Friday, 29 June 2012

Arcade Shmups #14

Choplifter (1985)
By: Sega Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 82,500 (one credit)
Also Available For: Master System, NES, Commodore 64, VIC-20, MSX, Apple II, Atari 7800, Atari 5200, Atari 8-bit, ColecoVision, Fujitsu FM-7
Download For: Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network

I think the chopper is shooting the hostages :(
I must admit, I hadn't thought about Choplifter for a good few years until recently. It's a game I've got for my Master System which my good friend Luke and I used to spent a fair amount of time with in our younger years but it always a game we both found unyieldingly difficult. Only during the last couple of weeks did the game re-enter my gaming radar when I had a look at the SG-1000 version. At this time, it transpired that, highly unusually, this isn't a game that originated in the arcades. Well, okay, it's not strange for a game to not have an arcade version, but it is a little strange for such a version to appear after a début on a home system. Indeed, it was the Apple II that first saw a version of Choplifter, way back in 1982 courtesy of Brøderbund Software. Sega were clearly impressed though, as they subsequently tarted the game up for an arcade release!

The prison seems to have an English flag. Hmmm...
Despite the large number of systems to see a version of Choplifter, however, the premise is the same in each version and it's one that was apparently inspired by the classic Defender. You start each of the four side-viewed stages from your base on the right-hand side. From here, your job is to travel left across the stage and rescue twenty or more hostages who are housed in four separate prison buildings spaced fairly evenly across the landscape. Each prison contains eight hostages and they are freed by shooting the prison to blow a hole in it! The occupants will then start running around outside awaiting rescue which of course means you'll need to land your 'chopper' and pick them up. You can carry eight passengers at a time who need ferrying back to your base so you'll need to make multiple trips back and forth and, as you may have guessed, the landscape in question is not without its dangers either.

My favourite stage - look at the lovely sunset...
The precise nature of these depends on the stage but they consist of all manner of guns, cannons, and missile launchers, as well as land, sea, and air-based vehicles which are infinite. Most abundant are enemy jets. Happily, you can't actually crash into them but they aren't shy about firing a few missiles in your direction. These, along with barrage of anti-aircraft fire coming from the ground, is what makes Choplifter such a tough game, and that's not all - if you hang around in one spot for too long, some 'hurry-up' vehicles soon show up as well such as tanks, jeeps, or small boats! Oh, and I forgot to mention - each stage gives you a limited supply of fuel which cannot be replenished, so if you spend too long trying to take out all the defences or hanging around waiting for the chance to land, you'll soon drop to the ground anyway, whether you're ready or not!

Stupid bloody cave section - grrr!
It's not all bad though. The chopper can fly left and right while facing in either direction so it's fairly manoeuvrable and it can hover to drop small bombs as well - especially handy when a tank trundles your way. It's main weapon is a pretty mean cannon which is enough to take out most enemies vehicles and guns with a single hit. It's also possible to shoot the hostages if you're not careful though, and if you're shot down while carrying some, they're history. The stages themselves also present a challenge. The first one, set over a desert, is straightforward enough, but the second includes several large enemy ships festooned with guns. The third even features caves with stalactites getting in the way and lava pits spewing burny stuff in your direction! The last stage is one I've seldom seen since I usually don't make it through the caves but it takes place before a cityscape with a few large buildings in the way. The game supposedly loops back to the beginning at this point but I've never had a chance to find out for myself!

Nice grassy area soon gives way to untold dangers...
It's quite a nice-looking game although, as is often the case with games of this time, the colours are mostly quite pale, especially the sprites. The backgrounds and foregrounds are surprisingly varied, although I suppose that's not too hard with only four stages! Check out that lovely dusk sky on the second stage though. The music is decent enough too, but rather quiet compared to the noisy effects. One thing Choplifter has always been though, to me at least, is difficult. This version isn't blighted by the strange collision-detection of the SG-1000 version I played recently but it's still very tough going - it'll take a lot of practise to even finish the first stage and that bloody cavern still causes me untold woes. The number of enemies buzzing around and bullets/missiles flying past (or into) you can get quite overwhelming at times and it's never fun to get shot down with a full-load of hostages. That said, it is quite tense and exciting trying to get them back to base safely! It's certainly enjoyable enough as a five-minute distraction now and then though, and since I guess that's all that was ever intended, that makes it a success.

RKS Score: 7/10


  1. I never even knew an arcade version of this game existed! Only played the original Apple II version myself. Absolutely loved it despite its difficulty. I'm fairly certain it would reduce me to tears today. Given that, maybe I should give it a go again soon :P

  2. Haha, I'm the opposite - I knew about the arcade version as my Master System version was a conversion of it, but I used to think the arcade game was the original! Playing it for this review did show me how good the MS conversion is but they're both bloody difficult!

  3. I play this on the Famicom a fair bit and like you say: difficult!

    I can never get past the second stage, but I play it all the time and am always just happy to get past the first one. Classic game, I also didnt know it had an arcade release as well!

  4. Strangely, I didn't realize until now that a Famicom version existed. May have to check that out soon...

  5. Fond memories on MS. Thought I was a real SupR* rescuing hostages. But pretty sure I never even reached the caves.... :/

  6. I suppose I should try the Famicom version at some point as well but it doesn't sound like it'll be any easier!

    And Luke - I'm not sure what your peculiar code means but you did indeed reach the caves. You were the one who showed me how to reach them with relative ease. Getting past them on the other hand...