Strikers 1945 is a vertical scrolling bullet hell shooter originally made by Psikyo in 1995 for arcades, now out for the Nintendo Switch thanks to Zerodiv. As you guess from the title alone, it’s a World War 2 themed shooter, but with a typical whacky Japanese spin on it. Yes, you’ll probably have already guessed it… flying Spit Fires on the moon, flying battleship mechs and space crabs! But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s go back to the beginning.
There’s really no messing about with Strikers 1945, you’re straight into the action without too much fanfare, given the choice between six different aircrafts to pilot your way through 8 sweat inducing stages. If there’s an easy way for a shooter to go straight into my heart, it’s through highly varied craft and that’s exactly what Strikers 1945 does. They each have their own stats and feel to them. You’ll quickly find your favourite one but all of them are a joy to play as. Usually in a shooter there’s one little runt that I just can’t get along with but that’s not the case here.
As you move around with the analogue stick you hold down the A button to auto-fire. Like with any shooter it’s very weak at first but collecting power ups can significantly increase its bite. Each craft has its own unique shooting pattern too. It’s a one hit death in Strikers 1945 and dying will take away all of your power ups, harsh, but the norm for the genre. As a slight reprieve however, one or two of them may hang around to be re-collected which is nice.
The Y button, is the weapon charge up. Having a power up will allow you to hold down this button to unleash a special attack. Each craft has a different charge up shot that, if powered up fully, can be incredibly devastating to the enemies.
Finally there’s the genre-standard panic bomb which annihilates all smaller enemies and bullets, wiping the screen and protecting the user for a brief period; very useful when things get a little hairy. They’re not unlimited though as you start with only two, but they can be occasionally picked up after destroying foes. Again, this bomb is unique to each craft, just showing you the variety of different play styles available.
Personally, I don’t care for the default button layout. I feel the bomb button between the normal shot and charge shot to be a little inconvenient and bizarrely you can’t change them in this port. I would have preferred the change shot and normal shot next to each other and the bomb button mapped to a shoulder button or something, but sadly that’s not possible. Hopefully something for Zerodiv to work on should they release any more arcade titles on the Switch.
As a bullet hell shooter originally released in arcades, it is of course stupidly difficult at times, heavily designed to take your coins. Memorising the stages and bullet patterns could take years of learning and practice. On the standard setting you can’t expect to just waltz in and stroll through it, at least not without using a dozen continues. For an idiot such as myself, there are plenty of difficulty levels to make it a more pleasant experience, or an even more painful one. The two lowest settings are where I found it much more comfortable and is a good start for me to learn the game more.
It’s so satisfying to play. Powering up your weapons, destroying waves of enemies, the end of stage bosses, dodging the never ending stream of bullets, big and small. It’s an absolute pleasure to play. There’s just one thing that may put people off though. The length. The eight stages will last you 15 minutes at most. Short lengths go hand in hand with the genre but this is on the extreme end of briefness which will instantly make folk turn away for not getting their money’s worth. But as a high score chaser you’re expected to play over and over again, improving your skills as well as sampling all the very different fighters. Personally I know I will play this over and over again like I do with Blazing Star.
The visual style is wonderful and the World War 2 inspired setting is distinct, but don’t let it fool you into thinking that’s the only thing it has to offer, the visuals and setting quickly transforms into something more weird and wonderful. It’s not the most colourful shooter in the world with lots of greys and browns to match the military aesthetics, but that’s alright.
Strikers 1945 is quite simply an excellent match for the Nintendo Switch. Something fans have been excited about for quite a while is being able to turn the Switch screen vertically and play it like it was in the arcades in all its screen using glory. Now, you don’t need to do this, as playing it in the Switch’s normal horizontal form is fine, in fact needed when docked, but there’s something so wonderful about utilising the long, tall screen to its full potential and not feeling boarded in or squashed. It’s fantastic and possibly the definitive way to play the game in my opinion.
As a nice bonus there’s the chance to play two-player cooperatively with a friend. It’s fun shooting down enemies together while scrambling for the power ups but I wouldn’t say it’s the best way to enjoy Strikers since there is a slight issue of keeping track who’s who since most of the crafts look very similar.
There’re not as many options compared to what we’re used to with the Neo Geo ports from HAMSTER, which is a shame but not a huge loss. You can still select difficulty, change screen filters and adjust some gameplay things such as starting lives, score to get an extra life. There’s not much sadly, with the aforementioned lack of button remapping being the sorest piece that’s missing.
If you’re in to shooters at all, Strikers 1945 is a must purchase on your Nintendo Switch alongside Blazing Star in my opinion. It’s such a brief but precious experience that I know I will play over and over again. It’s a shame buttons can’t be remapped but mowing down enemies when fully powered up feels wonderful, learning the stages and enemy patterns will last you a long time, even if the individual stages won’t. It’s a game that fits perfectly on the Switch as having the screen vertically is the icing on the cake.
Game bought by the reviewer.