Before the mid-90s heyday of shooters, there was little craving for video game air combat. In the 80s, Namco's Galaga, Konami's Gradius, and Irem's R-Type series met with moderate success, paving the way for later, more successful series and sequels. One such release during this time was Capcom's 1942, a 32-level romp that represented the peak of top-down scrolling shooters in 1984. Now, courtesy of Digital Eclipse, Capcom's 1942 lives again on Game Boy Color.
As mentioned above, 1942 pits a lone ship against countless enemies over backdrops loosely reminiscent of the WWII-era Pacific theater. Launching from allied carriers, you'll navigate with the D-pad, destroying enemies with relative ease using the B-button-triggered machine gun. Should things get hairy, 1942's innovative "roll" feature can briefly lift you above the action. Shoot down enemy pilots, collect power-ups, and defeat a boss or two, and you'll see the credits roll in no time. There are three difficulty options, a two-player alternating mode, unlimited continues, and a password save feature for maintaining progress. These passwords can be printed on the Game Boy Printer as well, but only lazy folks will waste ink over four characters.
Other than the aforementioned password save, nothing has changed from the NES 1942. Every enemy ship, every island, and every power-up is faithful to the original. Therein lies the problem: Though the overall gameplay is solid, enemy flight patterns are such that it takes only one or two attempts to master any given level. 1942's greatest trick is sending large ships up from behind, a tactic easily foiled by rolling over them. Though sufficient for the time, the game's four main "POW" power-ups also lack variety. Extra rolls, quad bullets, multi-ships, and a full-screen explosion are all you get - no more, no less. Had Capcom not followed up with the sickeningly better 1943, 1942's gameplay might seem more satisfying.
Just as with the gameplay, 1942's visuals and sound seem painfully dated. For those content with 1988 NES backgrounds and sprites, the game is satisfactory. However, those hoping for any semblance of the arcade experience or a great deal of colors will be disappointed. The game's 32 backgrounds are all variations on the same water, desert, and jungle tile patterns. The airplane sprites themselves have decent variety in that you're not shooting down the same enemies every time - but with nary more than being able to turn and shoot, the only feeling of excitement comes from larger jets or the uncommon boss. There's also a nasty bit of flicker when an abundance of sprites is onscreen, making later levels somewhat of a chore. As for sound, what sound? There's a bullet noise, an explosion effect, and a single, aneurysm-inducing music track.
To be fair, 1942 on GBC is as good looking as the NES release, but its dated nature - coupled with the knowledge that 1943 is better in every way - mars an otherwise average title. It is difficult to weigh a retro-game release fairly, but modern-day standards must be applied when modern-day prices are charged. Even though the gameplay is solid, the bland visuals and lackluster sound make 1942 a tough pill to swallow, especially when the only new features are unlimited continues and passwords - both of which serve to further diminish the game's replay value. Diehard fans will enjoy it, but the general public probably won't.