Thursday, March 19, 2009

1941 Counter Attack

Hudson Soft / Capcom
HuCard (SuperGrafx)

After the antiquated vertical blaster 1943 Kai had let me down big time, I wasn't about to get my hopes up for its thematically similar SuperGrafx descendant. But while 1941 is reminiscent of '43 in many fundamental aspects, it's actually a heck of a lot more fun to play.

It maintains a fast pace, unlike 1943's monotonous first set of strips, but forethought and logic are evident in its level designs: no sequence here reminds one of the stretches of seemingly random projectile spewing in Kai's "new" stages. Adding a little fun and variety are diagonally scrolling segments; the adventure isn't just an uninterrupted bottom-to-top trip. And using the devastating missile weapon to annihilate enemies spread across the screen provides the satisfying feeling of slaughter one always hopes to experience when playing a shooter.

The graphical upgrade from Kai, though expected, is stunning. Gone are the simplicity and redundancy of 1943's uninspiring seas and skies. Counter Attack's environments not only are detailed and gorgeous but also exert themselves as factors in the gameplay itself. You'll demolish city buildings and cliff crests; navigate narrow passageways; and, in some harrowing but inevitable instances, struggle to regain control as your plane careens off walls (due to your own carelessness, of course).

Amazingly, there are times when the music impresses even more than the visuals. Sure, these tunes might not strike one for "remarkable drum quality" or whatever other reasons people come up with for lauding Kai's mediocre numbers, but the compositions themselves are extremely pleasant. Nonetheless, we must return to the graphics to find 1941's most memorable superficial moments, which, of course, come during boss confrontations. The big machines featured this time around are far more interesting than 1943's occasional large-yet-remarkably-dull planes and boats.

Even with all it does right, Counter Attack certainly isn't impervious to criticism. In a game that focuses almost exclusively on twitch action rather than memorization (and indeed seems built for such an approach), there are places where enemies will suddenly ram you up the ass or dart onscreen from odd angles, making for some cheap-feeling hits. (Of course, with an extendable life meter in tow, most players won't consider these moments to be game wrecking.) Also, while it does just about everything it can with the World War II concept, '41 can seem a little dull thematically, being that its PCE peers include the fantastical likes of Sapphire and Spriggan. Nevertheless, Counter Attack is well worth buying when and if you locate it at a reasonable price, as its action, visuals, and soundtrack combine to provide an entertaining experience--even though it has you deal with planes, ships, and other contraptions that take their cues from real-world technology rather than crazy creatures and mecha.