The Many Faces of  . . .  Choplifter

by Alan Hewston

A while back, I decided it best to review "Choplifter" in September to reflect upon the 9-11 tragedy.  Of games that fit this column, "Choplifter" is clearly the best '82 game with a theme of rescuing those in peril or need, and maybe of the entire classic era.  I realize that there is some violence on the part of you as the pilot/hero, but this is only used to protect the innocent, and there are no points scored for destroying any of the enemies.  Finally, I apologize in advance if this selection or timing
offends anyone.

Broderbund, one of the most successful third party video game companies of all time, does not seem to get enough credit.  "Choplifter" brings us not just a game, but 1 part of the greater whole  the never-ending battle versus a common enemy - the Bungeling Empire.  Are the Bungelings the first
and maybe even the most well known classic era common enemy to fight against?  Battle them in "Raid on Bungeling Bay", "Lode Runner", "Championship Lode Runner", "Lode Runner -The Bungeling Strikes Back", "Lode Runner's Rescue" and more.

In this horizontal scroller, 64 UN delegates are held hostage by the Bungeling Empire.  From the US command post (disguised as a post-office), you get 3 chopper sorties to fly into their territory, rescue all 64 hostages and bring them back home.  The Bungelings start their patrol one tank at a time, but put more forces on alert once you'd saved any hostages.  Eventually their full force can attack at once.  2 tanks, 2 jet fighters and 1 drone air mine (looks like a UFO).  You can and need to destroy them but they always come back.  Any enemy fire, or you landing on hostages will kill them and they do not come back.  Tanks can only destroy you when you're on the ground, but any other overlap with the enemy or their weapon fire destroys your chopper. The jets attack less frequently,
making one pass, then drop a pair of missiles.  Finally, the drone air mine can move all about the screen, but can easily be outmaneuvered and outrun, but does not give up until it's destroyed   There are 9 chopper positions = 3 facing (L, middle, R) times 3 moving possibilities (L, stationary, or
R).  Your shots, when facing L/R will blast open the barracks and destroy airborne targets, but will kill the hostages.  When facing middle, your dropped bombs will only affect the enemy, so fire away.  The game's scoring is simply 3 numbers at the top of the screen  hostages: killed; onboard; &
rescued.  A perfect score of 64 rescued is very difficult but attainable.  "Choplifter" was successful enough that Sega bought it, upgraded it and made it one of the first games to go from the home computer market to the arcade.  More complex, the arcade game added chopper fuel units, 8 hostages max onboard, 20+ of 24 must be saved per level, and themes per each level.  They added speech "Don't Leave" and screams when killed.   See also RT issue #16 where Doug Saxon crowned the Sega Master System's arcade version with the MFof Gold.  My review only covers the original version.

"A bit patriotic, but Americans love to display our flag"

Home Versions [list credits to Dan Gorlin]: First on the Apple 2 (Broderbund, '82 Dan Gorlin, who later founded Ariok Entertainment), C64 (Dane Bigham, Broderbund & Ariolasoft '82), Colecovision (Broderbund '84), Atari 8 bit (Broderbund '82, and then remade by Atari '83), Atari 5200 ('83 Atari), Atari 7800 (Atari '87 by Ibidine), TI-99 ('83 TI), Vic 20 (Tom Griner, Creative '83).
Rumor Mill: Atari 2600 (April '83 CES Kit), and also the Intellivision. Categories (10 points each for): Gameplay, Addictiveness, Graphics, Sound & Controls
Sequels:  Arcade by Sega 1985, based upon and improved from the home versions.

Home Version Similarities:  Except those in ( ): all home versions have: a pause (Vic); a pseudo 3-D perspective; background stars (7800,CV); 16 hostages in each of 4 barracks; begin play with 1 barracks on fire (7800); Bungelings gradually increase in number, from one tank, to up to all 3
enemy types, and up to 5 (all but the APII) on-screen at once [2 tanks, 2 jets & 1 air drone]; anything hitting the hostages will kill them; gravity pulls the chopper down (Vic,C64), the chopper's destruction sequence is cool  best if done airborne; there are no gameplay options (except on the
CV which has 4 levels of difficulty); there is no high score but the current score is displayed until you reset (7800); angling the chopper blades onto the hostages will kill them (7800,CV).  No version has a
musical score, but the CV added a short jingle for when hostages are rescued.  All games end poorly saying "The End" or "Game Over" regardless of outcome.

1 vs 2 fire buttons:  The Apple 2, CV, 5200 & 7800 use 2 buttons - one to fire & one to rotate the chopper.  The others systems use one fire button both for firing (press and release) and rotate (press and hold move stick).  Both methods work OK and neither is penalized other than as noted below.  I had the most trouble on the Atari 8 bit Broderbund version.

Have Nots: TI-99 (NA)
I thought that I had this version but didn't.  My local TI club members were unable to help either, but I hope to secure one and review it eventually.  A TI-99 medal may be unexpected for almost all TI games save those by Parker Brothers  which as fantastic.  But stay tuned for Star Trek: SOS!

