The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review - Tempest Elite (Atari 800 & co.)









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

1943 Kai (PC Engine - Naxat Soft/Capcom - 1991)

A superlative translation of the classic arcade title comes at players at full throttle with excellent presentation, silky-smooth controls and challenging gameplay that will keep you hooked for some time. 1943 Kai's appeal is immediate and long lasting, with accessible gameplay and straightforward mechanics that bring you right into the action. Its structure is fairly simple. Stages unfold in two parts, the first has a structure like most shmups where the objective is to knock out as many foes as you can while avoiding damage. Around the half-way point, your ship reaches the confrontation with an end boss, usually a long, somewhat intimidating battleship. Reaching these isn't terribly difficult, but defeating them requires a level of patience and pesistence that is somewhat unexpected. At this point, the objective changes and you have to fight it out with the extended opponent. You have to destroy all the compartments on the ship in order to beat it while simultaneously avoiding waves of opponents that continue their attack on you. It's not as easy as it sounds since you need to destroy all the enemy's compartments in order to defeat it. This is tricky because they aren't all in a rigid order and you have to swing back and forth across the screen quickly to ensure you've hit all these targets. If you manage to defeat these bosses, you're treated to a victory animation and ranking screen that displays the ranking percentage of opponents destroyed before moving to the next level.

For the most part, the action in 1943 Kai is unrelenting as this classically-designed, vertically scrolling shoot-'em-up throws incandescent waves of opposing fighters at you. The don't attack all at once and instead come at you in extended periods. The enemies attack in slightly mechanical patterns, though with some variance. The attack formations of these opponents are easy to anticipate to a degree, at least in the early stages. Basically, you can wipe them out with standard shots. Later on they swoop in to attack you much faster making their assaults much harder to avoid. Most foes throw plentiful numbers of bullets at you and the trick is to avoid their direct line of fire while spacing your shots enough to destroy them. Approaching from all sides of the screen, you need skill and dexterity to beat them. Even though you aren't penalized if you don't get them all, this gives you a high percentage ranking at the end of each stage.

One helpful aspect of 1943 Kai's structure is the fact that you don't automatically lose when you take a singe shot. Instead, the energy bar at the bottom of the screen is reduced. This makes for a much fairer gameif you that doesn't punish you for making a small mistake. The energy bar can be restored by collecting power-ups which are surprisingly plentiful as you go along, making it easy to keep the flow and momentum going. You'll need some practice an memorization once you reach the later rounds. The game is fairly straightforward and surprisingly easy at first, only becoming difficult when you reach the later rounds. there are a few tricks you can use to help even the odds of completing each level.
The most unique aspect of 1943 Kai comes with its signature diving moves. This defensive technique allows you to temporarily get out of danger by quickly descending in altitude. This special move lets your vessel dodge and avoid the enemy's line of fire for a few seconds. This gives you a quick release where you can get out of the way without taking damage from incoming fire. Its especially useful in crowded sections where it's difficult to avoid contact. However, You only have a couple of these in your arsenal so implement these movers sparingly.The other related power-up is a lightning bolt that fills the screen in a flash and wipes out everything on the screen. It temporarily freezes the action in place, ending your progress but is highly effective. These are equipped at the beginning of each stage and can be used by pressing a single button. They are quite powerful but they're limited in duration so they don't throw off the game's balance that much.

After you destroy the enemy ships, they'll leave a bounty of additional power-ups behind that you can pick up and use to help you along the way, Some of these weapons are fairly standard such as enhanced shots that enhance your projectiles with added range and powers. Others give you wingmen at your side that allow you to broaden your attacks or let you unleash bombs that clear our entire sections of the screen instantly. The major drawback to this power-up system comes in the timed nature of the attacks, you only have access to these more powerful weapons for a short time so you need to use them wisely. You can stack additional power-ups along the way, but there can be an unexpected drawback. Some weapons are more effective than others so you have to be careful since they swap out instantly when collected. There's a good variety to the power-ups which helps to keep things fresh during extended sessions.

Managing all of this sounds complicated, but its systems work together smoothly and easily to make the gameplay intuitive and smooth. The silky-smooth controls in 1943 Kai are responsive and fluid, allowing you to maneuver your ship around the screen with ease and dexterity. The game play mechanics are easy enough to navigate and the difficulty level is challenging but fair. You never feel like you've been cheated with none of the cheapness seen in some other shoot-'em-ups. This allows you to get a good gameplay momentum without too many breaks in the action. Excellent presentation is evident throughout the game, visuals are nicely detailed and mimic the arcade game flawlessly.

There are occasional pauses when the action stops for a moment at the middle of each stage, but these momentary breaks in the action aren't overly detrimental. Two basic visual modes allow for either full-screen or horizontally correct (arcade) play. There's no evident difference in terms of frame rate or speed, so which you choose depends on personal preference. 1943 Kai's music and sound effects are accurate and faithful while the ebullient music score underlines the action perfectly. All these elements combine to make for a shining arcade conversion that accurately captures the look an feel of the original game, retaining the elements that made the arcade title so enduring, challenging and exciting for players.

- Michael Palisano