Rereleased recently as part of the excellent value Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha compilation from NIS America and City Connection, Strikers 1945 originally hails from 1995, and was the fourth game that shoot ’em up specialists Psikyo put out for the world to enjoy.
Blending real-world aircraft with ridiculous, fantastic elements, Strikers 1945 is a straightforward but extremely solid and accessible shooter — one that will particularly appeal to fans of titles like Raiden — that remains well worth playing even today. Let’s take a closer look.
The setup for Strikers 1945 is that World War II has finished, but a secret organisation known as C.A.N.Y. has decided to start some shenanigans with a variety of powerful superweapons. With the world exhausted from the war that just concluded, it’s up to a small team of elite fighters, known as the Strikers, to take down this new threat and return peace to the world.
The basic mechanics of Strikers 1945 are simple. You shoot with one button — the Switch port adds a “rapid fire” button that can simply be held down rather than hammered — and fire off a bomb with another. Bombs are limited and confer temporary invincibility while their effects go off, usually destroying all popcorn enemies and bullets on the screen in the process.
Destroying certain enemies drops either additional bombs or power-up items, with the latter not only increasing your firepower but also adding tiny “escort aircraft”. These can be used for a “charged shot” by holding down the non-rapid fire button; the exact function of this varies according to your chosen aircraft, but they usually allow you to take control of one area of the screen in some way while moving your craft elsewhere.
Each of the six members of the Strikers team pilots a different aircraft, and each aircraft has its own unique characteristics — not just in the way they fire their basic shots, but also how they upgrade, how their charged shot works, how their bombs work and their overall manoeuvrability. They all feel very different to play as, but pleasingly, not one of them feels “easier” than the others as such; they just offer different ways to play.
The Messerschmitt Bf 109, for example, fires a high-speed stream of bullets straight ahead, but as it gains power-ups, it also gains the ability to fire shots that automatically lock on to nearby enemies, allowing enemies other than those you are directly aiming at to be hit. The Spitfire, meanwhile, fires out piercing rockets that force their way through armoured enemies rather than exploding on contact; these rockets deal continuous damage as they attempt to push their way through to the other side, and are immensely good at taking down bosses and particularly hard targets.
There’s a fantastic feeling of physicality to all Strikers 1945’s weapons. While the Switch port regrettably lacks HD Rumble support — which feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, but it’s hardly a dealbreaker — the excellent audio-visual feedback provided by the game really makes it feel enormously satisfying to play. You can feel the relentless torrent of bullets from the Lightning’s cannon tearing enemies to shreds; you can feel those rockets from the Spitfire straining their way right through the middle of an enemy.
Strikers 1945 keeps things pretty simple for the most part. There’s no complicated scoring system; the most variable things get come in the form of optional pieces of bosses that can be blown off prior to destroying the main “core” of each phase, and collectible gold bars from ground installations, which appear to have semi-randomised point values. This means you can concentrate on the main shooting action rather than being forced to master particularly special techniques in order to succeed.
Nothing against games with complicated scoring systems, mind — it’s just nice to play something simple and straightforward once in a while. Strikers 1945 certainly delivers on that front, though it does have a few interesting twists on the usual formula, including its first four stages being in a random sequence each time you play.
It’s presented nicely, too. While the overall colour palette is a touch on the drab side thanks to the game at least being based in reality, the vibrant red and yellow explosions contrast nicely with the backdrops, and the enemy animations are all excellent. This particularly goes for the bosses which, without fail, start their battle with you as a fairly conventional piece of military hardware, and inevitably conclude by transforming into some sort of gigantic mechanical monster with an obscene amount of weaponry sticking out of every available orifice — most of which can be blown off.
Most importantly, it plays well — and the Switch port is enormously accessible thanks to a wide array of customisable options, including a whopping seven difficulty levels (ranging from “Monkey” to “Very Hard”), TATE compatibility for those fortunate enough to have the kit required to make it work, remappable controls and a selectable bonus life score boundary.
One of the most pleasing things is the option to choose how many credits are available to you — ranging from “unlimited” to “none”. This way, you really can play the game and challenge yourself in the exact way you want. Those who just want to see the ending can credit-feed their way through with unlimited continues — though later stages force you back to their beginning when you continue — while those taking aim for a one-credit clear on a particular difficulty level can turn the continue facility off altogether.
This latter option is especially welcome, since it reduces the amount of time between one run ending and another one beginning, and removes the usual need to hammer a button to bypass a continue prompt you have no intention of accepting before you can start a new attempt.
There are two curious omissions from the package: online leaderboards and replay functionality, and the two often go hand in hand. Those seeking to truly “learn” a new shoot ’em up often benefit greatly from being able to watch a replay from a player who has topped the worldwide leaderboards, or just analysing their own performance; here, you don’t have either option. The truly dedicated could always use video capture hardware to record their playthroughs, of course, though this isn’t much help if you’re playing on the go in handheld mode.
Whether or not these omissions are a big deal to you will depend entirely on how hardcore a shoot ’em up fan you are. For me personally, they’re not features I particularly miss; the local leaderboard allows me to compete against myself and anyone else who happens to play my copy, which is more than enough for me — particularly as there’s a separate high score table for every one of those seven difficulty levels. For those interested in the competitive side of the shoot ’em up scene, however, the lack of online features may give you pause.
Regardless of all this, however, Strikers 1945 is an excellent shoot ’em up, and a great way to kick off the Psikyo Shooting Stars collections on Switch — yet another example of how the platform is an amazing gateway to retro experiences from nearly every distinct era of gaming history at this point.
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