Chopper 2: Easy to learn, hard to master
Choplifter was always a fascinating game. Originally released in 1982 on the Apple II, the game was soon ported to just about every platform that could support it and a couple that couldn’t. The game rode the line between arcade simplicity and more complex home computer games almost perfectly, giving an incredibly broad appeal. The action was certainly arcade-like, with lots of things to shoot at and relatively straightforward controls. At the same time, the helicopter controls were just a little bit more realistic than what you would usually see in shoot-em-ups of the era. There was definitely some mastery involved in playing Choplifter well.
In its efforts to expand on both the original Chopper and its famous source of inspiration, Chopper 2 adds a lot of things that weren’t found in either of those games. But the one thing it doesn’t mess around with is that delicate balance. Anyone can pick up Chopper 2 and start flying their helicopter around with ease. Shooting is as easy as doing a press and hold on the screen. The precise movements involved in moving that helicopter at high speeds, weaving in and out of enemy fire, and doing take-offs and landings under intense fire, on the other hand, take a considerable amount of practice to master.
Chopper 2 starts things off with a gentle tutorial mission that teaches you how to fly your chopper, pick people up, and drop them off. Even here, however, those who are careless can crash into trees or their own base. The next couple of levels layer on more tutorials, teaching the player how to fly more quickly and use their machine guns. Once that initial set of three stages is complete, the player is then presented with an overworld map and a choice of where they want to go next.
The game’s 12 areas open up in small chunks at a time, with the player never having more than two new ones to choose from. This helps the game maintain a proper difficulty curve while giving the player a little bit of agency as to what they want to do next. In total, there are 36 different missions to complete, 3 for each area. Your goals will vary considerably during the full campaign. You’ll head out on search and rescue missions, be tasked with taking out a specific enemy deep in hostile territory, protecting a caravan, and more. These differing tasks help keep things fresh all the way through the game.
There are plenty of things to help the player. Friendly bases allow you to refill your health and special weapon ammunition. Speaking of which, certain missions equip the player’s helicopter with missiles or bombs to accompany their basic machine gun. Your machine gun will never run out of ammo, though it will overheat temporarily if you overuse it. The extra weapons have a limited amount of shots before they’re emptied, and they go a lot more quickly than you’d think. Luckily, the machine gun is accurate and powerful enough to take care of a lot of duties, at least on the default difficulty.
While the game’s normal difficulty setting is relatively gentle, the harder settings can be extremely tough. Enemies and bullets are all over the place, the damage you take can become overwhelming in a hurry, and picking off ground-based enemies without accidentally hitting a friendly target takes a very careful hand indeed. Only those who have completely mastered the game’s nuanced controls will have a chance at beating the game on its highest level of challenge.
Chopper 2 offers two different methods of controlling your helicopter’s movement. By default, the game uses the accelerometer to control the chopper’s movement. This actually works out quite well and solves a problem many Choplifter-style games suffer from. When controlling the helicopter with a standard joystick or directional pad, it can be a bit difficult to make fine adjustments while hovering. The motion controls work far better when it comes to these small movements. That said, if you’re playing on an iPad or aren’t in a situation where you can move your device around, there is an option to use a virtual stick. It works well in its own ways, but that aforementioned common issue returns.
The early days of iOS had a lot of great pick-up-and-play titles that were great for a quick shot of action when you had a little bit of time to kill. Chopper 2 is one of the finer examples of that era. There’s no grinding for extra upgrades, no coins to collect, no special events to join in on. It’s just you, your high-speed helicopter, and a bunch of missions to take on. Its excellent controls make it a joy to play, and with its variety of difficulty settings, there’s something here for players of all skill levels.