In 1982, Dan Gorlin developed the game Choplifter for the Apple II computer. Four years later, Sega ported the game with updated graphics to the Sega Master System in 1986. Choplifter was one of the very first games I ever played as a child, and I have quite a few memories of it. The gameplay revolves around rescuing hostages and flying them back to your base as enemies zoom around you. Let’s get in the chopper and head into the horizon for this Choplifter review for the Sega Master System!
“Pockets of international hostages are trapped. All across the world. In the Middle East. In the South Seas. And in a secret base somewhere in a cavern.
You man a helicopter rescue team. And your job is to take your helicopter down, rescue the hostages and fly them back to safety. All the while dodging and destroying dangerous enemy fire.
An action-packed helicopter game at its best.”
That description is found on the back of the box and it’s pretty straightforward. Save the hostages, dodge the enemy fire, and move on to the next level. In this Choplifter review, that’s all the plot that you’ll need!
The first thing that you will notice about Choplifter is the beautiful and vivid colors of the game. The sky, in particular, stands out. A bright blue sky lights up the background for level one, but my favorite sky is the pink one in level two. I can’t recall a time when the color pink was used so much in a level, and it really works as a sunset over the ocean.
Level one takes place in a desert where you must pilot your helicopter against jet fighters, missile launchers, tanks, and other hostile enemies. To rescue hostages, you must fire upon the jail to destroy the doors for the hostages to run out of the burning building. Next, you’ll land the helicopter near the building, but don’t land it directly in front of the doorway, or you will crush the hostages that run out. It’s important not to stay on the ground for too long, or else the enemy will send in ground tanks to shoot you and the hostages. I’ve found that setting the choplifter on the ground and pressing the up button every second to briefly hover off the ground keeps the ground enemies away.
To beat the level you’ll have to rescue a certain amount of hostages at each stage. Once that number is reached the level is cleared. You only have a certain amount of lives, so if you get blown up which will happen or if too many hostages die, it’s game over. During my Choplifter review, I was very careful not to land on the hostages and bring back PTSD from my childhood of murdering innocent prisoners.
Some skill is required to move on from the first two levels. The first as I said, is a desert, with the second being set in the ocean. You’ll have to maneuver between submarine missiles and destroyer boats blasting away at you. The third level involves lots of skill and some luck. The hostage buildings in this stage are hidden in a cavern. Not only will you have to avoid enemy fighters flying advanced airships, but you’ll have to duck relatively low to avoid the cavern spikes, but don’t fly too low, or else you’ll get hit by spitting lava. It’s the most difficult stage in all of the game and one that took me until I was into my teenage years to beat.
One hit will kill you, so be careful. The game likes to get dramatic when your ship gets blown up. The music stops as your choplifter falls to the ground in a fiery heap of scrap. When your wreckage hits the ground, you are greeted with intense music and a “Game Over” screen.
Speaking of the music, it’s very catchy, and I catch myself humming it in my head after playing Choplifter. There are no bosses in this game, which would have been a fun inclusion at the end of the level. There are six levels to complete. The last three levels are just repeaters of the first three with different colored skies.
As I stated, there are no bosses, but there are a few difficult enemies to predict. The hovering airships in level three are a pain, but other than that most enemies you can avoid fairly easily. You have two options for firing, you can shoot your machine gun which you will do 90 percent of the time, or you can tilt your helicopter toward the screen and drop a few bombs which is crucial to blow up enemies on the ground. Thinking back on my playthrough, it would have been a great touch to include a few bosses after rescuing the targeted amount of survivors. My Choplifter review score would certainly have increased if this element was added.
The Sega Master System was the only system I had growing up until fourth grade when I finally got a PlayStation. I spent a lot of time playing it, and Choplifter was one of the games that I kept going back to if I wanted to burn an hour. The game itself isn’t special, but I do remember hours and hours of playing it during my childhood. It was too hard for a six-year-old, but when I got older I mastered the controls, and I’m able to beat the game now.
Choplifter Review Score:
Choplifter stands out with its colorful backgrounds and catchy music. The gameplay itself is pretty simple, but it had a unique goal as opposed to other “shooters”. Picking up hostages was a fun goal, and you’d always feel bad if you squished one or two. Your brave little pilot always waved at the screen before taking off. Most times, I’d wave back knowing he was going to die in a few minutes. Such bravery he showed in the face of certain death.
There are a few easter eggs in the game like Superman flying in the background or E.T. on the bike flying over the moon. These nuggets are fun to discover, and I appreciated the little bonuses. My gripe with Choplifter is that it’s such a short game, and the difficulty curve is huge once you reach the third level. If you know what you are doing, you can beat the entire game in 15 minutes.
The menu screen also makes me laugh, it shows a helicopter shooting its machine guns but the helicopter is pointed at hostages with their hands up making it look like it’s blowing them away. So what’s the final score for my Choplifter review?
Choplifter scores a 6.5 out of 10.
What did you think of Choplifter? What are your memories of playing it? I’d love to hear from you, so drop me a comment below and let me know if you were able to beat the cave level! Any thoughts or comments are appreciated.
If you’d like to own a copy of Choplifter you can find preowned copies on eBay for between $6-$20.