Lots of things happened in 1987. I had surgery on my sinuses because as a child I got infections seemingly every other week :sniffle:. I went to Disney World with my parents and saw all sorts of billboards that read “COMING SOON! Universal Studios”. Tiger-Heli also came out on the NES. Released by Acclaim in the US, Tiger-Heli was originally an arcade game by Taito. My local Chuck E Cheese never had it. Even if they did, I was probably too busy playing A.P.B or TMNT to notice. I did, however, spend too much time playing the NES port. I also spent lots of time as a kid wondering if it’s pronounced Tiger “Hell-e” or Tiger “Heel-e”. I eventually settled on “Hell-e”.
As a pilot of what appears to be a gray AH-64 Apache helicopter, your mission is to fly to the Mega Fortress located inside the capital of the country of Cantun. The Cantuns want to take over the world, and of course like any self respecting evil regime, they have a Mega Fortress. Since this fortress is in the middle of the country, on land and is fortified, ships and tanks can’t get to it. Planes and bombers are shot down, which leaves a helicopter to slowly follow the terrain of the land. We must be using a stealth helicopter, or the Cantun Air Force doesn’t have any missiles, or maybe the Cantunese sequester has taken hold of their military. Whatever the reason, there’s an opening to attack with a single helicopter, and it must be taken.
The game is a vertically scrolling shooter, similar to the Atari River Raid games, and also very similar to 1942, which incidentally was coded for the NES by the same company that coded the NES port of Tiger-Heli, Micronics. Acclaim handled the state-side release of the game. As a Tiger-Heli, you have an unlimited amount of Hell-fire missiles along with a few bombs that can be replenished along the way by collecting bonus crosses. One thing I love/hate about this game is how your bombs can be destroyed by enemy bullets, even as they hang on the side of your helicopter. This can be helpful as it serves as a sort of armor, since the bomb is destroyed, spreading its shrapnel everywhere, but you are left unscathed. Most games don’t do that, opting instead for a simple health bar. Another cool feature is the ‘assist’ copters that can be collected along the way. These will shoot either forward with you or to the left and right across the screen. They can also be destroyed by enemies.
Being one of the earlier NES games, the graphics are fairly simple, but they are very comparable to the arcade release. You’ll fly through four stages consisting of towns, wooded areas, piers, landing strips, and open water. One part of a stage looks like it takes place in a big parking lot. For whatever reason, the water looks like someone emptied a can of silly string in it. It’s a repeating pattern that is not at all hypnotic. Lots of objects are destructible here, that in other games of the era, would not be. Rooftop? BOOM. Oil tank on the roof of a building that makes a nice ‘thoomp’ sound as you shoot it? BOOM. Oddly enough, everything you destroy leaves the same little crater. If it moves, shoot it. If it doesn’t move, shoot it. Roofs of buildings, trailers, trucks, cars, anything. Shoot it. Interestingly, the Cantuns don’t have any helicopters of their own, and there’s only a few planes in their arsenal, that you are able to destroy before they fly away, presumably fleeing your destructive onslaught.
Your helicopter can maneuver in any direction at one speed. Slow. Slow like those Comcast turtles. Slow is actually a great adjective to describe this game. Some shooters pride themselves on how hard they are with the sheer numbers of enemies on screen, rapidly moving backgrounds, or unbeatable bosses. Tiger-Heli is the exact opposite of that. It’s more in line with other scrolling shooters like 1942. You won’t get swarmed with enemies, and some skillful flying will get you past many enemies. The bosses are not very difficult by themselves, they just take a few more shots to destroy. The musical score in Tiger-Heli more than makes up for the pace of the game. The theme, like the game, is never ending, provided you make it through the end of stage four. The game then begins again with increased difficulty. Every 80,000 points nets you an extra life, so it’s in your interest to shoot anything you can. Even a lowly railroad gate is worth 50 points.
I’ve always gravitated towards Tiger-Heli and other shooters like it. Most newer shooters focused on graphics or a dozen different weapons to shock and awe both you and the enemy. ‘Bullet Hell’ looks awesome, but it doesn’t always make a game. Tiger-Heli is an easy to play shooter that is point-based, without a lot of flash that’s proof of the fact that ‘Bullet Hell’ isn’t needed. It’s also two player alternating, which helps when you have a friend or family member that wants to tag along with you. It’s overshadowed by Twin Cobra and other later vertical shooters, but I think it’s worthy of a Fair Shake.