Review: Choplifter (Master System)

Choplifter for the Sega Master System is a port of Sega's arcade game of the same name, originally released in 1985. The Sega Master System version was released a year later, in 1986. The Choplifter series actually originated on the Apple II, in 1982.

This version is a port of the arcade game, not the original Apple II title. A port of a remake if you will. The premise of Choplifter is simple; you pilot a helicopter and must go out into the battle field to rescue hostages, and bring them back to your base. Your helicopter holds up to 16 hostages at a time, and you need to rescue 40 to move on to the next stage.

The controls are simple as well, the direction pad flies the helicopter, both up and down, and left and right. The '2' button controls the direction your chopper is faced, either left, right, or forward. The '1' button fires your weapon. To rescue hostages, you just land on the ground near them, and they will run to your helicopter and hop on.

Your mission isn't easy however, as the levels are littered with enemies trying to kill you. There are jets flying around shooting missiles, as well as ground to air turrets and tanks. One hit from any of these obstacles will end your journey. Enemy fire can also kill the hostages, making your task even more difficult.

The controls in Choplifter take a little getting used to. The first issue is that when flying at full speed, your helicopter is aimed at a 45 degree angle downward, which makes aiming at the flying enemies nearly impossible. Second, when you are flying slowly, and switch directions, your chopper stays at the edge of the screen in the direction of where you are flying. This means if you are flying slowly, you cannot see what is coming up ahead. Lastly, in general, unless you are flying full speed, it is impossible to dodge enemy fire. The helicopter is just too clumsy for dodging anything.

I struggled to get into Choplifter initially as I couldn't rescue a single hostage before getting shot down 2 times and ending the game. A few YouTube videos later and I started "getting it." You can't play through this game methodically, you just need to move as quickly as possible, gathering as many hostages as you can, and bringing them back to the base. Once you start thinking, you'll die. If you over shoot your landing for rescues, it's best to keep moving and come back for it later.

There are 4 levels in total, ranging from a desert, the ocean, caves, and a night level. After completing the first four stages, you repeat the ocean and cave levels, and then receive a rather uninspired ending. At least it's better than the NES port, which loops endlessly.

You start Choplifter with 2 lives and no continues. As you rack up your score, you can earn extra lives (the first one occurring at 30,000 points). You can earn points by destroying enemies and dropping off the hostages. The more hostages you drop off at once, the more points you get for each hostage. Dropping off the maximum 16 at once scores the biggest multiplier.

Graphically, Choplifter is a mixed bag. Overall, they are very simple; the explosions are pixilated, as is the helicopter. However, there are multiple layers of scrolling on each level which give a fantastic illusion of depth, and the frame rate never skips a beat. Your really have to see the game in motion to appreciate it. Another nice touch is the tiny hostages. As you land to rescue them, a few will wave at you. Still, the enemies repeat, and there just isn't that much to see.

The weakest aspect of Choplifter is the sound. Each level does have it's own musical track, but they all sound rather similar. They are your normal upbeat arcade sound that was popular in the 80s, with lots of beep sounds. The weapon sounds are generic and weak, and don't add to the atmosphere of the game.

Choplifter is generally well liked by Sega Master System fans. While I don't hate the game by any stretch, I just don't quite see the appeal. A few game play tweaks making the game easier would have gone a long way. While I certainly don't mind challenging games, I don't care for 'cheap' games. Choplifter features a lot of cheap deaths.

Overall, Choplifter is a decent, but not great, Sega Master System game. The one-hit kills and somewhat clumsy controls keep this from being a classic. The smooth graphics and the unique game play concept make Choplifter better than average, but just barely. I would recommend Choplifter if you can find it for cheap.

Graphics 6/10 - Cool scrolling effects
Sound 4/10 - Catchy tune, wish there was more
Game play 6/10 - Unique "rescue" game mechanics
 Overall 6/10 - Somewhat clumsy, but fun