Every generation of consoles has had its go-to genre; the style of game every developer will eventually touch on because a.) they feel it’s being overused and needs to see some innovation, or b.) they’ve run out of innovative ideas but still need to see some income. Today, the go-to genre is shooters. First or third person, it doesn’t matter: these games are spat out with more frequency than curses while playing Dark Souls.
Back in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, when arcades were still frequent and the home console market was just building its head of steam, the go-to genre was shoot ‘em ups: games where the player is constantly under fire, and must spew bullets at a breakneck pace in order to survive, first popularized by the immortal Space Invaders. Like the modern day shooter, this genre had several subtypes that were popularized during its reign as overdone-style-of-video-game de jour. One of these was the scrolling shooter.
Exemplified by games like Galaga and Zaxxon, the scrolling shooter – as well as other shoot ‘em ups – were at the height of their popularity during the arcade days, and since then have become more of a niche genre than anything. SNK is hoping to remind us of its presence in that category with the release of two PlayStation Minis versions of its classic arcade titles Chopper I (originally released in 1988) and The Next Space (originally released in 1989). But can these products of another era possibly still hold any appeal?
The answer to that question depends on what you’re looking for. As a scrolling shooter, Chopper I functions as it should. The player takes control of (predictably enough) a helicopter, and must navigate their way through scrolling maps filled with enemy choppers, tanks and turrets. In typical shoot ‘em up fashion, a single hit will kill the player, so it becomes important to keep an eye on the screen as a whole, and not just the target you’re currently aiming at. Every kill you get adds to your total score, which will be saved to the local leaderboard after your game ends (assuming your score is high enough). You have the ability to summon friendly airstrikes to do away with every enemy currently on the screen, but these are severely limited and are best used wisely.
As far as gameplay goes, that’s really all there is to it. It’s clearly a title meant for the arcade: its simplistic style of gameplay is countered by the fact that it can get extremely difficult at times, and though its overall transfer to the console isn’t bad, it’s painfully obvious that Chopper I is the product of another generation.
As is the case in just about every arcade game ever designed, you start out with three lives. When you run out, the continue timer (misspelled as Continued) starts, and your score resets to ‘0.’ If you want to play again, you simply hit the triangle button, which simulates adding a coin to the game, and keep on going from whatever checkpoint you triggered last.
The problem with that is that the instant continue takes away from the charm of the game somewhat. A lot of what made these games so much fun when they were in the arcade was that you only ever had a finite number of coins in hand, meaning that, eventually, your game would end. Here, the ability to throw coin after coin into play with the touch of a button takes some of the thrill of the game away. Plus, these really aren’t the sort of game you’re meant to play for prolonged periods. They are, by nature, extremely repetitive, so eventually, I just wanted to stop playing.
There’s also the ability to up the number of lives you start with to 5 (or drop it to 2), and tweak the game’s difficulty to make it either easier or harder. I don’t know in practice what that actually does – presumably makes the enemy more difficult to kill, and possibly fire at the player more – because, to me, it sort of defeats the spirit of the game. Much like the ability to continue infinitely, it takes away some of the charm that these games had when you played them in arcades.
Chopper I is ultimately still enjoyable. The sheer number of bullets can be frustrating, but in that old school, acceptable way, rather than anything that would actually make you want to stop playing. Dodging bullets and eliminating enemies while waiting for one of the baddies that drop power-ups to appear onscreen is just as satisfying as it ever was. But this is a game meant for the short term, and this console port is pushing constant play. Couple that with the fact that, as far as I could tell, there’s no way to share your high-scores online, and you’ve got a game that really is only fun for a brief period of time.
5 and 5.5 are mediocre. These aren’t necessarily bad games, they just don’t do anything that is worth caring about and not worth the time of most people.