19 March 2015


Publisher/Developer:  Sega
Format: Cartridge
Game Size: 128K
Rarity:  2
Game Type: Side Scrolling Helicopter Rescue/SHMUP Arcade Conversion of a Microcomputer Game.
Region: USA
Other Ways to Play:  Arcade, Apple II, Atari 8 bit, Atari 5200, Atari 7800,  FM 7, Colecovision, Commodore 64, MSX, NES, PC 6001, PC 88, Sharp X1, Sega SG 1000, Thompson TO, VIC 20
Power Base Convertor Playable?: Yes, 6 button controller compatible.

Price I Paid: Unsure.  Probably 15 or so.
Price I Would Pay: 10 Dollars
Condition: Game, Case, Manual
Game Rating: OK
My History:  I bought this on Ebay back in the early 00s when I discovered it existed.  Before the Dark Times.  Before the Retro Bubble.  Also played the Sega Arcade game once in the mid-late 80s at a Rhode Island beach.

  Ahh the legendary Choplifter.  A classic early 80s computer game Sega made a port of to the arcade, which Sega then ported to the Master System.  While the definitive version of a legendary game which still has sequels to this very day, the limitations of the Master System and games in 1986 keep it from being what it could, would, and should be.  Let's talk about it.  (So I can continue to not really give any games in this project so far a GOOD rating.  Sigh.)

  In this game you have a helicopter with guns on it.  You fly across three stages of lovely parallax effect terrain rescuing hostages.  (Or captives.  Or prisoners.)  One button shoots your gun or drops bombs.  The other with directional pad presses turns your helo's facing to either direction or facing the screen where you can drop bombs on stuff in the foreground.

  Your helo can carry 16 people at a time and you need 40 to clear a stage with some bonus points if you bring back enough to go over that amount.  Landing on these captives or having tanks shoot them , or when you yourself shoot them accidentally can kill them, though the biggest way to lose them is by being shot down carrying them back to your base for drop off and big scoring points depending on how full of a load you return with.  (Insert poop or wee or orgasm joke here.  KTHXBAILUVU.)  Each level has four bases containing 16 people.

(Note: There is a bug where if you break open a holding cell where the captives are and land right in the burning opening the prisoners will just die.  They are none too bright or something.  I guess.  Sometimes they will walk right under you.  Or will walk away from you if you try to bunny hop on the ground to try to keep the foreground tanks and PT boats from showing up.  Which sometimes works.  Sometimes.)

  The game actually uses some realism as your craft tilts in the direction you are moving meaning your gun may be aiming upwards or downwards as opposed to just straight ahead.  Forwards facing can have your bombs fly out at an angle and even the height of your helo will determine where on the foreground the bombs go!  Also running into the ground or slamming down on it will wreck your chopper, as does running into the various bits of terrain that pop up.

  Graphics, sound, and play control are all pretty good.  Its just... its TOO DAMNED HARD.  The camera doesn't always play nice which can get you killed by shots from off screen or random aircraft or enemy vehicles shooting and ramming you with no chance to see them.  While you do gain extra lives I am unaware of a continue mode should you run out.  Be abused through three stages.  Go through again with different colored backgrounds and more enemies and faster action.

  Repeat until bored.  If it wasn't throwing so much at you and for such a minor thing it could be a damned masterpiece.  Instead its the definitive version of an early 80s classic.  Just one gone from 16k cartridges (or fitting on 48K RAM microcomputer diskettes) to a 128k cart.  It has more than the original but not that much more.


  Ahem.  Yes.  You see your score and lives on the top which seems to be a mixture of movie aspect ratio letterboxing and a way to keep the screen at bottom busy.  And with the lovely graphics, parallax effects, and tons of action it needs it!  There is some sprite flicker but rarely when it matters.

Next seven screenshots are from Fusion emulator.

 Flying sideways while a hostage is waving to me from the ground.

 Extra overachiever points for rescuing more than 40 dudes.  Those other captives?  Bugger off will ya?

 The bad guys sometimes REALLY don't want you rescuing their prisoners.  This jeep basically ignores them and tries to shoot you out of the sky unlike the tank which is an equal opportunity killer.
And much easier to avoid than this SOB.

 Yes I am now rescuing swimming captives in the ocean from a submarine while this weird boat thing takes over from the tanks.  I don't understand the physics of it.  Maybe my helo floats and the sub just sits on the surface or something.  Prisoner subs.  Totally logical, yes.

