Like Street Fighter II, Bionic Commando, or almost every other Capcom game on Xbox Live Arcade, 1942: Joint Strike is a new take on an old game. This remake sports high-definition visuals and a couple of new mechanics that help make this 25-year-old game feel fresh again without sacrificing what made it fun in the first place. Those with fond memories of the arcade classic will be pleased with the look and feel of 1942, but the short length and high price make it a hard sell.
1942 is a top-down shooter set in an alternate reality where the outcome of World War II is dependent on two fighter planes. Rather than a pixel perfect re-creation, Joint Strike is more like a reimagining of the classic arcade game. It feels like the old 1942, but it has elements of some other games in the franchise, such as the charge shot. The biggest gimmick comes from the subtitle. When playing a co-op game, you and your partner each choose one of three planes, as well as one of three joint strike attacks: an electric chain, a bomb, or a large charge shot. Each joint strike works a little differently, but all of them require good communication to be used effectively. When playing a single-player game, you forfeit the joint strike attack in favor of a missile shot. Other than that, it's the same game in both single-player and multiplayer, online or locally.
Another thing that sets this new version apart from the original is the widescreen display. The game still scrolls vertically, but by spreading the screen out, there is more room for two people to maneuver and more room for enemies to attack. Later levels flood the screen with enemies and bullets, forcing you to the very edges of the screen to avoid death. It's a welcome improvement to an old formula, which is why it's too bad it doesn't last very long. With only five levels, 1942: Joint Strike can be beaten in a single sitting; less than an hour if you're playing co-op.
At least the short time you spend with the game will be pleasing to your eyes. The 3D visuals look great and add a layer of depth not possible in the old 2D game. You'll fly over oceans, volcanoes, forests, cities under siege, a shipyard, and a few other colorful areas. You'll do so while your planes pitch and roll, with the camera zooming in and out. The planes and enemies also animate well, sporting quasi-realistic designs. Damage shows on planes in the form of fired or smoky engines, and enemies break apart, crumbling in balls of flame. Enemy attacks are brightly colored and easy to spot despite all of the graphical flourish. The sound takes a backseat to the visuals. Understated, heroic WWII music plays in the menus and levels, but the sound of gunfire and explosions is disappointingly soft.
For 800 Microsoft points, you're not getting a lot of bang for your buck. The short length and lack of extras hurt what is otherwise a refreshing take on a classic game. Some of you might enjoy playing the game over in search of high scores, but most will find little reason to come back after beating it in the first sitting.