Psikyo was one of the leading shoother companies during the mid-'90s, churning out classics famous for fast gameplay, faster bullets, and dense patterns. Their flagship series, Strikers 1945, looks suspiciously similar to Capcom's long running 19XX series. Both games purport to take place mostly during World War II, but also feature a healthy dose of sci-fi elements. While Capcom's series is more minimalist toward the alien technology, lasers, and strange historic inaccuracies, Strikers 1945 puts it right up front and makes its alternate history involving aliens and advanced technology take center stage. In Strikers 1945, you will fight battleships, but then said battleships will launch a transforming mech into the air to further attack.
Strikers 1945 also has a few gameplay similarities to 19XX, namely grading your performance. 19XX grades you at the end of every level, but Strikers will make you wait until the end of the game, awarding medals in time (how fast you defeated the boss), gold (how many gold bricks you picked up from destroyed buildings and enemies), and shoot down (being sure no enemies escaped). The grading system and gameplay is different enough to keep Strikers 1945 from feeling like a rip off, yet retains its similar feeling. In general, the games look, sound, and feel like the rest of Psikyo's library - fairly average 2D graphic, acceptable but not particularly memorable soundtracks, and solid action, although nothing really special.
The first in the series, Strikers 1945 introduces lightning fast gameplay, huge bosses that transform into giant robots, and many other conventions the series has been known for. The story involves a terrorist organization made up of disgruntled war pilots called CANY. CANY has spread all over the world and uses secret alien technology to try to prolong World War II. In an unexpected turn, veteran Ally and Axis pilots form a group called The Strikers to take down CANY and restore peace to the world. The Striker planes are varied, coming from all around the world. Each plane has a unique charge shot and bomb.
The P-38 Lighting bears a strong resemblance to Super Ace from Capcom's 19XX series, which cannot be a coincidence. Options even stay to the side of it. When charged up, the options form a wall that does not move until the attack is done. While the wall does not move, you can, making it easy to be in two places at once. It is very handy and can help get out of tight situations. Its bomber is a loop followed by a huge explosion, much like Super Ace.
The P-51 Mustang has a very strange charge shot that takes a while to get going. The options slowly spin in front of it, wrecking everything in their path. It is also the only charge shot that can erase enemy attacks. Unfortunately, this attack is very weak unless you have the maximum of four options. Its bomb is far more impressive, calling in three oversized bombers to carpet bomb the place.
The Spitfire has options that follow it around and shoot powerful, but slow missiles. It charge shot is a wall, similar to The Lightning's, but they shoot diagonal and follow you. Its bomber has to be one of the best in the game, shooting a powerful blast right in front of it. Your movement slows down once this blast is used, making it feel much like the laser bomb from Dodonpachi.
The Messerschmidt is the only German plane in the game. It has options that aim for enemies as though they had a mind of their own. When charged up, they spin around, making a drill of bullets. Its bomb is one of the stranger attacks, calling in many giant planes to come in and suicide bomb everything on screen.
One of the two Japanese planes. Zero's options are very powerful, lobbing grenades and homing in on enemies when charged. Its bomb is bizarre and reminiscent of the bomb in 1943. A storm is called in, blasting all enemies on screen with lightning. It is surprisingly powerful, and possibly a reference to the Divine Wind, or Kamikaze legend. Zero is actually a great plane for beginners, due to its combination of power, speed, and homing.
Shinden is the other Japanese plane. Due to its experimental design, Shinden is very unwieldy, but with its difficulty comes amazing power. Shinden's options are similar to Lightning's, but when charged, they shoot in a horizontal line, rather than a vertical one. Shinden also has an interesting bomb, where it does a loop, but leaves a shadow version of itself. The shadow version charges forward and slices through all enemies in its path. It is a very impressive attack.
There are eight levels, the first five being various locations in Europe in a completely random order. The last three levels have The Strikers blasting off into space, landing on the moon, and storming the alien base. Once on the moon, bosses are no longer transforming robots and change to large, shape shifting crab aliens. Some of the bosses are randomized too, meaning that multiple playthroughs are required to fight all of them.
Another strange thing is that when you collide with any enemy, you do not die, but rather power down. Powering down usually results in the loss of an option, which can be crippling. This even applies during respawn time and invincibility. Power ups tend to hover on top of bosses or large enemies, making catching them a pain if most of the screen is filled up. Unless you are in respawn time, colliding at the lowest power level results in the loss of a life.
The scoring system is partially based on your grades you get at the end and also based on gold bars you pick up. Gold bars are found inside destructible buildings or ground-based enemies, and are very common in most levels. The gold bars shine very brightly and then grow dull again, cycling between shiny and dull. Gold bars are worth more points when they are shiny, so precise timing is needed to pick them up at the right time and dodge all the bullets filling the screen.
