It truly amazes me how many games have been forgotten by the course of time. Actually it seems that almost all games get forgotten eventually, but not this one. Somehow this game managed to soldier on through the 90’s and finally landed a remake on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, I’m talking about Choplifter! (I will omit the ‘!’ from now on because Word doesn’t like it.) Choplifter made a huge splash in 1982, and you could definitely see why, it’s a sidescrolling shooter with a decidedly patriotic theme of rescuing POW’s from and evil, unspecified, desert nation. This game was released on everything with a controller port: The Apple II, Arcades, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, Atari 8-bit, Colecovision, Commodore 64, FM-7, MSX, NES, PC-6001, PC-88, Sharp X1, SEGA Master System, SG-1000, Thomson TO, VIC-20. Holy crap that’s a lot of systems that I don’t have access to. I can only play Choplifter of four of the systems I own, Atari 7800, Commodore 64, Atari 800, and Sega Master System, so how about I do a big ol’ comparison piece talking about all four games and seeing which one is the best to look at, listen to, and play.
Since all four of these games are ostensibly the same game with a different coat of paint, comparing the graphics should be fairly easy. Let’s start with the Atari 7800 version and work our way down from there.
7800: The graphics are bright and colorful, and really show what the 7800 was capable of in 1987. Everything is well defined, and cartoony. The background is nice and detailed, so are the tanks and planes. You can even tell that the POW’s you’re rescuing are wearing a wifebeater and blue jeans. It looks good, really good. The detail even extends to having the fence you pass over be tiny Atari logos which I think is adorable. My main problem is that everything feels like it’s zoomed in, mainly because everything is much larger in the 7800 version than in any of the others, perhaps so they could pack in more detail.
8-Bit: It seems there are two versions of the 8-bit game, one in monochrome and one in color, unfortunately I was only able to get the monochrome version to run on my 800. These graphics are a big step down from the 7800 version, but that’s to be expected this game came out in 1982. After checking online, the color version easily rivals the graphics of the Colecovision version two years before the Coleco came out. The background is sparse with only a few outcroppings of rock, and most all of the sprites are monochrome with only the houses and tanks showing multiple colors. But the 8-bit version actually does something rather unique, it sets the action at night, which, at least for me, ties the whole look of the game together and actually gives the game style points over the competition, of course there isn’t any detail, it’s midnight with only the moon as a light source. I’d argue that the monochrome version with B&W graphics looks better than the color version due to this fact alone.
C64: The C64 also takes the night route that the 8-bit version did, but I don’t think it looks quite as good. I’d argue that the C64 uses color unusually in the case of choplifter, red and blue are added to the outside of the helicopter and POW sprites and it just looks awkward, like everything is fuzzy around the edges, it just doesn’t really work. Apart from the poor implementation of color in some places I’d say the graphics are comparable to the 8-bit version, simplistic but they get the job done well.
SMS: And here comes the Master System, like some behemoth towering over all versions that came before it, but funnily enough the 7800 version came out after the SMS version which was released in 1986 one year before the 7800 version. This version is just jam packed with fantastic detail, everything is well defined and… well, when you spend most of your time playing games from the early 80’s you forget just how amazing the jump to the NES and SMS was. There is no argument that the SMS version has the best graphics. The only way I think they fail somewhat is that at times they can get a little muddy but that’s just me nitpicking trying to give the other versions a chance. But that simply won’t happen, the Sega Master System version is the winner!
There are a wide variety of sound chips in use across the four versions of the game, here’s hoping that they get used to the best of their abilities. Same order, let’s go!
7800: Oh dear. Despite being the newest system out of this lineup the 7800 had the most basic sound chip out of the lot, mainly because it just used a recycled 2600 sound chip. There is a plinky plonky set of jingles that play at the beginning of the game and at the beginning of each sortie. You’ll otherwise be treated to an endless series of chk-chk-chk noises to simulate the sound of the rotors and holy crap does it get annoying. The explosions are nothing special; you’ve heard them a thousand times on the 2600. Actually that’s the perfect way to describe the sounds, ‘you’ve heard them a thousand times on the 2600.’
