Chopper Mike iOS Review
What do you get if you blend an ounce (not literally an ‘ounce’) of the programming talents of the Motorstorm series, a gyroscope and the addictive gameplay in countless browser-based ‘Helicopter’ iterations? There is but one answer: Chopper Mike.
The first release on iOS (and PC) from the one-man development team at VAMflax — or Jamie Lowes, if you rather — Chopper Mike has you piloting various cartoon variants of aircrafts, collecting gems and avoiding obstructions across stages. Bright and colourful with a smattering of personality, Chopper Mike is a title with a simple art style that performs its function well. However, it’s still a pretty basic-looking title at first glance. If you look deeper than the surface (and probably because we have been spoiled with HD graphics on our home consoles), there is quite a bit going on…for such a basic title.
Lighting is depicted extremely well, and there are multiple graphical effects that showcase the ability with which these handheld devices can perform. High-quality graphical shaders really push the various iOS devices, dependent on the model. On my iPhone 4S, the game ran at a silky smooth 60 frames per second (it runs at half this on the iPhone 4), and the iPad mini looked quite nice too, considering how basic, even primitive the game looked. But that is more down to its art style and simplistic presentation than a slur on its technical ability. This simplicity is present in the visuals that adorn the Main Menu, and also in the audio. The soundtrack is a pleasant bubblegum funk assortment of sounds – by no means awful, but I generally play most iOS games with a podcast or music from my own library as the backing. The very definition of this game is simple, but simple isn’t always a bad thing. Just sometimes a little bit soulless, is all.
Up to a total of six aircrafts can be controlled (of which three are unlocked initially) to maneuver your way through 48 playable levels (set over three stages of difficulty), collecting all the gems and avoiding obstacles such as pillars and rotating floor blocks before landing on the helipad. However, each time you clip an obstacle or the floor, you are hit with a penalty that affects your overall score. Each aircraft has different attributes that make them stand out over one another. I stuck with the Red Squirrel – it was quick nippy and light. There is also a pretty cool little UFO craft, although I found it wasn’t as quick as I liked so I went back to the Red Squirrel.
So how does Chopper Mike play? If you have previously tried any of the arcade aircraft simulators on the iOS ecosystem, you will feel right at home here. Controls are simple, using your left thumb to steer on a gyroscope like-axis and affect the spinning speed of your rotor. The game seem overly complicated, but that’s not true. It is fairly easy to pick up and play, and after a few minutes of fiddling about, everything will seem fairly second-nature.
Chopper Mike is an enjoyable experience, but the sudden changes in game difficulty could frustrate and put off some people. One minute you are avoiding a static pillar, the next you’re tasked with avoiding, not only pillars, but moving floor tiles. Gamers on these devices are far more fickle than console gamers, so when things get too tough, many simply jump out and try something more. Minor frustrations aside (all down to my failings and not the game), I found myself opening the game and playing it a little more each day.
If you’re anything of a completionist, this game will test you (however briefly). The most minute of errors add a one-second penalty and ruin any chance of getting three stars. Most will be content (initially) with just finishing the level, never mind getting a 100% on each and every one. Midway through the game, that’s kind of how I felt. The rewards for your attempts are too few and far between, but that can come across as rather elitist and entitled. For the price of the game (£1.49), you get a good amount for your money, and it is fun. Also, what you pay for is exactly what you get, with no IAPs (in-app purchases) bolted on to eke more money out of players. Two thumbs up there.
Chopper Mike is an admirable first project for a developer gone solo. It’s cute, easy to pick up, it plays well, and its presentation is endearing (even if not mind-blowing). Especially something that seems like it’s more testing the waters of the App Store ecosystem or a portfolio builder than a career-defining project, that doesn’t necessarily mean the game isn’t any good. This is definitely a ‘what you see is what you get’ experience, with a swiftly-increasing difficulty. Chopper Mike is a lovely first title and it’s one I have found myself returning to for a few minutes a day to try and better my previous attempts, and that in itself is a testament to its quality. I look forward to seeing what VAMflax come up with going forward and I recommend this if arcade aircraft games are your thing, or even if you wish to try something new.