Strikers 1945 also has a somewhat controversial ending. Upon beating the game, you get to see the pilot of each plane, most of them are females, except the Shinden's pilot, who is Ayin from another Psikyo shooter, Sengoku Ace. He later appears in Gunbird 2 as an extra character. The issue arose from the secret endings, all of them being topless pictures of the pilots with some creepy text describing their measurements (you don't actually see anything). These were censored in the home versions of the game.
Strikers 1945 was ported to both the PlayStation and Saturn. They're both solid ports, with the PlayStation version have a very slight upper hand on a few visual details (the Saturn version lacks transparencies), along with less slowdown. Several years later it was also ported to the PlayStation 2 on the same disk as the sequel, called Psikyo Shooting Collection Volume 1 (in Japan) by Taito, and 1945 Part I & II The Arcade Game (in Europe) by Play It. These are solid ports, though the visuals are upscaled and interlaced. They support tate for true vertical display, but unfortunately the European versions lacks a 60 hz mode and the save game function has been removed.
The sequel, Strikers 1945 II, refines the formula set up by the first game and streamlines the general experience. Planes are much more powerful, bosses are bigger, gameplay is faster than ever, and the overall challenge is cranked up a few notches. The biggest new addition is a charged attack bar. Before, how powerful your charged attack was depended on how many options you had. It now has its own separate bar, which is filled by hitting enemies. Options are almost dropped completely, with most ships gaining a sub shot that functions the same. With options out of the picture, the Strikers series gains more of its own identity and feels less like a faster 19XX rip off.
Strikers 1945 II's story picks up right where the first game left off (it is in the same year, after all), having mostly to do with an evil organization, FGR, stealing CANY's giant robot designs and using them again. Naturally, the Strikers are called in to stop FGR. The Strikers have changed a lot in less than a year, retaining only two of the original planes and having one more than before.
Almost all of the planes are new, as only two, Lightning and Shinden, were brought over from the previous installment. Even then, none of the planes quite feel like anything from the first game, making the game feel fresh.
Lightning is different in this game, shooting homing rockets as its sub shot instead of options that stay to the side. Its charge shot is completely new, shooting two very powerful missiles from a secret compartment in its wings. Its bomb still does a loop, but instead of a traditional explosion, its sends in a bunch of smaller planes to harass enemies until they are destroyed or disappear. While Lightning still looks like Super Ace, it now plays nothing like the plane from Capcom's series.
Easily the most powerful of the new planes. The Flying Pancake may have an amusing name, but its sub shot is a devastating homing laser. It charge shot is even more powerful, firing laser cannons close to its propellers, and unlike many of the other charge shots, use does not slow it down. Its bomber calls in two huge flying wings to ram any enemies on screen and blast anything else that survived to bits with their aimed turrets. This attack lasts a very long time and even blocks enemy fire.
The Focke-Wulf is somewhat slow, put puts emphasis on power. Its sub shot fires rockets that travel in a straight line. Its charge shot shoots a slow, but destructive ball of electricity that varies in size. Lastly, its bomb may be the most over the top attack in the series, firing one huge missile that never detonates, but destroys everything in its path.
The Hayate shows that options are not completely gone from the series, as its sub shot, humerously enough, fires options that home in and suicide strike enemies. The charge shot summons more options to fire in a drill formation, similar to The Messerschmidt from the first game. Lastly, its bomb calls in a much larger plane to wreck anything onscreen and fly away.
Returning from the first game, The Shinden plays a lot like it used to. It shoots light spears as a sub shot, and a white shadow image of it is fired as its charge shot, much like its bomb from the first game. The new bomb calls in many more planes to come in and gun down any enemies in the way before dispersing.
There are still eight levels, the first five being in a random order. Afterwards, you go attack a dam, a pit level simply called "blockade", and finally the secret base. The pit level deserves special mention, as it is one of the coolest levels in the series. After fighting through two challenging mini bosses, the level looks like it's over, until the real boss is assembled right in front of you.
The last level still involves aliens, but it is nowhere near as ludicrous as fighter pilots blasting off into space and flying to the moon. Instead, the Strikers dive down a hole to the center of the world, and fight the final boss, an alien cleverly disguised as the secret base's core. It's not nearly as hard as the blockade's boss, but still a challenge.
Like the first game, Strikers 1945 II was ported to the PlayStation, Saturn and PlayStation 2. Strangely, the PlayStation version of this game was released in North America by Agetec, but since the port of the first game had not been released in the territory, it was renamed Strikers 1945. The European version was released by Midas Interactive under the proper name. Unfortunately the North American version is missing a tate mode, but it is present in the European release. The Japanese version also has FMV clips showing off the craft, but these were oddly removed from the North American release as well.
Strikers 1945 III, also called Strikers 1999, is a dramatic change from the last two games, ditching the World War II feel for a modern war setting. Giant robots and super science are still all around, but it does not look as out of place in 1999, giving the game a look similar to Raiden Fighters or Air Gallet more than anything.
