1943: The Battle for Midway (NES) Review


Video Review

Text Review

The Short


– Excellent shmup set in World War II

– Fight both in air and at sea! Bonus!

– Upgrade and energy system provides a unique spin on the usual “one hit, one life” setup of these games

– Controls are fluid and graphics rarely sputter, flicker, or slowdown

– Lots of fun with good music and sound effects

– An absurd twenty-three levels. Holy crap!


– Only one player

– Background graphics are a bit dull

– Enemy variety is low

– Game is hard, even with a turbo controller

– Takes a bit to grow on you

Pew pew pew!

The Long

I’ve said it before: I love the shmup genre, but I suck at shmup games. Games like Lifeforce, Gradius, Ikaruga, and others are some of my favorites to play, but I make no claim to being any good at them. 1943 is yet another NES overhead shooter, based on the arcade game of the same name. Considering there are about eighty quad-zillion shooters on the NES, how well does this one hold up?

Incredibly well, actually, and not just for it’s unique World War II theme.

Powerups are frequent and always useful

1943 is sort of based on the Battle for Midway, as you probably got from the game’s title. You play a single fighter against squadrons of identical green planes, a few red planes, and sometimes some bigger planes of various colors. In truth, picking the setting meant there wasn’t much in terms of variety for the enemies, but it’s ok. It isn’t bananas insane like Lifeforce, but blowing up planes still works so we’ll take it.

While enemy repetition is a bit annoying, the game does mix things up a bit at the half-way point in stages. Almost every stage has three portions: an aerial stage, a stage down below where you fight ships and planes, and a boss. Oh, did I mention this game has twenty-three stages? Twenty-three! That’s absurd! How did they fit all that on one cart? I have no idea, but it’s great.

The boats can get pretty tricky.

The gameplay to 1943 is a bit unique. Rather then have life, you actually have an energy meter in the lower right that is constantly draining. Using special attacks or taking hits will cause it to drain faster, and once it reaches zero you die in a single hit. So then you have to make a decision: do I use a screen-clearing bomb at the cost of energy, or save it so that I’ll last longer? It provides a good risk/reward balance, though I pretty much just always horded my energy.

Some enemies drop power-ups that’ll boost your energy temporarily, but the best idea is to invest points you get by finding secrets into buffing your ship. Yeah, points to buff stats. 1943 is like an RPG…sort of .

Gotta grind a more Smithing so I can make the ultimate cockpit!

Powerups also have a unique system. Shooting them changes what they’ll be when you pick them up, letting you pick and choose what new weapon power you get. It’s cool and lets you avoid the awful powerups. Lastly, there are tons of secrets to find. Shooting special areas repeatedly will reveal better powerups (usually in the form of more stat points) which can then be collected. It’s a cool system of progression you usually don’t see in these types of games, and adds to the addicting quality.

There is something worth noting, though: 1943 is hard. Like, NES hard. You have one life (and unlimited continues, thankfully) so when your energy runs out and you get shot, expect to start the whole stage over. The game is considerably easier if you have a turbo button, so bust out the NES Advantage, NES Max, or Nintendo Four-Score because you are gonna need it. Your thumbs will thank me, promise.

My only real complaint about the gameplay is the total lack of two-player co-op. That’s pretty much a staple for the genre! Playing by myself isn’t fun, even if it does mean I get to horde all the upgrade points!

I will never see this screen, because I have enough problems trying to beat level 3.

Graphically, 1943 is a mixed bag. The backgrounds are usually just dull blue, sometimes with clouds. The enemies, as stated before, are repetitive and are mostly just planes and boats. However, 1943 does have an extremely impressive graphical accomplishment: no screen flicker. No matter how many planes, projectiles, or whatever I had on screen, none of their sprites flickered. This was paired with an extremely smooth framerate, that I only saw stutter very slightly on a few bosses. Considering how these types of games on the NES are usually plagued with both sprite flicker and slowdown (Legendary Wings, I’m looking at you), the fact that 1943 managed to overcome this so deftly is pretty astounding. It’s probably because the stupid game doesn’t have co-op, but I’m digressing.

Music is decent and, thankfully, not as awful as the noise in 1942. Though the “low energy” song is incredibly obnoxious and drowns out any other sounds in the game. Yes, my energy is low, I got it. Thanks.

Protip: Get the lasers. Always get the lasers.

So is 1943 worth checking out? If you like the genre (and own a turbo controller…and have a lot of patience), then absolutely. It can be grabbed for around $5, and did I mention it has twenty-three levels?! That’s a killer value right there!

Somewhat bland graphics and lack of co-op aside, 1943 is a fantastic shmup that incorporates a lot of new elements fused with solid core gameplay, and everything runs so smoothly it’s amazing to watch. Seriously, I couldn’t believe my NES was running a shmup without slowdown. It’s just…unheard of.

If you can handle the challenge, 1943 is certainly worth your time. Three out of five stars. 

Though it still strikes me as weird when the Japanese make games about Americans shooting down their ancestors.

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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