If there’s a culture that the 21st century deeply misses, it’s the arcade culture. Sure, the arcades still exist, but merely as a seventy-year-old bomb, waiting to be dug from its slumber and disposed of without a purpose. Many will have nostalgic memories of chomping around as Pacman or saving Pauline in Donkey Kong, but Capcom produced its own memorable arcade title in 1984, the vertically scrolling action game that was 1942.
It was only the fourth time Capcom had produced an arcade game (Vulgus was their first attempt at an arcade game). The concept was very simple. You pilot a plane resembling a Lockheed P38 Lightning, and your goal is to reach Tokyo and destroy the Japanese air fleet. You could earn power-ups by destroying a formation of red planes, including; bonus points, extra loops, extra machine guns, and more. It might not be as fancy as your PS4 achievements, but those bonus points were essential in your quest to have your name on the leader board.
It’s a reminder of how much competitive play has changed. Nowadays, screaming down your microphone at people you don’t know is as ambitious as it gets. Understandably, the kid with the annoying name has antagonized you with his high-pitched squeals the whole session, but he doesn’t have a high score you have to chase every day. Any achievement that doesn’t have your three letter name next to it is not worth the grandiloquence.
1942 brought a familiar challenge, but one that was expertly executed. Space Invaders had the original concept, but 1942 brought new life and color to the genre. The more sentient movements of the enemy brought a new level of difficulty that Space Invaders never had. Rather than a block of alien ships, the enemy was coming out from every side, including behind you. The sense of vulnerability was something rarely felt in an arcade game until this moment, and it was something of an addiction. The development of video games since then has only shown we crave for our weaknesses to be exposed; the popularity of the horror genre only grows exponentially.
Recreating the devastation of World War II was never going to be easy on the systems of the 80s. Let’s be honest, it’s impossible. To compare your avian maneuvers in Battlefield to the rigid constraints of 1942 would be folly. However, 1942 was one of the first, if not the first, video game to represent a real historic event. In that sense, it was innovative and provocative, if not a little dangerous. And if weren’t for the brave creativity of a historic event, Capcom might not have been the successful developer it is today.
The success of 1942 followed with its own sequels. 1943 – The Battle of Midway brought ships into the equation, 1944 – The Loop Master developed a more powerful attack by holding the shot button, and 1941 – Counterattack was fought in the skies of Europe. The gameplay didn’t change much between the sequels, but it didn’t really need to. Its legacy has remained so robust that a remake, 1942 – Joint Strike, was released on the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network in July 2008. The remake was much more of an amalgamation of various elements within the 19XX series, however.
1942 soon spread from an arcade game and found itself on many different consoles, including the Game Boy Color which would be released over a decade later. Capcom would later release titles such as Mega Man and Street Fighter, but it’s unlikely it would have been able to do so without the success of 1942. It was an arcade game that became its first port into the growing home console market, and it certainly helped to swing the tide of the battle into Capcom’s favor. So incredible was its success, 1942 should remain Capcom’s proudest victory.