Another major change is that the levels are no longer randomized. Like the previous games, there are 8 levels in total and a second loop. They're mostly pretty standard for shooters, including a desert, a battleship level, a sea of clouds, and other normal levels. Things get weird in level 6 and 7, where you have fighter jets in space and going at warp speed. The last level is a disappointingly standard enemy base.
None of the planes from the previous games are selectable in the third Strikers game, even though there are some clear shout outs to some of the originals. Options return, but each jet has a set number of them that follow it around, simply growing in power and not numbers as you power up.
FA-18 Super Hornet
Super Hornet is the modern equivalent of Lightning, having four options always following it, shooting powerful homing missiles, and a bomb that involves looping. The fact that it has the word super in its name may not be a coincidence, due to Lightning's similarities to Super Ace.
Stealth is a very interesting fighter, even though it lacks any stealth capabilities. Its sub shot shoots slow moving grenades that do heavy damage. Its charge shot unleashes its powerful options, which flare up with energy and wreck anything in their way. Its bomb has to be its strangest attack, doing a loop and making electric spears rain from the sky. There is nothing subtle or stealthy about it.
The Raptor has the best sub shot in the game, something reminiscent of the Wind Laser, the most powerful weapon in Konami's Axelay. Its charge shot is less impressive, shooting surprisingly weak lasers. Its bomb is pretty cool, dropping a large shell that explodes into a cluster of bombs.
The Harrier is the powerhouse of the bunch, and clearly the spiritual successor of The Mosquito. It shoots destructive missiles, even bigger missiles for a charge shot, and burns the place up with even more incendiary missiles with its bomb.
The story involves Earth being attacked by the same aliens as always. They apparently evolved from crabs into insects in 54 years time. With the aliens stronger than ever, The Strikers team up with FGR in hopes of defeating the aliens for good. Luckily, technology has evolved over time as well, switching planes for jets and far more powerful weapons.
There are two new scoring tricks in Strikers 1945 III. All bosses have an extra powerful super attack. Whenever a boss uses a super attack, a blue orb is shown, which is its weak spot. Shooting the blue orb not only does extra damage, but it awards bonus points. It's a pretty cool feature and very well implemented. The other replaces the gold bars for medals and introduces medal chaining. Picking up a medal while it is spinning starts the chain by giving you 2000 points, and continued by adding 2200 points. Chains are broken when you die or collect a medal worth below 2000 points.
Strikers 1945 III offers the most power both with and against the player, making the gameplay far more intense. It is not as hard as some of Psikyo's other shooters, but is still noticeably harder than the first two. The game stops pulling its punches near the end of level 2 and fires full on bullet curtains in all directions. It makes the last two games look tame in comparison.
Strikers 1945 III never left arcades and was never ported to any home consoles, which is a little bit strange after seeing how readily accessible the first two were. It never even got ported in a museum collection the way the first two did. That is a shame, because Strikers 1945 III is the best in the series.
Strikers 1945 Plus is a vastly improved remake of Strikers 1945 II. It includes the same levels and bosses, but with some alterations. The bullet speed is slower, and the bullets themselves have been replace with bright pink and blue glowing orbs, similar to the types of attacks found in other modern style shmups. Bullet patterns have been changed as well, mostly to accommodate for the new bullet types. The random level order for the first few stages has returned as well.
Unlike the other titles, Strikers 1945 Plus is designed to be played on a horizontally oriented monitor rather than a vertical one. This was because it was developed for the Neo Geo hardware, and all cabinets had to be uniform to accomodate the multiple games in each system. In order to maintain a similar aspect ratio, the screen is pillarboxed, making for a smaller area of view. Two huge side bars have been added in this space, one showing your status, such as how many bombs are left, how many lives, and a bar showing how close you are to getting a charged attack. The other side of the screen is completely useless in single player mode, simply showing the word "Strikers" in huge letters, but it displays the second player stats in two player mode.
The planes available in Strikers 1945 Plus are a mix of the ones in the first two games. They are Lightning, Flying Pancake, Spitfire, Focke Wulf, Zero, and Fiat G-56. Most of the planes play like they did in the earlier installments, save for Spitfire and Zero. Spitfire plays more like Mosquito, but with a different sprite. Zero is completely new, as it only resembles the first game's Zero in appearance. It shoots rockets from its wings and has lost its ability to call storms, which is part of what made it cool in the first game.
Although Strikers 1945 Plus was not ported at the time of its release, it eventually made it on to the PSP and iOS, in 2009 and 2010 respectively. The PSP version was released as a retail UMD in Japan but is only available via the PSN in North America. The iOS version is the only version that includes a proper vertical display to suit the screen, but the poor touch screen controls make it nearly unplayable, and a poor alternative to Cave's titles on the platform. The PSP version is a no frills port, and offers a handful of screen displays to play in the original resolution or zoomed in to fill the screen. No matter which display you choose, though, it will still be pillarboxed, and there is no support for vertical orientation.