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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Trip Down Nostalgia Street, vol 6

Greetings, and welcome to Nostalgia Street, population: me. For today’s post, we’re going to have to bounce around a bit in time. We won’t rely on multiple ghosts to take us there, but we’ll visit past me at 3 different times. The reason for these jumps is simple…the game we’re visiting had multiple incarnations, much like a good Bhuddist or bad chili.

Sega cover art just sucked.

The game is Choplifter, and it had a very interesting development cycle. In a time where most games were ported from Arcade to home system, this game went against the grain. It started as a home computer game, ported to Arcade, and was then re-ported to home game systems. And it was also an addictive sumbitch, like a rock of crack in a meth burrito with candy sprinkles made of porn.

My eyes! The goggles...they do nothing!!!

My first encounter with Choplifter was at a friend’s house on the Apple II, where it got its start in 1982. The game was very sweet for an Apple offering, and was pretty much Broderbund’s early claim to fame. Granted, it was a 16-color eyeblight, with a black starry sky over a bright fucking purple desert, with bright green tanks shooting merrily up at you.

Gameplay for Choplifter was actually fairly advanced. You flew a chopper to and fro, rescuing hostages from burning buildings while avoiding tanks and planes. You had to fly and land carefully, though, as you could squish hostages, or even accidentally slaughter them with your rotors if you landed at a tilt. You also had to get the hell out of there quickly, lest a tank blow your ass into next week while you waited on the hostages to run at zombie speed to get aboard. Touchy stuff for ’82.

A few years later, I would encounter Choplifter again. And oh, what a great encounter it was. Staying at the Pirates’ Cove Inn at Daytona Beach for vacation, the arcade/game room there had some awesome quarter-suckers…but the best by far was the Choplifter sit-in bench, complete with a flight stick style controller. Whenever Dad would send me out of the hotel room to “not come back for at least an hour”, at least 2 dollars worth of time would go into that sinister and fantastic machine, just yards away from the beach. Incidentally, it would be years before I figured out that they weren’t really taking a nap each day. Years.

Get in the choppah! Give me your hand!!

The arcade machine proved to be a massive upgrade to the game, introducing a multitude of colors and detail. It also introduced a points scoring system to the game, and I’m happy to say that Dangerboy’s initials dominated the Cove for my entire stay at the hotel. They kept the gameplay true, however, requiring you to give thought to your landings or become a hostage harvest machine, or worse, a fiery crater. The hostages still moved like they were jogging through molasses, though, and they added several more enemies to attempt to remove you from the sky.

Eventually, the Daytona-for-Christmas holiday ended, and it was time to go back home. I was saddened that I had no access to a game as groovy as Choplifter, and made do with several other games, including Chopper Command. It was like eating Manwich after having a porterhouse, though, and I reached that point of gamer fatigue in which you rack up as many extra lives as you can and then try like hell to creatively die over and over again. I think in those days I actually went outside and rode my bike more than I played any chopper-flying games, such was my disappointment.

Yee haw and Yo Joe and all that happy horseshit!

And then it happened. Something magical. 8 bit love came to call, in the form of the Sega Master System port of Choplifter. It was a very faithful port of the arcade version, as well it should have been since Sega had programmed both. My inner Wild Bill rejoiced, and I spent many hours leaned back and flyin’ high, rescuing hostages from the bad guys and racking up high scores so high that NASA must surely have invented the Hubble just to see them.

Maybe I had substituted shorts for the thermal knit underwear flightsuit, and maybe I still ate Count Chocula before flicking the power on switch. Still, I had encountered one of the first evolutions of a single game into new versions as new technology pushed the genre, and it was a sweet taste indeed, a kind of mental candy for consumption, giving my imagination a sugar high as I flew hostages back to the base on Nostalgia Street.

EDIT: Again, I have found a gift for you. Somebody did a remake of the Apple II version for DOS, it'll work in windows. CLICKY!!!!

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