REVIEW: “Commando”/”1942″/”Ghosts ‘N Goblins” video game

Commando/1942/Ghosts ‘N Goblins
(Plug It In & Play TV Games, 2006 edition)

From the first moment of playing Pac-Man, I had a love for video games. A few years after trying unsuccessfully to beat the Star Wars arcade game, I found a new arcade obsession.

In middle school, I didn’t spend all of my free time inside playing video games, though. My best friend Justin and I rode our bikes throughout our neighborhood, logging hours and miles of free fun.

On hot days, our trips would inevitably lead to a corner convenience store for soft drinks. And it was at one of these stores that we encountered it, one of the greatest video games ever: 1942.

This was back when video games were still focused on fun rather than precisely simulating the real world. No complicated takeoffs, flight controls, or anything else to make the game feel like work. Just a joystick and two buttons. One that fired an unlimited number of bullets, and the other to execute an evasive loop maneuver.

Though an air combat game, all of the 1942 action took place in two dimensions–other than the evasive maneuver, which usually wasn’t all that helpful anyway. It’s just you in your “Super Ace” P-38 Lightning (and the occasional pair of wingmen) against hundreds and hundreds of Japanese planes. From island chain to island chain you flew but somehow your carrier always seemed to beat you to the next one, signaling the end of one level and the beginning of the next.

Justin and I spilled quarter after quarter into 1942, making slow but steady progress throughout the summer of 1987. By this time, the game had already been around for two or three years. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d played it before at some point but for whatever reason, this was the year it caught on with me.

Then I hit it. It might as well have been a brick wall. After I destroyed a number of what I thought were larger-sized planes, the Japanese Mother Bomber Ayako boss plane appeared on screen. “Appeared” is too tame a word. It dwarfed the screen, took over almost the entire screen. And then it launched a hailstorm of bullets at the little bit of screen I had left.

The game developer must’ve had a good laugh designing that portion of the game. “Take this, you stupid kid!” And take it, I did. In a state of near-shock, I went down in the flurry of bullets.

The screams of disbelief that erupted from both of us at the size of our new enemy nearly led to our ouster and permanent banishment from the fine establishment that housed our favorite arcade game, but the clerk let us off with a warning.

This wasn’t the only store around with 1942, but we liked this particular unit. It just didn’t feel the same playing at the other location. And besides, the other store with 1942 was well out of bike range. We calmed ourselves as the Ayako proceeded to destroy me quite easily once again.

You see, despite my confessed love of video games, I was never very good at them. What I lacked in skills, I made up for in quarters.

Justin and I started competing to see who would be able to destroy the Ayako first. It took the rest of the summer, and the rest of my quarters no doubt, but I finally brought the Ayako down in a moment of triumph that particular convenience store is not likely to see again. Only a day or two later, Justin managed it as well. Based no doubt on my expert tips.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of the game. But it might as well have been for me. My family moved shortly thereafter. The new neighborhood was not very bike-friendly and, worse, had no 1942.

Twenty years later, here I am playing 1942 again. This version is released by “Plug It In & Play TV Games.” Rather than a cartridge/disc for a game console or a PC, the game is housed within a joystick that connects directly to your television’s A/V inputs. The “Plug It In & Play TV Games” line is great because it oftens offers the superior arcade versions of classic games rather than their clunkier 1980s home versions.

Being a nostalgia nut, I’ve picked up a number of these, including Pac-Man, Pole Position, Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaxian, and Frogger. Like the others, 1942 is a faithful reproduction of the original arcade game.

Unlike the others, it also offers a “Continue” option (where you would normally insert another quarter), without which I would never make it past the first level or two. I put at least 23,042 quarters into 1942 back in 1987, so I figure the game owes me a few anyway.

I’ve found 1942 to be just as fun to play now as it ever was back then. I don’t kid myself, though. I’ll never see the final level of this game (reportedly, Tokyo), no matter how much I try to sharpen my skills.

The joystick is made by good old-fashioned 1980s standards, back when kids were tough—which means no ergonomics. I’m old now, though. Before too long, my hands get sore and begin to cramp. Though I now have an infinite supply of quarters, the game is still finding ways to beat me.

1942 offers two difficulty levels, Normal (which, as near as I can tell, matches the old arcade game) and Easy, in which the enemies do not fire as often but the game becomes tedious in its simplicity.

Two other games are also included. I didn’t care for Commando back in the 1980s and I still don’t like it now. The gameplay seemed a little sluggish. Or maybe it was the game player that was a little sluggish.

There’s also Ghosts ‘N Goblins, a game I’d never played before or even heard of. Basically, you are a knight seeking to rescue a princess. Oddly, your main enemies are zombies who bear a disturbing and uncanny resemblance to Harry Knowles. The first time one of the zombies gets you, you lose your armor and are stripped down to your skivvies. Pretty funny, but the game itself is rather boring. It ultimately feels like a variation of Super Mario Brothers, but not nearly as fun.

For me, this one is all about 1942. My positive reaction to 1942 is certainly more rooted in nostalgia then anything else. The fact that this article is more memoir than review is proof of that.

(Overall experience: 8 out of 10)