Black Dragon (Virtual Console Arcade)
Though Capcom has become best known for the seemingly endless Street Fighter series of games, they did a lot of action and shooting games as well in the 80s. Black Dragon (or Black Tiger, outside of Japan) is certainly one of their very best. It’s an action-platforming title in which players control a burly Conan-style warrior battling various baddies through a series of massive dungeons and caverns, each ending in a boss fight.
Your goal seems to be to rid the world of dragons which you don’t start encountering as bosses until the third level. Your enemies get steadily tougher as you progress, but by saving the Zenny coins they drop (and finding hidden treasures in the walls) you can buy weapons and armour from traders you encounter in your travels.
It’s an extremely rich game with a simple joystick + two button control scheme. The weapon upgrades aren’t linear (though you’ll want to get the first one early on if you’re to survive for long) and more armour is purchased as you lose it in battle. In addition to being able to purchase armour you’ll earn more life bars as you progress and earn extra lives. Though this might make things seem easy, there’s lots of baddies to face and one-hit kills from falling rocks or deadly pits that will keep you feeling challenged, but without being cheap. It’s one of my favourite arcade games of all time; if you like action games, don’t pass it up!
1942 (Virtual Console Arcade)
Capcom games have always been more about action platforming and fighting than shooting, but if you were in arcades in the mid-1980s I have no doubt you’d have laid eyes on this gem. Capcom made several sequels to this game, but they never felt right to me, replacing multiple ships with life bars and adding far too many special effects as they did. No, the original is definitely the best in this case. 1942 puts your aerobatic wonder plane against what appears to be the entire Japanese navy and air force (odd coming from a Japanese game developer) in a classic hunt for the high score of the day.
Playing a vertically scrolling shooter fighting waves of enemy fighters certainly feels very old school, but the fluid animation marks it as a newer generation of game than something like Space Invaders or Scramble. There’s a fair amount of challenge here with only one power-up level to enhance your guns and a few loop-de-loops to evade enemies. Enemy fighters come in a few flavours which change periodically to keep things fresh and another nice touch is getting a break down of your hit-to-miss ratio between levels. Definitely one of the better shooters of its era and a must for fans of the genre.