Strikers 1945 II: If It Ain’t Broke…

Strikers 1945 II is the sequel to Strikers 1945, unsurprisingly. And, to cut a long story short, if you enjoyed Strikers 1945, you will definitely enjoy Strikers 1945 II.

On the surface, the two games appear very similar to one another. And… well, to be perfectly honest, they are very similar to one another, but Strikers 1945 II adds a few little tweaks and refinements to the mix as well as providing a new lineup of aircraft to pilot, new enemy superweapons to blow to smithereens and, once again, some of the most satisfying shooting action you’ll ever enjoy.

Let’s take a closer look at this classic blaster from Psikyo, now readily available as part of the Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha collection for Nintendo Switch.

One thing worth noting before we start is that if you played the north American PlayStation release of “Strikers 1945” by AgeTec, or the budget European release from Midas, you were actually playing this game, not its predecessor. The exact reason for this is not entirely clear, but it was presumably so as not to confuse the same people who wouldn’t have been able to deal with North American Final Fantasy games jumping straight from I to IV.

Not that it really matters in the grand scheme of things, but Strikers 1945 II is a direct follow-up to its predecessor in narrative terms. After the terrorist force C.A.N.Y. was brought to its knees at the conclusion of the previous game, a new evil organisation has risen up to start some shenanigans. This time around, they’re known as F.G.R., and like C.A.N.Y., they favour heavy military hardware that has the capability to transform into (or at least carry) enormous mechanical monsters with rather more firepower than is strictly necessary to shoot down a single one-seater fighter.

Once again, you have the choice of a number of different fighters to choose from, though it’s not the exact same lineup as in the previous game — and even those craft returning from Strikers 1945 have a slightly different loadout. Classic weapons from the original game do return, however; the “piercing” missiles favoured by the Spitfire in the first Strikers 1945 are now loaded onto the J7W Shinden, for example.

Each plane has a basic shot that can be upgraded through various levels by collecting bullet-shaped icons marked with a “P”, dropped by various enemies throughout the levels. From the second power level upwards, each craft has a “subweapon” of sorts that complements its main front-firing shot. The exact implementation of this subweapon is the main distinguishing factor between the various planes; depending on which craft you choose, you might be able to automatically aim at foes around you, fire homing missiles, launch drone craft that harass armoured enemies or simply launch powerful unguided rockets.

The main change from Strikers 1945’s formula comes in how the “charged shot” mechanic is implemented. In the first game, this made use of the escort drones you acquired as you powered up your weapons, and usually allowed you to take control of an area of the screen through a fixed barrage of bullets, a protective shield or various other means. Here, however, the charged shot is usually based on your subweapon, and its power level is determined by a meter in the corner of the screen which gradually builds up as you destroy enemies.

The charged shot meter has three levels, with higher levels typically causing the effect to last for longer, cover a wider area and/or be more powerful. The actual effects vary enormously from craft to craft; the F-5U “Flying Pancake”, for example, continuously fires a powerful beam out in front of it for several seconds, while the J7W Shinden performs a loop, blasting out a large, flaming afterimage in front of it that decimates everything in its path. Learning how to use these special attacks effectively can make a huge difference in surviving the game’s varied encounters.

Like the first Strikers 1945, each level is fairly short, consisting of a relatively brief run-up to the boss, then a multi-phase boss battle. Several Strikers 1945 II levels also add a “midboss” of sorts, too; these usually take the form of a fixed enemy installation with a large amount of gun turrets, and destroying those usually reveals the level’s real boss in some sort of dramatic fashion.

One really appealing aspect of Strikers 1945 II is the sheer amount of detail going on in the levels. There’s also a particularly nice feeling of altitude thanks to some strong use of parallax scrolling and excellent background design — and the destruction you’re causing feels like it’s having a genuine impact. In one of these aforementioned “midboss” sections, you destroy a mobile gun turret that is on top of a dam; rather than it just blowing up and you proceeding on your way, your victory actually blows a hole in the dam itself, causing water to come rushing out and flood the area you’ve just passed through.

Likewise, the bosses are all divided into discrete areas that can be destroyed independently of one another — though a quick kill can always be achieved by locating and destroying the main “core” element. It’s much more enjoyable — and profitable for your score — to systematically blast each bit off one at a time, however, and it’s clear that Psikyo was well aware of this when designing the encounters.

This all ties in with Psikyo’s trademark heavy degree of physicality, too. Each and every weapon in Strikers 1945 II feels like it’s having a real impact; tearing through enemy armour, blasting holes in armoured foes and generally making a real mess of things. It’s the kind of shoot ’em up that those prone to experiencing strong synaesthetic responses to audio-visual stimuli will find extremely satisfying to engage with.

And, once again, this Nintendo Switch port is the definitive way to experience the game thanks to its strong degree of customisability. Like its predecessor, there are seven difficulty levels, plus the ability to change how many lives you start with, what score is required for extended play, and how many times you are allowed to continue — from “not at all” to “indefinitely”.

As with the other Switch Psikyo ports, this version does lack online leaderboards and replay functionality, which will be disappointing to the more hardcore side of the shoot ’em up fandom. There’s also a stray bit of untranslated Japanese text on the Game Over screen — I believe this is giving you some sort of “ranking” or evaluation — but nothing that will break your experience; this is still the best and most readily accessible way to enjoy this hugely satisfying shoot ’em up today.

So what are you waiting for, pilot? Suit up and save the world… again!

More about Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha
More about Strikers 1945 II

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