 And the worst of the three stages.  Caves.  Where flying fireballs plus stalactites/mites, cannons, and some gun mounted things out of GI Joe all equal massive death and frustration.

I've made it through the first wave of stages.  Now the background changes color and it gets even harder to get the job done.  But sometimes you see odd stuff like a flying bicycle or other such shenanigans.

 Game contents.

The next four screenshots are from the Genesis with a Power Base Convertor.

 Tanks and jets want to stop me from rescuing dudes.

 More dudes in a rescue run equals more points.  And more risk of losing too many guys via being shot down.  In this case I have so many the poor SMS is flickering like hell.

Captives on a ship full of guns firing at you.  Hard to hit guns.  On the upside being higher off the horizon means I at least don't have to worry about a PT boat thing shooting at me or the dudes.

An in motion screenshot capture of the Colecovision port of the game.  Which is a touch enhanced from the Apple II original.  But just a touch.  The Atari 7800 port is really the only one that looks anything different than this.  (Screenshot from BlueMSX emulator because I don't feel like taking my Colecovision Flashback out of the box just to take a single photo.)

And some actual Master System screenies to finish it out.
 Oh SMS video output.  Making great graphics not look great.

16 men left to reenact OZ or something.  Though you know this isn't us rescuing people from American prisons because everyone looks to be white.  :(

Master System Play:  Outside of the usual SMS video output it plays just as good.  The Power Stick kind of sucks for this game sadly.  6 button Genesis Pad and the normal SMS Pad work really well however. As does the Epyx 500XJ.  Its kind of been a thing hasn't it?  Either the Power Stick is complete arse or the only way to play a game.  Usually the former sadly.  Maybe I need to play with it on a desk or something solid?

Rating: Well I want to say its Good.  But it isn't.  It is just too damned hard and just has too little of actual content for it to be anything but  OK.  And this saddens me because it is SO very close to a Good rating.  Double the levels.  Reduce initial difficulty.  BAM.  GOOD.  This is a game that BEGS for a larger cartridge and a smoother difficulty curve.  Also plenty of unfair deaths due to your helicopter's movement sometimes hiding things about to kill you.  That needs fixing too.  Still, it IS worth playing.  Just don't pay a ton for it.

Next Time:  Well this month and last have been busy and snowy.  So instead of biweekly it will be two more reviews in April.  Which may or may not still be the first one in two weeks!  FUN WITH CALENDARS!  And what shall I cover?  Boxing.  Yes.  Boxing.  Two boxing games.  Join me for Boxing Month where I review Rocky and Heavyweight Champ (Aka: Buster Douglas Boxing aka George Foreman Boxing).

06 March 2015


Publisher/Developer:  Sega
Format: Cartridge
Game Size: 256K
Rarity:  3
Game Type: Top Down Maze Rescue Shooting Arcade Conversion
Region: USA
Other Ways to Play: Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Arcade, Atari ST, FM Towns, Commodore 64, DOS, MSX, NES, Game Gear, Sharp X68000, TurboGrafx-16, ZX Spectrum, Playstation 2 (remake)
Power Base Convertor Playable?: No, 3 and 6 both do not work.

Price I Paid: Unsure.  Probably 10 or so.
Price I Would Pay: 5 Dollars
Condition: Game, Case, Manual
Game Rating: OK
My History:  Played the C64 port back in the day.  Unsure when I even bought this one!

  Another of Sega's arcade titles few people in the US ever seemed to know of or care about, Alien Syndrome is one of those TOTALLY NOT ALIENS GUYS!  REALLY!  titles Japan seemed to release in an unending quantity upon arcades and consoles of the late 80s and early 90s.

  In this top down Zelda styled rescue shooter you have to save a number of people and reach the exit of a mazelike space ship/station within an ever counting down time limit and then defeat the boss to progress to the next ship and do it all again, usually with every new level having a bit more challenge of finding the captives and exit.

  Power ups are one shot items located on the walls.  S kills whatever is on screen, W warps you someplace else (usually a way to avoid running back from dead ends), N cancels your power up (because I dunno?), L gives you a full screen multiple hit thin laser that can go through everything, and FB gives you a short ranged fireball hit that is however thicker and more likely to hit things.

  Such as the bosses who you get to fight on a black background and who have various attacks, usually involving shooting things at you.  And like most classic era bosses they have weak points the flash when you hit them and they eventually change color.

