It seems that Flappy Bird clones are like buses… originally the Vita seemed to have been spared them for several months and then, in the space of just a couple of weeks, three of them came along to grace the PSN store by way of PlayStation Mobile. Hot on the heels of Trolly Bird and Jump Girl comes the latest variant on the format by Carrot Creations in the shape of Helicopter…
Well, that was my initial thought on loading Helicopter anyway but infact it’s much older than that… Helicopter is a PlayStation Mobile version of an old browser based game of the same name written in 2000 by David McCandless (who is mentioned in the credits which leads me to believe that this PSM version has been endorsed) which Flappy Bird and its countless clones have clearly taken their inspiration from. For those of you who haven’t seen it (and I’ll be honest and say that I was one of them), unlike the clones having a central character being some form of bird or any other creature, as the title suggests you are in control of a helicopter. That’s not the only difference though…
There are two main differences in the game and both centre around the core gameplay. First, rather than repeatedly tapping on the touch screen to flap your bird’s wings as with most of the clones on the market, Helicopter is controlled using the action buttons / d-pad and you use X to control the helicopter’s rotors. Rather than tapping though, you control the ‘copter by holding the button down to control flight. As you hold the button down, your ‘copter rises while in flight and once you let go it rapidly plummets to the ground so you need to carefully judge the height you need to fly at at all times.
The other difference is the barriers you negotiate themselves. As with all of the clones, these appear at random, but this time they appear in front of you not as gaps but as barriers you have to fly around. To add further complications, the size of each varies so you don’t know from one to the next if you have a large or small barrier to fly around. That sounds simple enough if it weren’t for one final twist… Helicopter pays homage the arcade classic Scramble. Helicopter takes place in an ever changing randomly-generated cavern meaning that you’re face with having to contend with not only navigating past the barriers but avoiding colliding with the floor and roof of the cave as well… and as you progress further, the cave starts to get smaller and smaller making the game increasingly tougher!
If you haven’t played the original, having played several of the clones this really does make a refreshing change to what is potentially set to be an over-saturated genre on the PS Vita. It’s only a matter of time before we see more Flappy Bird clones appear on PlayStation Mobile but unless they manage to offer someting new and original or are as polished as Trolly Bird, they’re going to fall at the first hurdle and I applaud Carrot Creations for going back to the game’s roots and – for the most part managing to pull it off successfully. In fact, the game’s author, Philip Morby has gone as far as he could to recreate the look and feel of the original as closely as he could including the scoring system. Instead of rewarding the player with a single point for each barrier passed as we’re now used to with the modern interpretations, Helicopter scores players continually based on distance travelled so at least every player will be able get semi-decent scores this time!
The game is tough though. As well as the hazzards you have to face, gravity is certainly not going to be your friend here. Birds and people may drop from the sky quickly without help but helicopters fall even faster and there are times when maybe it’s a bit too unforgiving here. If your concentration lapses for even a fraction of a second or you take your finger off X for a moment you’ll find yourself crashing and burning before you know it and it can be frustrating dying long before you expect to. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun game and I enjoyed playing it, but there were times when I felt that I was more frustrated than I should have been and in part that was due to excessive gravity than anything else.
The weakest area of this – and this seems to be something consistent for games from Philip Morby – is the area of graphics and sound. I understand that many of the smaller PSM developers have to cope with handling all of the graphics and sound themselves and this can make development something of a difficult task, but here they are functional and nothing else. Sound is limited to a couple of basic sound effects with no music (and no option to use any of the Vita’s other apps in the background) and the graphics… apart from a reasonably well drawn helicopter, the monochrome graphics are extremely primitive and hark back to the beginnings of the 8-bit era and do nothing to impress. I do appreciate that the intention was to recreate the browser-based original here but perhaps a visual makeover could have been considered as well as improvements to the sound?
The menus themselves don’t fare better with basic text and options and they do hamper the flow of gameplay at times. At the end of each game (and some can only last a few seconds) rather than being able to just re-start, your score is displayed and then you have to return to the main menu before you can play again. There doesn’t seem to be any point to this approach and it does slow the game down somewhat. With casual games of this nature all you want to do is to be able to start playing again straight away but hopefully this will be sorted in a future update.
It has to be said that this isn’t as polished as the more recent outings and I think that’s more down to the programmer rather than being rushed to get to market. It’s a fun game but the visuals and the game restart system let it down. At the price it’s still worth getting if you’re still after another fix of this genre to play alongside Trolly Bird as there’s no denying that it’s a fun and challenging game, but for me, Trolly Bird still stands as being the definitive game in this genre for the Vita.
At A Glance
- Title: Helicopter
- Publisher: Carrot Creations
- System: PlayStation Mobile
- Format: PSN Download
- Cross Buy: No
- Online Multiplayer: No
- Local Multiplayer: No
- Memory Card Space Needed: 10Mb