Wednesday 30 May 2012

1941: Counter Attack

Lock up your women and children - Squirrel's reviewing a PC Engine SuperGrafx game. Last time this happened thirteen innocent lives were lost. Some of us are still in mourning.

1941: Counter Attack. Sequel to 1943 and 1942, because fighting with the Japanese before 1945 disrupts the fabric of time, as my long time fans will tell you.

When people talk about deceased video game hardware manufacturers, the main topics tend to revolve around Sega and Atari, perhaps SNK at a push. As a collective, we often forget about NEC's efforts, and though it's clear that nobody in the western world gives a damn about their line of 80s computers for some reason, we're often very quick to ignore their home console endeavours too, namely the PC Engine, otherwise known as the TurboGrafx-16.

The TurboGrafx-16, was NEC's mostly unsuccessful effort at dethroning Nintendo. In Japan they pulled a very healthy second place with over 700 games in its library, but in the west the TG16 was quickly hung out to dry by the hands of Sega and their Mega Drive (or Genesis). Interestingly, just like Sega, NEC would produce all sorts of stupid hardware in their latter years in an attempt to complete - the PC Engine had a stupid CD add-on in the form of the CD-ROM² System (which turned out to be rather good), and later a overpriced pointless graphical boost in the form of the SuperGrafx. This all sounds rather familiar.

Unlike a certain other overpriced pointless graphical boost (spoilers: it's the Sega 32X), the SuperGrafx stands as one of the more impressive pieces of garbage we're supposed to hate. It's problems seem to have involved a lack of meaningful improvements over the regular PC Engine to justify it's high price point, and though it may have been true that in 1989 there was no reason to buy a SuperGrafx, we should be well beyond that now - all of these consoles are old and emulation doesn't cost a penny.

Though it's worth pointing out that TurboGrafx-16 emulation is unnecessarily awkward. Thank goodness I have a program that'll sort out the crappy screenshots.

A Sega 32X exclusive usually involves a game like Darxide polluting your television screen with near-unplayable garbage and causing many to consider suicide. But 1941: The Counter Attack is nothing like this - it's a damned good shooter, and for over fifteen years, a one exclusive to the SuperGrafx... provided you discount the original arcade machine. In the days before compilations the SuperGrafx version was the only way to go if you wanted the full set.

Like the other games in the series, 1941 has you pilot World War II-era planes in impossible environments shooting at the Japanese. Originally released in 1990 before being brought to the SuperGrafx a year later, the game is exactly how you would expect a vertical shooter to behave from around this period. It's evolutionary, but not revolutionary, being a clear improvement over previous entries in the series, but nothing which takes the genre to new heights.

1941 has you fight an abnormal amount of planes and boats while collecting upgrades and being gunned down. The game lets you take a few hits before you're ultimately laid to rest, but the challenge is ever present and it's more than happy to point out terrible players. There's a few modes of fire including little helper planes, bombs and a charge shot, but it's otherwise very bog standard in its delivery. Fly across a stage and inevitably destroy an end boss, rinse and repeat.

Death in some shooters puts you at a massive disadvantage and makes the rest of the stage almost unplayable (hi Gradius), but 1941 is much more forgiving. The SuperGrafx also seems more than happy to cater for a good dozen enemies before it resorts to slowdown, but the experience is very much comparable to what you might expect on the Mega Drive, albeit with a few more colours in play - it's not "Super" per se. For example, the music isn't anything to write home about, and lacks the vertical screen estate of the arcade version.

Though 1941 strikes me as decent shooter, I struggle to see why it commands such high prices on eBay (often more than the SuperGrafx console itself). Truth be told, I feel much the same about most of the games in teh 19XX series - 1942 was interesting, but the others often stray into borderline mediocre territory and I honestly can't say 1941 is any different. Though perhaps more interesting than many of the home shooters on the market at the time, it's one of those awkward games which pre-dates the visual spectacle of its bullet hell counterparts, but fails to capture the hearts and minds of consumers like shooters released half a decade prior.

I'm told 1941 was the first to include the feature where continuing a game gives you one single point (in a world that deals with 100s and 1000s), thus highlighting your uselessness when it came to comparing final scores. 10,004 is worse than 10,001 because it took you three more tries to get there - it's a clever system and spread its way across the genre in the years that followed, but as far as I can gather this is 1941: Counter Attack's only claim to fame, aside from living in the odd land of SuperGrafx.

But it's not terrible. Not worth the asking price, but equally not something to remove from the history books.

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