Of all the games I’ll play on the Sega Master System, Choplifter will likely be the only one that originated on the Apple II. Designed by Dan Gorlin and originally released in 1982, it’s a side-scrolling shoot ‘em up that emphasizes hostage rescue and accordingly, draws comparison to Defender. In truth, the version I played has more in common with the games I’ve previously written about since it’s actually based on Sega’s 1985 arcade release of Choplifter. Like most of what I’ve played thus far, I found it both enjoyable and challenging.
The game had six rounds comprised of three distinct levels, each repeating once in a tougher variation. Beginning in the easternmost section, I guided my helicopter westward, destroying and avoiding enemy jets, antiaircraft emplacements, and other deterrents. As mentioned at the top, my goal was to locate hostages and return them to safety. Each round contained four barracks with sixteen hostages in each. After shooting a barrack, the hostages would funnel out and board my helicopter. I was a sitting duck during this process so tanks and other vehicles took the opportunity to fire upon me. With hostages loaded and enemies dealt with, I returned to the starting base and delivered them to safety, finishing a round when forty were rescued. Conversely, if more than twenty perished, it was game over.
After some practice I could routinely complete the first round. Set in a desert, the resistance wasn’t tough but frequently got lucky shots in. These were devastating if I had a chopper full of hostages. Losing a life, I could overcome, but losing that many hostages in one fell swoop drastically reduced my margin of error. When I did advance to the next round, my lives were replenished up to three if they had depleted. The second round was sea-based so the barracks and ground-based artillery were replaced with submarines and battleships. The sheer number of foes I had to contend with dramatically increased and most of the time, was too much for me to survive. In those rare instances that I reached the third round, I was met with incredible odds, mostly due to the environment. Most of this round took place inside caverns where lava bubbled up from below and stalactite hung from the ceiling. Both were difficult to avoid and the primary reason why I have yet to complete this round.
Choplifter was a difficult game, as demonstrated by my inability to complete even half of it, but I don’t feel it was without balance, it was just tough. The helicopter controlled realistically and lining up shots was a feat I never quite got the hang of. The square, mushy d-pad on the Master System often worked against me and when I finally switched to the standard Genesis controller (both consoles share the same port), my enjoyment increased. It also allowed me to successfully input the round select cheat code and test out the latter rounds! For the time being, I’ll remain content with my efforts and keep the idea of returning to Choplifter floating around in that vague future of “someday.”