Chopper I Review—Slow Ride of the Valkyries
I remember back in the early days of Minis, when there were only a handful of shooters. Now there are dozens, most of which have come to us as retro arcade classics from SNK and turned into Mini form by G1M2. Chopper I was in the arcades in the late ’80s and is a vertical scrolling shooter where you control a helicopter flying over some sort of enemy’s territory, a heavily fortified base. It’s relatively simple; your bullets hit everything, either on the ground or in the air, and your chopper can only take one hit before getting destroyed.
The game feels like something of a bridge between the older, slower sort of shooter gameplay and the more modern bullet hell style of shmup. It’s not quite retro, yet not at all fast paced, sort of a slow plodding game but one where you need to very carefully navigate a drizzle, if not rain, of bullets.
There isn’t much of a backstory to it. You’re apparently a chopper pilot, fighting the “enemy,” which seems to be mostly generic-looking tanks and anti-aircraft turrets, though one level is mostly over water. There is another level that seems to be in Cambodia, at least based on a statue and temple-like ruins. For the most part, it’s just an unremarkable game. Except for two major problems.
The first is inherent to the game itself: when you die, rather than continue where you left off, you start back at a checkpoint. While they are often enough that it’s not a major problem most of the time, when you get to a boss it can be very frustrating. Not only do you have to start the fight with the boss from scratch, you have to replay a little bit of the game before you get to the boss. This gets more than a little annoying.
With that said, most of the bosses are pretty easy to beat, not like some games where you have to shoot them for 10 minutes before they die. And the variety is quite good—airplanes, other helicopters, submarines, and apparently different types of transformers (or is that Go-Bots?). The smaller sub-bosses (helicopters) drop two power-ups, one which improves your cannon, and the other generally adding a missile that attacks foes on the screen by itself. You also have the power to call in an air strike, which is like a smart bomb and hits everything on the screen. Alas, you only have two of these per life.
The other problem is how the game was translated to Minis. The native resolution of the original game was extremely tall, 224 pixels horizontally and 384 vertically. The PSP, on the other hand, has a resolution that is extremely wide, 480 pixels horizontally and 272 pixels vertically.
To this problem they offered two solutions: either scale all 384 vertical pixels into the PSP’s 272, which results in a small, thin image that is hard to see, or simply cut off the top and bottom of the screen. This latter solution almost works, because much of the top screen is not for gameplay, but instead displays your score, number of helicopters and airstrikes left, as well as a faux-radar that doesn’t work. But unfortunately, the bottom part that gets cut off is part of the playing field.
The best solution would have been to simply rotate the game 90 degrees. This is found in a lot of (most?) emulated retro arcade game collections on the PSP. Unfortunately, this apparently wasn’t an option possible due to Minis also having to play on a PS3 as well as a PSP/Vita, it being harder to set the TV on its side (although I have heard of people doing that).
Graphically it’s pretty good. It’s got a lot of detail, with the resolution of the game being close to that of the PSP itself (albeit sideways), but at the same time, it’s not that colorful. It has that bland look in a lot of games from that era and especially on the Sega Genesis.
The sound is very low key, and you almost notice nothing about it except on the few occasions digitized speech is used. Even your chopper’s cannon is very quiet.
Chopper I is essentially a mediocre, unremarkable game with a couple of annoyances that suck a lot of the fun out of playing it. It’s still a competent enough shooter, so if you like such things it might be worth a look just for something new, but there are many better ones out there.