8-Bit: Hmmm, these are a step up, the POKEY chip does allow for a broader range of sound than the 2600’s TIA chip, but the sounds still aren’t great. You get a far more layered soundtrack with a low grumbling noise coupled with a soft chirping noise to simulate the engine and rotors. The shooting and explosion sounds could have been improved, the shots are too high pitched and the explosions are low and gravely sure but they lack any impact.
C64: This one hurts the most, the SID chip is legendary for its sound potential but the sounds are just straight copies of the 8-bit sounds with a little bit of SID gravel thrown on top and unfortunately it doesn’t help to improve the already sparse sounds.
SMS: Ready for the SMS to dominate again? High range of sounds, good explosions, good explosion noises, and background music. There is nothing any of these games can do that will combat the winning combination of good explosions and background music, it seems the SMS wins again.
As we all know a game can look terrible, and sound terrible, but we won’t care as long as it’s fun to play, and that’s why the gameplay category is so important, it can render the two previous categories moot. This is where we find a winner. Due to how simple of a game Choplifter is it should be pretty difficult to screw it up, rescue POW’s and don’t get shot down for the love of god, let’s see how these game screw it up.
7800: Stiff and zoomed in. Everything is too big, the tanks are a quarter-screen wide, and the planes are huge, but at the same time they’re still impossible to hit due to the stiffness of the controls. There is no acceleration period; you are going full speed immediately and it makes controlling yourself very difficult. Also due to the zoomed in perspective you have less time avoid obstacles some of which blend into the sky very well.
8-Bit: This is quite a step up! You have at least two times as much space on the screen to move around in, the enemies are of proper size and are actually able to be hit. Most importantly though, when you are moving forward you are positioned on the screen so that you are not centered, and you have more screen in front of you than you do behind you so you can see enemies and obstacles coming and react appropriately, something the 7800 version didn’t do, or at least didn’t do well. You still move about like a fly on crack, but due to your smaller size you won’t miss as much as you did in the 7800 version, and your movement speed actually is slightly slower so you can manage precision movement a bit better.
C64: This version plays almost identically to the 8-bit version. You’re slowed down and zoomed out, and positioned properly when moving, though I think this version plays a little bit slower which in all honesty isn’t a bad thing.
SMS: This version takes what should be a simple shooter and tacks a whole lot of unnecessary things onto it. Instead of starting the game slow and adding more enemies in like the previous three did, this one starts you off full bore with ground to air turrets, fighter jets, multiple tanks at once, and balloon bombs. This version is so difficult that on the (I presume) easy mode I only got to the second level once, out of dozens upon dozens of attempts and level two is even harder. You’re not allowed to move slowly since the jets will get you, you’re not allowed to blitz things since the constantly firing turrets will hit you with a lucky shot. It’s not fun it’s hard, and it seems that it’s hard just for the sake of being hard, I don’t like that sort of mentality, it just ruins the game.
Alright so, the winner... This is actually rather difficult because I’m torn between the C64 and 8-bit versions, well before we get to that lets wrap the whole thing up.
7800: Mediocre graphics for the time, a sound chip from 1977, and gameplay that is the definition of unfair and frustrating.
8-Bit: Simplistic in both graphics and sound but makes up for it with gameplay.
C64: A vitual copy of the 8-bit version but with slightly muddier graphics and sounds but with the same great gameplay.
SMS: Excellent graphics, amazing sounds, and tough as nails gameplay that is too punishing right off the bat and will turn away casual gamers like myself.
Alright so I’ve decided that the winner is the Atari 8-Bit version, it’s simple, it’s fast, and most importantly it’s fun. Followed closely by the Commodore version, for the same reasons. The SMS version comes next, because despite its brutal difficulty it’s still fun for a short while. The 7800 version is just no fun to play and is frankly embarrassing, especially when you realize it’s the newest of the four.
If you’d like to purchase these games the prices are as follows
· Loose: $7.50-14.99
· CIB $17.49-53
· Loose: $21.25-23.65
· CIB: $29.99-44.48
· Loose: $39.99-66.77 (ouch)
· CIB: $106.45 (more ouch)
Sega Master System:
· Loose: $7.76-20.62
· CIB: $14.99-43.81