REVIEW – Choplifter HD (XBLA)

Get To Dah Choppa!


With origins from the early arcade days and even the Apple II, Choplifter HD is nostalgic but will certainly test the perseverance of those gamers who crave a challenge.

Choplifter is very familiar to classic Defender: 2D perspective, rescuing and dropping off civilians to the safe zone, navigating each stage from a horizontal radar at the top of the screen, shooting down bad guys… it’s all here.  The biggest difference is using a twin stick control mechanic and the helicopter moves just like a real world helicopter.  Adjusting verticality, gentle landings, managing armor and gas use, and even rotating directions are necessary piloting skills that are basically a game within itself.  Using the left and right bumpers to shoot towards the screen creates a 2.5D appearance but this tactic is awkward and slows down gameplay.  Guns also overheat way to fast.

Due to the higher difficulty, Choplifter HD is not a game for everyone.  Outside of the opening tutorial stages, the difficulty immediately kicks into high gear and without mercy.  Unfortunately, instead of offering genuine challenge, many stages use cheap tactics to artificially and unnecessarily increase the game’s difficulty factor.  Annoying features like constantly respawning enemies and enemies that can shoot from off screen are frustrating as opposed to challenging. Even if you know where that RPG shooting enemy is going to spawn from trial and error, chances are you still will not be able to get out of the way due to each helicopter’s speed.  Yes, you can boost at the cost of spending fuel but the chopper’s highest speed can rarely outrun enemy fire.  At times, choppers feel like flying a tank; sluggish is a word that immediately comes to mind.

When missions are failed, and they will be failed quite often, the player is annoyingly forced to sit through lengthy load times only to restart at the beginning of each mission.  There are no checkpoints or extra chances.  The graphics are also somewhat lacking.  Stages are rather colorless and enemies are so small they look like ants.  But on a positive note, there are occasions where the narrator will shout a funny one-liner.  However, since each stage will need to be played dozens of times before it is completed, listening to this scripted speech also becomes annoying and repetitive.

There are around 30 or so levels but new ones are only unlocked when the previous one is completed.  So you need to beat level 2 before you can play level 3, for example.  This limited level progression will surely test the perseverance of players, again, due to the high/cheap difficulty.  For example, I had to play through the first zombie stage over a dozen times before I finally completed it, but it was completed based more on luck than skill.  But if I had my way, I would have gladly skipped this stage and moved onto the next.  However, the game wants to keep you on this single stage progression system for a reason.

Completing each stage will reward the player with stars, the game’s currency.  After you collect a certain amount of stars, upgraded choppers will be unlocked.  In a way this balances out the gameplay as the game’s ending choppers will be much stronger and faster than the original playable helicopters. These upgraded choppers can then be used in any unlocked stage.  Alternatively, this throws off the balancing of the game’s Leaderboard functionality as only dedicated players, who have the perseverance to complete the game and unlock the best choppers, will earn the top slots.  Leaderboards are simply limited to highest point total as opposed to highest point total based on each individual chopper.  Point being, Choplifter HD noobs are going to feel overly overwhelmed.

Choplifter HD certainly has its issues but there are some positive elements that deserve mentioning.  As cheap as many of the game’s stages are, they are often quite varied.  Ranging from rescue missions, to blowing up specific targets, to annihilating a zombie infestation, there is enough mission variation to keep players from getting bored; too bad the escape missions are especially annoying.  Each level also has a bonus objective that when completed, will unlock an Achievement and offer some additional incentive for dedicated players.  And if nothing else, this modern HD game should bring back nostalgia from old school players.

It is probably important to remember than even though this game is played on consoles, it is designed more as a quarter munching arcade experience.  Without question, patience is required to fully enjoy this title.  But if punishing gameplay is your cup of tea, Choplifter HD will satisfy that craving.


Not As Good As: a real life helicopter ride

Also Try: Demon Souls, Nuclear Strike, Defender

Wait For It: the second coming of arcades

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