyer for 19XX, it’s a great example of the big, multi-page spreads that Capcom sometimes did. Calling it a “Secret File”, 19XX’s flyer was illustrated with an eye-catching variety of planes on the front and filled with a large body of text and more illustrations outlining the backdrop of the game inside. This wasn’t just an ad — it was an ad whose story was bolstered by a literal story within selling the game.

By 1995, arcades were becoming more and more scarce as time went on, yet no one told vanguards like Capcom and Konami that the game was over. They, and many others, had made multi-generational beach heads inside homes thanks to the efforts of console giants like Nintendo and Sega, but they also weren’t about to leave their arcade roots behind.

Released towards the end of 1995, 19XX: The War Against Destiny was the latest in Capcom’s 19XX series that had started eleven years earlier in 1984 with 1942. Set around the theme of WW2’s Pacific Theater, the first two games (1942 and 1943: The Battle of Midway) set players against a confetti burst of planes and enemy vessels as they waged war in a P-38 Lightning. 1941: Counter Attack took players to the European Theater and the North Atlantic for a duel against enemy planes and bosses patterned after the weapons of the Third Reich (although it wasn’t quite explicit in who the enemies were in any of the games while hinting as close to ‘realistic’ settings in the name of game play).

Now with 19XX, it’s no longer WW2 — it’s a new war being fought around the globe pitting players against a mysterious enemy wielding powerful super weapons in the sky, on the sea, and on land. As a solo pilot or in co-op, players could choose one of three planes to fly into battle with across seven stages of intense action.

This great spread was inside the arcade flyer for Japan showing off a lot of care and detail in explaining a lot of things behind the game. Players wouldn’t get this kind of in-depth briefing during the game (the 19XX series was never known for having the kind of story roots that Capcom’s beat ’em ups flirted with) but for arcade owners, it was a nice treat.

Game play received a number of changes. Like in 1941: Counter Attack, players can hold down the fire button to power up their guns and release that energy in a strong shot. But now they can do that with their special attack bombs which can be juiced up three levels before exploding in a triple doomsday burst. Or double, if at level 2, making it so that your timing (and patience) figure into your play strategy. Unfortunately, if you’re looking to “loop” in this game to escape enemy fire, you’re out of luck.

Gone is the health bar from 1943: The Battle of Midway and 1941: Counter Attack — we’re back to one shot, one death as it was in 1942. To compensate, players now get three different planes to pick from, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, almost like the different characters players can pick from in Capcom’s beat ’em ups. The trademark Lockheed P-38 Lightning was the more balanced of the three, the Mosquito offered more power but less speed, and the fast “Sinden” (based on the Kyushu J7W1 Shinden) was quick but lacked a bit in the power department.

19XX_02

The artists really went to war with this game. Blasting massive battleships in port sunk them, enemies would fly in from all directions, turrets and tanks would try to stop you, parachuting tanks would follow you down falls…it was a lot of awesome action packed into one game.

Special weapons included “4 Fire” (which was especially powerful with the P-38; each plane had its own ‘specialty’ weapon that it excelled in using) which was like a four-channel machine gun. The 3-way spread weapon was also back and the Super Shell, introduced in 1941: Counter Attack, returns as the “laser” looking weapon. Red planes flying in formation, a trademark of the series, would drop these when all of them were shot down, and the more of a weapon you can collect, the more their power stacks up to a certain limit.

Other drops included medals for points, a little suited “mobi chan” from Side Arms Hyper Dyne for points (and an immediate use special that can heavily damage or destroy many enemies on the screen) and the famous Yashichi which is the game’s 1UP bonus. At the end of each stage, you were graded on your performance (continues picked up where you died but using these can also affect your scoring which, in turn, affects your grade — if you want a huge score, you’ll need to have more than quarters and tokens).

Rank E is...not great.

Rank E is…not great. But the completion screen art definitely is.

19XX was packed with brutally intense shoot ’em up action with a large variety of enemies and, this time around, bullet-hell like rain from the bosses. The bosses, in particular, demonstrated Capcom’s growing expertise as a studio that incredible boss encounters helped to build. Even though the game ran seven stages (and simply ended when the game was “completed”, regardless of whether you had extra lives left or not), the bosses marking the end of each capped each one off in blistering fashion from colossal beasts to multi-part juggernauts that assembled themselves as they moved down their part of the stage.

19XX_01

This sub boss looked like a sub when you first encounter it before, after enough damage, flipping over and turning into this mega-sub.

The sounds reverberated with pulsing explosions, the blast of cannons, and the spray of machine guns as you raided the skies. Music-wise, it did the job with action heavy pieces complimenting the scenery and the insanity of some of the blitzkrieg that stood in your way to the next boss, sometimes slowing it down before revving things back up in time for a boss fight. Capcom’s artists also delivered a lot of juicy pixels onto the screen with great looking environments, enemies, and as mentioned earlier, fantastic bosses in their Sunday best.

The bad news is that 19XX never made it onto a home console or even one of Capcom’s compilations. It stayed in the arcade preserved only as cabs owned by collectors or in pieces as part of the CPS-2 board that it ran on. But it’s possible that Capcom may yet revisit their older titles and release another compilation down the road, taking players back to WW2 and then on through to a world war involving some of the craziest bosses ever to emerge from their developers’ imaginations.

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