Review: 1942 x RepliCade

When New Wave Toys first released their RepliCade X Centipede three years ago, the most exciting aspect was not so much the arthropod-slaying game itself, but the prospect of eventually being able to assemble a full-on miniature arcade full of classic games. The success of a niche product from an independent company is hard to predict, however, but four years later and six arcade cabinets in, it seems like we’re destined for the dream of a miniature arcade after all. It’s been exciting to see which games New Wave selects and then basically puts into a shrinking machine, and while their latest might not quite have the iconic name recognition of Asteroids or Street Fighter, it proves RepliCades can fly high with shoot ‘em ups.

One of the earliest and most famed shmups, 1942 has an ironic genesis. Developed in 1984 by a Japanese game company (Capcom) for an American market, the game tasks players with piloting an American plane on its way to Tokyo to destroy as much as the Japanese air fleets as possible. While this of course takes place during World War II, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the instructions listed on the bezel itself are simply “Your objective is to destroy Tokyo.” The Japanese market didn’t seem too bothered by it, however, as it ended up being one of the most popular arcade games when released there at the time. The real plot of 1942, though, is simply to shoot down an onslaught of pixelated planes and it delivers wonderfully on that front. Players take control of a Lockheed P-38 Lightning named “Super Ace” as they shoot down a squadron of planes including Kawasaki Ki-61/Ki-48s, Nakajima G10Ns, Mitsubishi A6M Zeroes. Each credit grants players with three lives and being hit by an enemy projectile or plane itself costs a life. While the game has the frantic action shmups are known for, it’s more strategic in nature and about self-preservation, in a way bridging the gap between games like Space Invaders and more modern takes such as Raiden.

Planes generally come out in waves and destroying entire waves will sometimes grant a power-up based on their color that include helpful things like a larger bullet spray or smaller planes. Occasionally a larger plane (G10N) will come from the bottom of the screen and takes multiple hits to take down, so players need to be aware of threats from every direction. There’s also a “loop” button that allows the plane to make an evasive looping maneuver that renders it temporarily invisible. Three of these are granted per wave (over thirty in all), but preserving them increases the score, which is the ultimate goal for experienced players. The game is a difficult quarter muncher, but players can notably increase in skill if they keep an eye on their plane and practice enough to get down the rhythms like other games of the era. Hugely influential on the genre, 1942 still holds up today as even though it’s more rudimentary for the genre, its focus on patterns and survival make it easy to get lost in for hours attempting to master.

For players looking for what modern audiences expect from a shmup, however, New Wave have impressively included its sequel, 1943: The Battle for Midway. While many might simply think this is more of a reskin due to its free inclusion, 1943 is almost entirely different. Focusing less on survival as it does on wrecking maximum carnage, the game does away with one hit lives and instead utilizes a health bar. That doesn’t make it any easier, however, as a few hits can quickly drain players of their quarter, but it lends itself more to non-stop action as players whip their way over the ocean and battleships, firing at a tremendous rate. 1943 and 1942 compliment each other well and it’s great to be able to get more mileage out of a single RepliCade whilst still being faithful to the theme (many arcade cabinet owners will install PCBs of sequels to get more mileage out of their cabinets).

1942 may be the most risky RepliCade yet as far as preserving gameplay in miniature form due to its constant button presses, joystick twerks and need to not get hit by already-tiny projectiles. Yet, it surprisingly works well. While the screen is significantly smaller than the original, the LCD is crisp and vibrant, allowing the field of play to be absorbed relatively naturally. The projectiles are harder to discern than if playing on a full-size cabinet, which can lead to increased difficulty, but it’s possible to have an arcade-quality high score once adjusting to it. The joystick and buttons both feel accurate and it’s easy to forget that such small controls are being utilized, which is an impressive feat to pull off. As a bonus, a miniature arcade stick is included that plugs into the back of the RepliCade via USB, something first implemented with the Street Fighter II RepliCade. This is a fantastic bonus as not only does it allow multiplayer, but is themed after 1943, giving players the option to play that game with more accurate controls. New Wave might want to consider making an external miniature USB controller a permanent options on future cabinets, as I’ve found it enjoyable to sometimes play with the external stick (or an external USB full-size controller, which is an option with some pads) during long play sessions when my hands get cramped on the cabinet.

As far as the cabinet design itself, 1942 features one of the least memorable arcade cabinets from the era as it was originally released as a conversion kit that arcade operators could use to convert a game waning in popularity without replacing the costly cabinet itself. As such, it’s common to see 1942 in a variety of cabinets and designs, but one of the most recognized is the wood-paneled lowboy. Yet again, New Wave Toys have nailed the design as the cabinet features high quality side-art, a beautiful coin door, and a perfectly-replicated marquee and bezel. The wood paneling is perhaps the most impressive aspect, as the wood veneer has actual tactile lines/faults just like the original. The marquee brightly lights up and the sound is crisp and loud enough that most will likely have to turn it down for typical play. The unit can also be plugged into an HDTV with an included cable for those who want to experience the games in a larger scope. The battery life has been impressive throughout our time with it and there’s simply nothing negative to say about its build quality. New Wave always does their homework and even with a more generic cab, the little details shine through to make it worthy of permanent display.

Closing Comments:

With several RepliCades now having released, a theme has developed: they’re must-owns. This is clearly a line that’s produced by people who care about the final product and have almost an obsessive attention to detail. 1942 x RepliCade’s build quality and authenticity is top-notch, the controls feel natural, the screen is bright and crisp and it simply looks attractive being displayed. 1942 itself holds up as a fun and challenging early shoot ‘em up and including its more modern sequel is icing on the cake. 1942 x RepliCade may not have the wow factor of some of the past RepliCade features like including a tiny LaserDisc player, but it’s a pitch perfect replica of a classic arcade game and is sure to be the next miniature quarter muncher in your burgeoning miniature arcade.