With the industry’s seemingly never-ending desire to churn out games for a franchise until it drains every bit of life left in a series, it seems strange that we had to wait so long for a new Choplifter game. Originally published for the Apple II in 1982, ports of Choplifter appeared as late as 1986 for the Sega Master System and NES. The series fell dormant for a period of time, despite periodic waves of nostalgia for early ’80s classics that have given us atrocious remakes of other once beloved games. It’s fitting then that inXile — the studio that brought The Bard’s Tale back from the dead — brings us Choplifter HDon XBLA, PSN, and PC.

The new game sticks closely to the original’s premise: fly a helicopter and rescue people while shooting stuff. Most missions will require you to rescue individuals trapped in warzones around the world, and the campaign does a nice job of changing up environments to keep things from becoming too familiar or boring. Some of the stranded will start the level injured, and you’ll have to rescue them within a time limit. Depending on which helicopter you fly, you’ll have to worry about killing passengers and innocents on the ground with reckless flying or taking too much enemy fire. Other missions task you with blowing up enemy targets or simply escaping the level alive.

While performing all these good deeds, you’ll have to navigate enemy fire — which often comes as thick as in a bullet hell shooter. As if that wasn’t enough, you have to refuel your chopper a few times each level at recharge stations throughout the stage. If your brain still has time to think about anything else while balancing fuel, passengers, and ground-and-air fire, you can keep an eye out for hidden passengers.

You can play each level multiple times, but the game will limit you to the default chopper on your first playthrough. More often than not, the mandatory vehicle proved capable of completing the level only in the most pathetic way possible — earning me two out of five stars for the level. You can choose your helicopter in subsequent playthroughs, and more stars will earn you access to better aircraft.

On paper it sounds like the recipe for an amazingly addictive action experience, and it can be. Especially when a hero from another recently revived franchise in the game (unfortunately, an unskippable copyright splash in the opening spoils this surprise). But you’re going to have to invest hours of time upfront to master piloting before the rewards become apparent. The controls respond quickly, but they’re prone to sending the chopper out of control if you don’t take care. By the campaign’s midpoint, levels will demand you precisely control your position along both the X and Y axes, aim your guns carefully, and alternate that with missiles — which tend to fly in wildly different directions than you thought they would. While I wouldn’t say the helicopter steers poorly, its steep learning curve clashes with the game’s own, which ramps up the difficulty very quickly.

No doubt some of you read the above paragraphs and salivated at the idea of a game that refuses to hold your hand, demands precision, and punishes failure at every turn. If you?re the kind of player who loves to dedicate hours to perfecting the way you play a single level in pursuit of high score or even just survival, you’ll love Choplifter HD. Just don’t go in expecting something that’s as focused or plays as well as Super Meat Boy. The controls are a serious roadblock to enjoying the game. However, with sufficient practice it’s possible to get a handle on your helicopter, and once you do you’ll find yourself pulling off cool maneuvers with ease: blasting enemy ground troops, and stopping just inches short of a devastating rocket blast while simultaneously bringing your vehicle down to rescue friendly soldiers pinned down by an enemy fire and a zombie horde.

As rewarding as Choplifter HD can be, it demanded a few too many hours of trial and error for me to enjoy the game past the introductory levels, but the more masochistic amongst you will undoubtedly find something to love.

By Ryan Winterhalter