Have Nots: Vic 20 (34)
The venerable Vic has a cool intro screen with a swirling effect also seen at the ending unfortunately this does not help the Gameplay, which is very good (7).  Everything's there to some degree, but a little different or limited.  Primarily, a limit of only 1 tank, 1 jet & 1 drone air mine and no more than 2 at once.  But then why do I even need to save hostages who can almost outrun me. They are chaotic stupid, and run around more like a group of line dancers until you land close enough to them at which point they promptly run aboard.  Unlike the original, the tank fire can kill you slightly above the ground, but no higher.  The Vic is unique in the addition of an audio chime warning of a jet's approach, which unfortunately looks a little like an A-10, and acts like one too, making a slow, steady pass, dropping about 4 bombs and then leaving.   There is no deception
other than a variation in altitude each appearance.  The Addictiveness is cool (7), but no apparent pause and this may be the easiest version to score in the 60's on.  Once you win, you may never play it again.  The Sound is mediocre (5), almost annoying, especially the sound of the chopper just sitting.  The Graphics are too large and the worst of the lot, but still respectable (6).  Your bullets do skip off the surface and make added debris, which is neat, but not helpful.  The Controls are well done (9), but somewhat sluggish when rotating or moving.  A decent Vic 20 game.

Have Nots:  Colecovision (39)
The Gameplay is nearly complete (7), but somehow the drone air mines are completely missing and the jets come in so quickly that it is a matter of luck, not skill if you die.  I may have been too generous scoring here since the gameplay is riddled with added difficulty maybe unintended.  The
Moon blocks your view, the barrack's fire is only deadly here, and the hostages truly have a death wish.  Yes, they make an all out effort to get crushed by you, bombed by the tanks or to take you with them.  This alone may not be bad, but then add in a hyperactive control scheme, gravity &
then any landing other than soft and you'll autodestruct more on this version than all the others combined.  The original only crashes if you hit hard and rear first.  If it were not for the fact that there are 4 levels of difficulty and that the enemies on level one are slightly easier than most versions (definitely a change for CV), the previous added difficulties would really hurt the Addictiveness -  but then some masochist would say "bring it on" and want these added challenges.  Addictiveness scores superb (9), with the "*" key as the pause. The Sound is effective (7) and
complete.  A bit odd sounding but that is overcomes with the added jingle upon each rescue landing.  The Graphics are sharp (8), but may deserve worse due to the puny hostages & boring explosions.  The Controls score an (8), since the game speed is so quick and jerky that it will take quite some time to hone those skills using the awkward CV controller.  It might be best to use a Dreamcast & play emulation here  not only for the controls but also due to its increased rarity.  Available on both cart & cassette for the CV & Adam.

Bronze Medal: Apple II (41)
This is the original system that the game was conceived on.  It begins with a flashy Broderbund title screen and then followed by a demo  only seen here and the Atari 5200 & 8 bit.  The hostages cooperate fairly well and want to get rescued.  The Gameplay is great (9) and the best - hands
down.  But then in subsequent releases the goal was to duplicate the gameplay and not necessarily to improve upon it.  Other versions did improve on other categories.  It is frustrating as the APII & 7800 are the only versions where a hostage can get killed off-screen.  The others either do not keep track of it, or it is not possible to scroll fast enough etc.  The original is also the only one where I've seen (& more than once) all 5 enemies hunt you simultaneously.  Other versions may, but I've tried
so many times that it must not be possible.  Gravity makes it more realistic, but not significant to the overall physics involved.  Only the Commodore versions, and Atari 8 bit original version do not have
gravity.  I did not penalize either way - it really just makes more work for your muscles.  The Moon is visible but pretty much just keeps you from seeing clearly.  All but the CV dropped the Moon as well.  The Addictiveness is wonderful (9) with a pause "esc" key and you'll really want to save them all. The Sound is the downfall, but respectable (6).  There is no chopper sound and as usual, everything would be better with external sound.  The Graphics are nice (8) with good details,
animation and colors.  The Controls are super (9) but the button responses are slow or missed  possibly in proportion to on-screen traffic.  Using an analog stick can also take a little getting used to.  This version is only on disk.

Bronze Medal: Atari 5200 (41)
I concur with my predecessor that the analog controllers can hurt here, but using a Wico controller should help make them almost perfect (9) Controls. A point is lost either here or addictiveness as the pause is not easy to use.  Also that due to the analog nature and maybe gravity, your chopper
can appear to be down, but is slightly angled you do not notice this until a hostage runs into the blades.  The Gameplay is complete and impressive (8), except I've never seen all 5 enemies at once, as is the case for all but the Apple 2 version.  The hostages are cooperative for the most part,
here and on the Atari 8 bit & C64 as well.  Thus the Addictiveness is very fun (9) and the pause is the "pause" key. The Sound is pretty good (7) with nothing missing. The Graphics are sharp (8), but they have the red and blue colors reversed on the flag.

