Retro Review – Chopper I
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Portable.
Do you remember the 80s? Heading to the arcade and pumping quarter after quarter into your game of choice, while your chums huddled around you to watch you break that high score? Unfortunately, I don’t. Being a child of the 90s, most of the arcade scene passed me right by thanks to the Super NES and the original PlayStation. I do say most, however, as I can recall a few visits to a local arcade back in the day – limited as they were. The flashing lights, vibrantly detailed cabinets, and social pressure to reach a high score were enough to get my heart racing. While these days might be in the past, SNK Playmore hopes to bring some fond memories back for players through the PSMini release of their title Chopper I for PSP. While hitting their aim for nostalgia right on the mark, will the 80s-born title still fly right in this day and age, or will it crash and burn before it even takes off?
Chopper I is a classic shoot-‘em-up game (shmup for short) which puts the player in the pilot seat of an armed helicopter, gunning down their foes left and right. Without a set story, the title instead focuses on intense action and a hail of bullets. The game’s camera pans slowly from the bottom of the screen to the top and players can move forward, backward, left, and right around the play area as they see fit – though the player’s nose will always face forward.
A simple tap of the X button will fire a single shot forward, which you can mash to your heart’s content to rain a rapid and violent death on your enemies. Unlike most titles though, your shots will only go so far, and the general environment (such as mountains) can get in your way. This forces you to plot your course out carefully to avoid an early demise – as one hit or collision from an enemy will destroy your craft, causing you to start from a specific checkpoint.
To help you in a time of need, various power-ups and special attacks are dropped by defeated enemies, and can be picked up by flying over them. These can be as simple as an extra cannon or an automated missile launcher, or as powerful as friendly fighter jets dropping bombs on the playing field. Regardless, these bonuses will help you out along the way, but only as long as you can survive since they disappear upon death.
While play is typically fluid and responsive, there is the occasional load problem. In a few places, usually when a new enemy is entering the field or you pick up something new, the game freezes up for a few seconds to load. Although it’s not a game-breaking error, it happens frequently enough to both annoy you and generally scare you into thinking your console has frozen.
To start the game initially, players need to “insert a coin” by pushing triangle – to get around your PSP’s obvious lack of a coin slot. A single virtual credit gives you three lives; if all three are lost, you’re brought to the game over/continue screen. So long as you have another invisible quarter (or rather the ability to press a button), you can keep popping them in to continue right from where you left off. While this is a necessary compromise, it also takes the sense of urgency out of the game. Where you were once limited by the amount of quarters your allowance could afford and had to be careful not to carelessly mess up and waste money, you now have no limitations and no fear. Go ahead, explode; there will always be another heli where that one came from. The limitless funds takes all the edge off of dying and makes the game considerably less interesting than it would have been 20-something years ago – Chopper I would have benefited more with a fixed amount of continues in place of this system.
Another bit of a design flaw is the firing system, which has the potential to give players carpal tunnel. While the fixed range and obstacle interference for projectiles I mentioned earlier are to be applauded (as they are a nice variant to your usual shmup formula), the control scheme itself is fairly painful – literally. Since enemies usually come at the gamer in either a mass of weak, single-shot enemies, or, less commonly, multi-hit powerhouses, you’re going to be mashing that X button pretty much non-stop the entire play-session. After about 15 minutes of this (less if you’re not a hardcore gamer with seasoned thumb muscles) you’re going to start feeling some wear-and-tear, and will probably want to put the game down thus greatly shortening not only playtime but replayability as well. Simply letting players hold down the button for continuous fire or allowing them to alternate between L and R (which are unused) would have made play less excruciating and extended its life considerably.
One other issue presents itself with Chopper I: camera zoom. Players have two options for screen size (which can be found by pressing the Select button): Normal or Stretch. The former of the two has the full length of the play area on display (which is taller than it is wide), with fixed artwork on either side to fill in the PSP’s display; while the latter zooms in on the centre of the play zone for more of a square-shaped screen. What makes this a problem is that both are considerably flawed, creating non-ideal situations for the gamer. With Normal, a player’s view is so small that text is unreadable and enemies’ tiny gunshots are near impossible to see and, by relation, to avoid. In terms of Stretch, a sizable chunk of the top and bottom of the area are cut off from view, hiding enemies, your own craft, and any important information near the lower end. With no comfortable middle, gamers will be in turmoil as they try to find the lesser of two evils between these views.
Graphically speaking, Chopper I has mostly remained unchanged from its late-80s’ counterpart. Decked out in the 2D, low-bit look, the visuals will make returning players feel like they’re back at the arcade, while newer gamers can still appreciate the classic look. A wide array of diversely conceived enemies also helps give the title some visual appeal, as does its earth-toned colour scheme – making it a very visually appealing title..
Sounds, on the other hand, are a bit touch-and-go. Chopper I’s soundtrack is comprised of driving bass lines and sharp, attacking melodies with a quick sense of urgency that mimics the title’s battlefields. Sound effects, like the graphics, retain their crashes, explosions, and gunshots that sound somewhat like synthesized mud. However, it’s not quality that is the issue (as it’s hard to rip on a game from ’88), it’s frequency.
Due to the fast-paced nature of the title and how easy it is to be destroyed, players will be hearing the exact same sound over and over again throughout every level as they fire off. As well, gamers will hear the beginning of that level’s song yet again every time they die (which is usually about 20 seconds apart). Again, it’s difficult to ream on a game that’s over 20 years old, as what’s acceptable now is quite different from what was in the 80s, but it’s worth noting that this may be a game you’ll want to play on mute.
If you look past the title’s flaws, Chopper I has some pretty fun gameplay – especially if you’re looking to relive the arcade days. If you haven’t experienced the retro styled games of the 80s and 90s, chances are this is going to feel quite dated or foreign to you. While old enough to have had my moments on the game cabinets, I definitely came past their prime – which allows me to still respect what Chopper I would have been back then, yet still feel like its time has come and gone. For those who grew up hanging out in the local arcade, this is going to be a blast from the past for you. Otherwise, it may not be the best place to dump your loose change.
Final Score: 4.0 / 5.0 and an 80s era helicopter pilot’s license.
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