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Choplifter! - The Atari Times


Saving ambassadors ain't never been this fun!
by Ethan C. Nobles

July 29, 2002
Choplifter! is one of those classics from Broderbund Software that was ported to several consoles. Fortunately, this fine title found its way to the 7800, too. While there are some serious issues with the game, it's still dandy fun if you happen to have the right controllers.

Now, I'll have to admit I've always been a bit biased against the Atari Joypad (a.k.a. the Euro Controller) as the things have never felt comfortable to me. Generally, I stick with the trusty standard joystick for the Atari 2600, but Choplifter! requires makes use of the 7800's "two button" controllers. So, alas, I'm stuck with my Atari Joypad on this game, although I did try it with the standard 7800 Proline Joystick once upon a time, and that seemed to help things. Perhaps I should just break down and grab one of those "stock 7800" sticks and use it on Choplifter!

While Atari Joypad is sufficient on most games that require two action buttons, the stick here just makes the thing hard to control. I'll mention a bit more about that later.

When I first ran across Choplifter!, the fine Broderbund arcade shooter, I owned an Apple //e and purchased the version for that system. Here's was the problem with the Apple version -- the thing just lagged like crazy when there was a lot of action on the screen. While that was always a gripe against the Apple ][ family of computers, I'm glad to report that lag is not an issue on the 7800 version.

Having said all of that, perhaps I should mention what this game is actually like. The evil Bungelings (a staple group of baddies in Broderbund game titles), are up to no good in this game -- they've captured 64 delegates from a World Peace Conference. The player's job is to fly a helicopter, bust the delegates out of jail and then fly them back to a base maintained by the good ol' U.S. of A.

Naturally, the Bungelings are completely against the rescue attempts and have scrambled their forces to shoot down the dashing, fearless helicopter pilot. The enemies come in the form of (basically) tanks and airplanes. So, there's the general premise of the game.

The player uses the second action button to rotate the helicopter. While facing right or left, the helicopter fires a machine gun at airplanes and the chopper drops bombs while facing forward. The "bomb dropping" position is good for blasting tanks while the machine gun is handy against airplanes. And, there are drone mines that will try to smash the helicopter at higher levels, too.

To free ambassadors, the player must either fire upon the barracks where they are imprisoned or wait for a Bungeling tank to do it (why the Bungelings are dumb enough to fire upon their own buildings is something I don't know). Now, when the prisoners are loose, things get nasty. Naturally, they don't stay in their prisons, but run around in hopes the chopper pilot will land and snag them. All the while, they can be killed by both enemy and friendly fire, and it's very easy to land the helicopter on them, thus smashing them flat. As the ambassadors will rush toward the helicopter, they tend to get in the way when the player is trying to land and pick them up. Rescuing all 64 ambassadors is a tough job, indeed, and I tend to either blast or land on a few of them in each mission. And, if a helicopter full of ambassadors gets blasted, all of the poor prisoners dies. Indeed, it's a rather gruesome game. The player gets three choppers to complete the mission.

Now, the problem with the control is that the game was really set up for a joystick. A stick is much easier to "lean" into and guide the squirrely, touchy little chopper through the air and is great for assisting in the necessary pin-point landings. The poor little Euro controller just makes all aspects of the game difficulty -- it wasn't made for a player to really lean into and zip around the screen at will.

Although I find the control problems annoying, I can live with them. What drives me nuts, however, is the sound. We're talking 2600-era sound here, complete with thin explosions, an opening them that's very amateurish and about as pleasant as the noise a cat makes when kicked and a lack of real variety in music and effects. The sound here, truly, is worse than what's in Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. for the 7800, and that's saying something.

As for graphics, they're not bad at all. The game doesn't exactly push the 7800 to its limits, but everything's well-defined and much "cleaner" than the Apple //e version I had. My main gripe with the graphics is that the action is set against a rather featureless background, but I can live with that -- the action is fast enough to detract one from staring at detailed mountains and such, anyway.

All in all, this is a good game. It's not the best for the system, but it's a good one to have around the house. It's not exactly in heavy rotation at my place, but I still pull it out from time to time. Heck, someone's got to fight the nasty Bungelings, right?

This boring title screen won't prepare you for the upcoming excitement!
The clouds give a nice sense of parallax scrolling.
You have to balance landing and avoiding the tanks.
Sometimes the tanks only hurt themselves by blowing open the prisons.
System: 7800
Publisher: Atari / Broderbund
Genre: Action
Graphics Score: 75%
Sound & Music Score: 50%
Gameplay Score: 80%
Control Score: 60%

Final Score: 70%

Reader Comments for Choplifter!

Are they Delegates or Ambassadors by Harry Crumb on 2008-12-09 23:48:56
It's very difficult to rescue all 64 Delegates. The best i can do at this game is rescue 62 out of 64 Delegates. That black jet keeps shooting me down. Your helicopter can only hold 16 Delegates.
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