There is also a ? mark power up that sometimes gives you a couple seconds of invulnerability or nothing.  In the arcade you could have a variety of fun weapons plus little robot buddies who would hover around your shoulders and randomly shoot things.  And you know, a MAP of the level.  No maps here, and enemies blink in randomly before fully forming on the screen, not counting the odd flickering or slowdown/speedup depending on what is going on. Who will sometimes pop up right where you are with no warning, yet being rather large sometimes it will kill you. And there are these little green face things that only temporarily go away when you shoot them that will sometimes shoot at you, in some cases like the N power down put in annoying places when you move from one screen to the next.  They also respawn without warning, albeit only in the places with a face.

  Oh.  And you die in a single hit.  With no continues.  The game's decent enough music will change when you have rescued enough people, letting you know that it is time to vamoose however.  Or you can hit the second button on your controller to check score and hostages left.  You can also die by falling into pits though honestly unless you are in a rush to avoid dying to the timer or errant shots coming your way from the faces you shouldn't die much at all to pits, even if many levels have you avoiding falling into them to reach pesky alien bait at the end of long catwalks...

(A LITTLE RANT: Yet another in the HUGE line up of SMS games where you don't see your score actively displayed.  Knowing when you gain a 1 up or how many lives you have while in action is rather important to keeping interest and excitement levels up, especially in arcade games where score is 80% of what keeps you playing.  WHY DO SO MANY SMS TITLES DO THIS?)

  The graphics and audio are actually rather nice though not a patch on the arcade original or the Playstation 2 remake which adds in a life bar, continues, and even the option to play Robotron  style.

Playstation 2 Sega Classics Collection Sega Ages port running on PCSX2 Emulator ver 1.2.1.  Now with optional twin stick firing!

Arcade version running on MAMEUIFX64.  Unless you really want me to take a screencap of my 32" HDTV and show it playing on my PS3 from the Sonic Ultimate Genesis Collection?

Game contents
Yes not exactly CEE TEN CASE FRESH VGA GRADED.  But it was most likely cheaper than a movie with junk food.  So a better and healthier value eh?  (I need to start doing curls and sit ups and jumping jacks again...)

These next eight screenshots are from the Kega Fusion emulator.
 The title screen with the little half face swapping of our two heroes.  No you can't choose which one to be in One Player mode.

 Typical screen.  Green face shooty things that come back to life after a point when you shoot them, a power up on the wall, a couple aliens, and a captive to rescue.

 One of the more challenging things.  Finding ways to get to some of the captives.


 Little walkways you have to navigate for extra fun.

 One of the bosses.  Black screen, giant boss with limited animation, and weak points.  This one looks like it is opening its' eyes but its really a giant brain or something getting exposed.

 Good to know game.  Good to know.  There are seven levels according to the manual.  If it wasn't for save states I wouldn't have made it to around stage five or six before the game and time constraints made me stop.  I would like to finish it eventually.  It isn't Thunder Blade by any means.  

I found the exit but I haven't found enough captives to leave.  Time is ticking away...

The next two shots are from an actual Master System.
Stop showing me the lady I cannot play as unless I find someone willing to come over and play Master System with me.

Master System video output: even through cables to a composite monitor it still hinders the machine's graphics.

Now two from a Genesis with Power Base Convertor!
 Look at this scrub just sitting there waiting for me to save him. 

After taking some damage the bosses generally change color to inspire you to finish them off.

Master System Play:  Outside of the usual SMS video output it plays just as good.  And honestly?  The SMS Control Pad is actually the BEST controller to use.  Just get a Turbo fire dongle or your hand will know pain.  Such terrible, terrible pain.  But sadly you just cannot use any Genesis controllers as your dude will immediately go to the left and not stop.  Also the Control Stick isn't good for this game as it basically won't let you go diagonal for movement very much at all. Which is kind of important for this style of top down shooter/exploration game. So the Control Pad or the Epyx XJ stick are the only ways I can play it on original hardware properly.  A shame.

Rating: Well it isn't awful by any means but it is far from good.  OK.  Still not really a must play or worth your time, especially as there are two PS2-PS3(360) Sega collections that have the superior arcade emulated or the Sega Ages remake which is quite good given it being a budget title.

Next Time:  Even though I keep getting major snowstorms here in March for SHOOTY RESCUE MONTH I shall persevere through Winter doldrums and general snow related irritation and try to save more little pixel people in Choplifter!