Choplifter Review

Developer: Broderbund Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 1986 Also On: None

Choplifter was one of the Master System’s pilot titles, sharing space on the shelves with Alex Kidd in Miracle World, amongst others. It is a reprogrammed game, but I’ve never played the original so I won’t be making any comparisons. If there are any to be made, allow me to apologize because I simply don’t have the means to do it. Regardless, as it stands, it’s a decent title with only a few flaws.

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Graphically this is pretty impressive for its time and gives the player a sense of what the SMS programmers had the potential to release back in the day. Decent title screen, though the crowd of hostages looks kind of odd, nice detail on your helicopter, good detail on the enemies, and very fluid animations. Some of the characters are a little small and thus appear somewhat “blocky,” but it’s not that bad really and you only notice this with the hostages, for the most part. The only major problem is that if you stop your chopper near the end of the screen on the right or left, you have to first move back in the opposite direction, otherwise you just hang on the edge and pass over everything. Seems to be a scrolling problem; got annoying and I’m not sure why it was set up like this.

This is an earlier game, but the sound is still pretty weak. There are several other Master System titles from this time period with great sound, so I think they could have done a bit more here. The music is generally good, though nothing to get excited about, but the sound effects are lacking. Generally the same exploding sound for nearly everything, a really odd beeping noise for your bullets, and a few other blips. Luckily, they did a nice job with the chopper blades, so that raises the score here back up a bit. Music is fair, but the effects needed work.

The gameplay here is pretty unique for its time, but because of this it has some faults that may keep younger, less experienced gamers away. Basically, you control your little chopper and have to save at least 40 of the 64 hostages in each level. There are six levels in all, but it’s just three, and then they repeat with more enemies added. You can fire at enemies on the ground as well as drop bombs. The latter seem pretty pointless and are only really useful for destroying enemies that fire at the hostages. These enemies, such as tanks and a gunboat, only come when you sit down for a bit to pick up some of the hostages. However, all you have to do is just move back up in the air a bit and move in the other direction and they disappear, so the bombs really don’t have a true purpose. Plus, it’s awkward because you have to first press Button 2 in order to make your chopper move a bit towards the front so you can even drop them in the first place. Since you can’t fire bullets while dropping bombs, do it too much and you’ll end up dead so you’re better off just not using them in the first place.

The controls are nice and responsive as well as fluid, but it takes some time to get used to them. You can move in eight directions and change course by holding in Button 2 to go from left to right or vice versa, but it will probably take a few tries to get the hang of this, especially with the odd scrolling problem I mentioned in the graphics category. As far as picking up the hostages, it couldn’t be simpler. You just bring your chopper down to the ground. It looks silly to see it perched on the water in the second and fourth levels, but regardless it’s easy to do. You can hold up to sixteen hostages at once, and then you have to drop them off at the starting point where you took off.

The difficulty is pretty hard until you get used to the controls, but then it’s generally at a medium level I’d say. The third and sixth levels are difficult because you’re in a cave with some tight spots, but once you master the movements it’s not that hard. You’ll find, though, that you pretty much avoid all enemies and just pick up the hostages. Spending too much time shooting and usually gets you creamed. Not too bad overall, but not great.

Choplifter is a creative concept, it’s simple and it’s interesting. This type of game was duplicated numerous times thereafter, even on the Master System with games like Air Rescue, which was released a few years later. I’m not going to mark it down because it was reprogrammed. I still consider it a creative concept, though not presented entirely perfect. Makes me wonder how well the original played.

I’ve come back to this game on several occasions, mainly to beat it because I haven’t made it yet. I only know of the later levels because of the secret level select code. You only have three lives and no continues, so it’s a pretty rough ride if you can make it. The one thing I found cool about this title were the hidden characters. I’m not going to reveal how to find them, I can only find one myself, but if you know where to look you can find Superman, Jaws and ET hidden in the levels! There is one on each level I believe and when they appear different things happen, or so I’ve read. I know Superman is on the first, and when he appears the hostages move faster, so you can start from there. That’s enough to make me come back. Despite the problems with the gameplay there is definitely replay value here.

Though Choplifter is not one of the greatest games for the Master System, it’s often mentioned in SMS fans’ “Top Ten,” and I think it deserves a position there despite its faults. It can be fun, a bit annoying, but fun. Not every game could have been perfect, but I’d have to say had Sega made more games of this caliber in the early years of the SMS, it would have done much better in America, possibly placing itself just slightly below the popularity of the NES, instead of way below.

Graphics: 7
Sound: 6.5
Gameplay: 7
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 8
Final: 7.5
Written by Stan Review Guide

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