Bronze Medal: Atari 7800 (41)
I'm guessing that when this came out the average player was hoping for the arcade version and may have been disappointed here. I'm sure that the 7800 could have handled the more complex arcade game, and too bad they did not compact both versions into this cart  it might have been the first game ever to have both an original and revised edition of a game.  Atari made sure to add in their logos here representing the border of the Bungeling Empire.  The Gameplay is very good (7), but strays from the original, and still no added game options.  The tanks shots go too high - making it more difficult and hard to get use to.  There is only one jet, and I've never seen one when I'm in the air.  it appears to only attack if you are on the ground.  There is no passing pattern, no warning, just whomp there it is - on the screen and a guaranteed hit every time - with no chance to avoid it,
or shot them down.  The drone shows up in the same spot and is awfully big.  It looks like 3 enemies are the most at once.  Worst of all the hostages are dumb here too.   The Addictiveness is very fun (8) with a pause button on the console.  It is a very difficult or frustrating version (as mentioned above), but the better graphics and somewhat faster action make it easier to keep starting a new game.  This is yet another one of those uncool 7800 titles that will not let you pause once the game is over, and then poof the score is gone.  Gotta plan to pause just before you lose your last life just to see how you did.  The Graphics are fantastic (9), clearly the best.  The game certainly looks like it came from the Nintendo era with large multi-sprite tanks (too large for my tastes) boasting its
graphics capabilities.  Everything seems a bit big, making less room to maneuver and plan for landing. The stars and moon are replaced with scrolling clouds and mountains for better perspective and for a bright & cheerful daylight attack.  The Sound is crisp (8) also the best, but mediocre for the 7800.  The Controls are super (9), but over-responsive and also awkward to use those 7800 controllers (even the pad  since the stick is too small to get the precise control needed).  But you should eventually overcome most of this and deal with the jerky reactions and hyperactive movement of the chopper.  I'm sure that I'll get the most negative feedback on this version, but it strayed too far from the norm.

Gold Medal: Commodore 64 (42)
Similar to the Atari 5200 & 8 bit, with no major problems.  The Gameplay is impressive (8) and complete, and more importantly, there are no changes or deletions that take away from the original.  But . . . just as in the 8 bit and 5200, I've never seen all 5 enemies at once, so it may be a bit easier to win.  The Addictiveness is great (9) with a pause button "run/stop".  The Sound is very good (7) and nothing is missing or odd.  The Graphics are simple, sharp and clear (8), not overdone.  The Controls are perfect and responsive (10).  Available on disk & cart.

Gold Medal: Atari 8 bit (42)
There were 2 versions of this game released on cart. The original Broderbund version scores only (41  and would get a Bronze) and later Atari re-released it improving upon the controls, added gravity and some graphics a bit.  I'm using the Atari version for comparison here, which scores
exactly the same as the 5200 port save for the Controls are perfect and responsive(10).  The pause button is the "break" key.  Available on disk & cart. I guess I recommend the Atari 8 bit just slightly, only because it probably is slightly easier to find, plus add in that the 5200 is essentially the same and also not too hard to come by. Don't forget that this is a photo finish and one minor detail could make the difference - so only complain if you think the TI or CV is the best ;-)  Most of these versions are great games.

Thanks to who got me the CV version CIB.  Mention this review to them & save 20% off your next purchase.   Also thanks go Tom Z. who saved me the best of Broderbund CV manual a while back.  And recently I got the 8 bit cart from a good trader on RGVC, Ron Slaminko

I almost did a quick review of Super Breakout, but I have some very important errata from last month.

BUMP N JUMP:  One of our readers, IntelliSteve told me that I forgot the C64.  I've made that mistake before, but was pretty sure that I did my homework.  So I checked with our C64 cart expert Mat Allen, who confirmed that "Burning Rubber", '83, by Colosoft, a game I have which is similar
(but I didn't mention) was not an official release.  Turns out Steve realized that he was thinking of "Up and Down", but this red flag was not for naught.  Mat noted that the Japanese version of B&J was entitled "Burning Rubber".  I checked the KLOV & sure enough it had the exact same
description for both games.  So "Burning Rubber" deserves credit as being an official release of B&J.  Gameplay is impressive (8) and complete, with at least 8 car types & more roadways 32, & more information on screen than any other version  but see below.  The Graphics are very colorful &
effective (7), but nearly all of the detailed on-screen text is horrible and unreadable (in purple).  This keeps it from a gold medal.  Addictiveness is very fun (8) with the "space bar" as a pause, and
you can find out what your score is after the game, with a nice high score saving feature.  Extra life every 70K.  Sound has all the effects which are soft and mellow, but a very nice & long musical score making it nice (8).  Controls are excellent (10).  Overall (41)  just missing the gold.

BURGERTIME:  Just a bit too late I finally found a good site with Apple II game reviews  including a nice review of Burgertime - so here is my update.  Controls +2 to (9) since there is joystick control, just not on my version.  Addictiveness (10). Joystick control plus continuation (see below), may make this one of the most addictive games of the era. As I hoped, there are indeed >10 maze patterns to play, all unique to this version.  Once past level 10, you can "continue" - one level below the
highest one completed.  So you may eventually complete all (50?),  If anyone has the "full" version of Burgertime on disk, PLEASE help me to get it so that I can take a run at this marathon game.  Overall (44), sufficient for the Gold medal.  My apologies, but at least I did give credit as best as I could.

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