|Release: December 1984|
|Screen Resolution: N/A|
by Josh Engen
I think human beings tend to loose perspective when large amounts of time and space come between us and the things we're evaluating. For instance, it's incredibly difficult for me to genuinely quantify the cultural and historical significance of Capcom's top-down shooter 1942, because its popularity had long-since waned by the time I finally picked up my first control pad. And while I do understand that it has a unique place in the gaming history books, my father and I would probably disagree on the actual location.
However, just because our temporally challenged brains will never fully understand the importance of Capcom's 1942, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Obviously, the best place to start is the storyline.
In 1942, the player finds himself in the roll of "Super Ace," a fighter pilot who's evidently fond of loneliness and barrel rolls. Super Ace gets behind the stick of P-38 Lighting and sets off from an aircraft carrier toward Tokyo with the intention of destroying every single aircraft in the Japanese air force. That's right, if you decide to play 1942, it's your job to destroy every single plane in the fleet with absolutely no help from anyone else. Expectations were evidently higher back then. No wonder standardized test scores have dropped off.
1942 is made up of 32 stages, and if you actually make it past the last stage, you will receive this friendly message from Capcom and the Japanese people:
WE GIVE UP!
PRESENTED BY CAPCOM
PS. HOPE OUR NEXT GAME.
Now, we can probably simply ignore the grammatical errors in this message, because what's most troubling is the way that the Japanese finally "gave up" only after Super Ace (me) managed to destroy every single plane in their entire fleet. And isn't Capcom a Japanese company? It seems like they might not think very highly of their own military. Also, I love the way that they make a sales pitch for their next game. At least, that's what I'm assuming "HOPE OUR NEXT GAME" means.
Now, it's really easy to poke fun at 1942 a few decades after its original release, but it's important to remember that 1942 was a huge hit at the time, and rightfully so. Some people might try to convince you that Americans were more easily entertained back in the 80s, but those people are naysayers. 1942 is genuinely fun. I recently went out and picked up a copy of 1942 and plugged it in to my NES (yes. I have a working NES). And you know what I found? 1942 stands the test of time.
Seriously. 1942 is still more fun that 90% of the iPhone games and Xbox Live Arcade games that I've purchased on a whim. And, while some might criticize me for comparing 1942 to a game that I purchased on a whim, you have to remember that not many hardcore gamers existed in 1980. Casual gaming was the only game in town, which means that my comparison remains completely valid.
However, casual or not, in 1942 became a breakaway hit for Capcom in the 80s. Until 1942 was released, Capcom had only been moderately successful with games like Pirate Ship Higemaru and Vulgus. But 1942 was more successful than all of Capcom's previous titles combined. Its success led Capcom to turn 1942 into the company's first ongoing franchise; they've released five 19XX titles since 1984, with no signs of slowing. 1942: First Strike was released for iOS in 2010.
In the end, 1942 is still the incredibly fun little game that helped Capcom, and other developers, usher in the modern age of gaming. Even if you never get a chance to play it, hopefully you'll be able to recognize its charm and role in history. And for those of you who feel like this article is an overly sentimental retrospective about a game that I could have never fully appreciated, you're probably right. But 1942 reminds us of a lot of the things that modern gaming has taught us to forget. Is it possible that we've started taking gaming a little too seriously?
Whatever the answer is, 1942 to will always be here to remind us to lighten up. To quote the game:
YOU ARE THE BEST OF PLAYER!
FIGHT LAST ONE STAGE
I'm not sure what any of that means, but I'm assuming it's heartfelt.
CCC Contributing Writer