Choplifter HD acts a reboot of the 8-bit hit Choplifter and showcases what made the original game so good in its heyday while updating it for the modern era. One might think that a chopper game would just have you shooting enemies constantly, but there’s a surprising amount of variety here. Sure, you’ll shoot down plenty of enemies on the ground, but there’s more to the gameplay than just shooting enemies.
On a basic level, you have got to make sure you’re aiming at the right ones, because accidentally aiming for the ones in the foreground instead of the background can lead to needless damage, and not paying attention to your fuel gauge can leave you with a chopper full of rescued soldiers left as sitting ducks because of poor fuel management. There’s a delicate balance to the core gameplay because you’ll have enemies firing, and you’ll need to boost out of the path of their attacks until you blast them, but using boost takes up more fuel than just moving forward, so you’ve got to make sure you don’t abuse the boost to speed through the stage. Doing so may net you more stars afterwards, but doing it poorly just results in death - it’s best to save your star-seeking for after you’ve beaten the stage, and maybe even when you’ve got enough for some upgrades to accomplish the task more easily, or at least with less frustration.
The game controls really well for the most part. The left stick moves the chopper, while the right controls its gun/missile aiming, the face buttons enable boost, the bumpers allowing you to change direction, and triggers fire missiles and machine guns. The configuration is mostly logical and easy to remember, and everything responds when it should. Unfortunately, there is one huge knock on the controls that also hurts the core game a lot. It’s impossible to boost and aim and shoot at the same time because of the button configuration. This leaves you vulnerable more than you should be, and can really cause a lot of frustration if it leads to mission failure. Between that and a major difficulty spike about halfway through the game, I’d say that it definitely isn’t for everyone, and probably won’t be a top-tier game for anyone, but is something long-time fans of the series should play because of how true it is to the original series.
Choplifter HD looks outstanding in screenshots, but falls apart in motion. The chopper model and many parts of the environment look very good, but then other things like water look like plastic and don’t move in a realistic manner at all. Rescue missions are also harder than they should be because of how small the character models are, and how hard it is to judge how close you are to them because the chopper color and the ground color can blend together depending on the stage, resulting in you accidentally killing someone and reducing your score. It’s also nearly impossible to tell friends from enemies until you see gunfire, and even then, you can easily try and squash an enemy and wind up hitting an ally because you simply didn’t see him because of his diminutive size.
CHD’s audio is pretty good overall. I really like the sound effect work, and both machine gun fire and missile sound effects are fantastic, which is important since you’ll be hearing a lot of both constantly depending on the level. The voice work is hit or miss, with the worst coming from soldiers you’re saving with terribly-delivered one-liners that remind me of the absolute worst ones used in Crazy Taxi. Thankfully, most of it is at least okay, but there are times when you’ll want to either groan or roll your eyes after hearing some of the voice acting. Surprisingly, there’s very little music to speak of in the game, with only a smattering of bugle calls heard, but it didn’t feel like the game was hurt by it. If anything, that decision just allowed the sound effects to shine more, which I’m fine with since they’re so well done.
Choplifter HD is a tough game to recommend if you aren’t familiar with the series because enjoying it relies on liking its slower-paced gameplay. Fortunately, there’s a demo available for both the PSN and XBLA version and it showcases the shooting and rescuing aspects of the game, so you get some examples of the variety, and even the game’s sense of humor with the one-liners. The full game gives you more of that, and if you like it, then maybe you’ll get $15 worth out of it. My gut tells me that a discounted price really is the best way to go though since the game does have some pretty major flaws that make simply having fun with it harder than it should be. It’s not a bad game though, because quite a few things are at least done well, it’s just a hard game to recommend as a full-priced purchase. I’d recommend that multi-system owners interested in buying it go with the 360 version, which I preferred due to its trigger buttons working better for me than the PS3’s L2 and R2 buttons, but otherwise, there aren’t any noteworthy differences between the two versions.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of Choplifter HD provided by Konami.