March 12, 2008 - Though Pac-Man and Donkey Kong kicked off the arcade revolution, it was top-down shooters such as Capcom's 1942 that got many hooked on videogames in the '80s. Capcom continues the revisitation of its classic library with the launch of a downloadable remake of 1942. Set to arrive on Xbox Live Marketplace and PlayStation Network this summer, 1942: Joint Strike takes the essence of the original series, slaps on impressive 3D graphics and adds 2-player online cooperative play to create a fresh take on the 24-year-old game.

1942: Joint Strike is fundamentally the same game we've seen before. It's still a top-down vertical shooter. Only now we get it in true widescreen, sans the "arcade bars" so often seen on digital remakes. And though the gameplay remains two-dimensional, the visuals are actually 3D. 1942 is a gorgeous game, even in its unfinished state. Though we saw a few occasions of slowdown, it's certainly a looker that is only going to get better over the next few months. Surprisingly, the slick new look of 1942 is outdone by the new musical score by Metal Gear composer Norihiko Hibinio. It's contemporary, but doesn't feel out of place amidst the fast-moving arcade action.



As a pilot in an "alternate world version" of WWII, your task is simple enough: make it to the end of the level without being blown apart by enemy planes, tanks, anti-air guns and battleships. It sounds easy enough, but there is a constant onslaught of gunfire that forces you to deftly maneuver your plane across the screen and perform loop-the-loops to avoid being hit.

Your arsenal begins fairly weak. You'll have your choice of plane and starting weapon, but it won't be enough to handle some of the enemies that come at you as you progress through a level. As you defeat enemies, new weapon options and upgrades scroll down the screen. Grab the weapon you prefer and put it to use. Each of the variations is effective, from the traditional three-pronged spread shot to the powerful laser. Hold the shoot button and you can charge attacks, though unless you are blasting some of the larger enemies, powering-up attacks tends to be an ineffective strategy. Ultimately it's your skill at avoiding shots and tapping the shoot button that will determine if you'll make it to the boss at the end of the stage.

The bosses are massive machines of war. In the first stage of the demo you take on the Bodan, a war plane that takes up nearly the entire screen. When the Bodan isn't firing off multi-directional missiles, it's releasing quadruplets of high-powered mines. The Bodan is somewhat of a lightweight boss though (on the default difficulty), but the second boss, the Dagmor tank is another story. This mighty tank has a deadly missile-spewing main turret and quartet of smaller machinegun turrets. It won't go down without a serious fight. The main turret will push you to the upper corners of the screen and then the machineguns pop out to tag you as you sweep back towards the bottom of the screen.

Fortunately, Joint Strike supports offline and online cooperatively play so that you and a buddy can take on the forces of evil as a team. This is where having full widescreen support becomes a plus, as it's easier to avoid cluttering the screen with your rain of fire. And as an added bonus, once you've powered up the meter by killing some enemies, you can perform Joint Strike attacks.



There are three different Joint Strike attacks, selectable between missions. The one we found useful was a chained lightning attack. With this tandem strike, you create a line of energy connecting your plane with your wingman. Anything that runs through this line of energy takes some serious damage. Work together and you can capitalize on the short time the strike is in effect. Do your own thing and you'll find the joint strikes far less effective.

Clearly 1942 was built for co-op play. But if you choose to play alone, the difficulty scales and you gain a slightly different weapon set to make up for the lack of joint strikes. Playing alone just doesn't seem that fun -- and besides, that's quite a lot of screen for one plane to cover. If you know you're going to have no one to play 1942 with, it may be time to invest in some cloning research.

We've seen a number of arcade games remade as digital downloads. Many have failed to properly upgrade the graphics, sound or gameplay. From our brief time with 1942: Joint Strike, it doesn't seem developer Backbone Entertainment has fallen into this trap. In fact, Joint Strike stands out as an example of how to reintroduce an arcade game to a modern audience.

1942: Joint Strike is expected to release simultaneously for XBLA and PSN this summer for $9.99 (800 Microsoft Points).