I’m a big fan of the remake craze. Be it remaking games from only two console generations ago to be high-def or taking an old arcade classic and making it new for today’s crowd of gamers. However, with the latter of the two, there is much greater risk involved when taking a game that worked decades ago and trying to make it interesting enough for kids these days. This is one of the reasons why something like the Xbox LIVE Arcade is such a great thing, because it allows gamers new and old to get their hands on much smaller games for a fraction of the price.
Konami‘s first brush with reliving the glory days was with BurgerTime World Tour, which I wasn’t a huge fan of. It fell into the number one risk for games like these, which was taking a simple concept and not really changing it up at all, besides making the visuals pretty. That’s why I’m overjoyed that Konami‘s newest attempt at bringing back an old Apple Computer game, Choplifter, is a much better rendition of an old classic.
Gameplay in Choplifter HD is simple. Players are presented with a level in which they’re given an objective like destroying anti-aircraft guns or saving all the survivors on the map. All the while, players have to keep an eye on their health and how much fuel they have left. Some of your rescue objectives also need to receive special treatment. All of this works out to an ultimate score for the level. Your score is determined by how quickly you complete the objectives, how many bad guys you kill, how many survivors you save and if you happen to come across any secret objectives.
The game is largely about saving civilians, but it isn’t always that straightforward. For example, you’ll come across levels where a certain civilian needs medical attention and must be saved within a certain time limit. It’s usually in your best interests to go pick that guy up first, all the while dodging RPGs and other helicopters. Sometimes you might have to plan multiple runs on a single map due to fuel constraints. There’s an unexpected feel of strategy involved, which is more than what most other games can say when they’re marketed as an arcade remake.
Your score on a level translates into a star rating, out of a possible five per level. Those familiar with Call of Duty‘s Spec Ops mode will know how the stars work. The more stars you earn, the more levels and different helicopters you unlock.
I’m not a fan of this. I don’t like portions of a game being locked out to those who might not have as high a skill level as other gamers. There’s a very big difference between holding someone’s hand and being unnecessarily brutal. I think simply locking levels until the one before it is beaten is perfect, and doesn’t have the risk of gamers getting stuck and frustrated.
I mention this because even I got stuck pretty early on with only the second set of levels. I had to retry a level multiple times in order to finally finish it. At the time of this writing I’ve still not been able to finish the final few levels because of the star requirement.
Even if the level unlock system is brutal, the game keeps from being repetitive. Not every level is as simple as “pick up the good guys, shoot all the bad guys.” Some levels are rescue missions, some are defense missions, some are “destroy all the target” missions, and others are simply escape missions, where the only objective is to get from point A to point B.
And each level is done in beautiful detail. Although it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to be going from a jungle to a desert to a city back to a desert and so on, the amount of stuff going on in the levels is mind-blowing. inXile could have simply slapped together a background and been done with it due to the side-scrolling nature of the game, but they’ve managed to make it feel like you’re flying through an entire living, breathing warzone.
It’s also good to see that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, and has a sense of humor about it. The chatter between the two pilots in your chopper can get a bit repetitive when simply killing enemies or picking people up. However, when story-related conversations start, or even if you happen to come across one of the many cameos in the game from the likes of Duke Nukem, Super Meat Boy or even the guy from Minecraft, it gets pretty hilarious. All of their lines during the zombie mission early on, had me laughing from start to end of the mission.
I’m very confused on how to feel about the length of the game. There’s a fair amount of missions to complete, but the game really can’t be played in long stretches. At most, I could only play maybe one or two five-minute missions before needing to stop. It’s almost the same feeling of when gameplay gets repetitive, but it wasn’t a bad feeling, per se. I suppose the necessity to stop quickly instead of getting lost in a game for hours might be a plus to some people, but it isn’t for me when the game is on a console. Had the game been on a mobile phone, I can see it being put into the category of “time waster” and being much more likely to last in small spurts. But it’s not, and it’s a shame.
Overall this classic revamp is very good. Controls are tight, gameplay is fun, presentation is great. But there are a few problems that stop this from being a truly great game. It’s nothing to write home about, and certainly isn’t an absolute must have on your download service of choice but, if you’re looking for a way to relive an old arcade classic or really freakin’ like helicopters, you could do much worse than Choplifter HD.
This review is based on the XBLA version of the game, which was provided to us for review purposes.
Choplifter HD features great old-school gameplay that has been tailored for today's audience almost flawlessly.