Tiger Heli (NES)

tiger heli splash

I vaguely recalled an extract from one of the most irrelevant entries in one of my many littered diaries, dating February 1991. It goes like this – “Tiger Heli. Reached quite far this time. Remembered koko [sic] (actually sounds better as “Gor gor” or “哥哥” in Chinese, with reference to my brother) game over near barracks.” The rest of the same entry probably contained text that I’d deem too embarrassing to be replicated here for your wicked amusement.

That diary entry was one of the earliest chronicles on our video game achievements, pathetic or pointless as it may seem at this age. For us, even at an early age, winning mattered. Just like all other kids of our age, we absolutely detested the word “Game Over” even if we’ve tried our best.

We got this game soon after we managed to convince our mom to get us an NES clone in late 1990 in the old Jaya Jusco building for a mere RM20.00. It didn’t come bundled with other game ROMs in those famous multi-game carts, so we were basically stuck with this one game until the people who call the shots at home relent and got us another game to play with. It was also a pretty difficult game, hence the game records would serve as a yardstick of how far we had progressed in the game, at a time when game save states are about more than ten years away. I don’t remember where the ‘barracks’ are at this point of time, but I think that a kid won’t have any problems remembering silly parts of a game.

Nonetheless, shooters such as this game would always find a place in our home. For one – it does invoke the arcade feel quite well and the other thing is – the chopper was quite cool at that time.

tiger heli launch

The bird’s eye view of this game is probably nothing new in the age of shooters, though the scroll rate is pretty slow. The landscapes are pretty good for a 1986 game, I must say, though it was rendered in the usual Toaplan palette style. Some houses dot the terrain, with an odd jeep or two here and there. All in all, the game’s graphics are pretty serviceable on the NES console. 

From the start, you could watch your Heli being launched from a truck which seemed a strange way to deploy aircraft if you ask me, especially as the later stages seemed to be able to afford a dedicated heliport at your disposal even when surrounded by vicious foes.

To kickstart in earnest, here’s a secret that I’ve gleaned off the internet –

Don’t shoot down anything until you reach the railway lines. Must. Resist. Shooting. Down. Anything. You. See.

trick 1

See that ‘carriage’ at the bottom right corner? If you’ve refrained from pulling the trigger thus far, just shoot that thing and bag yourself a cool 10,000 points. You’d have to maneuver and evade enemy ordnance for quite a fair bit to reach that frame but it sure beats destroying enemy tanks for paltry returns. If you work your way to 20,000, you’d get an extra life. After that, you’d need to grin to 100,000 points to get another extra life (meaning that you’d need another 80,000 points). 

It’d be a boring game if you were to just fly over enemies and pound the shit out of them, more so with missiles that barely have much range (about half the game screen from your flying position) and bombs that don’t really serve much use in such a tight environment. There are some interesting touches though –

tiger heli bombs

One cool aspect of bombs, though, is that they can be considered a countermeasure of sorts. You see, if you get hit directly on the sides of the Heli (with an armed bomb still in place), that stuff would just blow up, leaving your Heli intact. It’s not entirely fool-proof but it works well. Because the damage spreads over a wide area, it does seem to be an effective weapon at reducing the threat within the immediate vicinity.

Also keep an eye out for these random option pods –

tiger heli options 

It’s pretty simple really – shoot a grey cross and you’ll expect to receive a forward-firing side heli. A red cross earns you a side-firing one whereas a green cross would result in a ‘B’ icon floating arbitrarily around the screen. Claiming it would earn you an extra bomb. If you already have a full complement, shooting whatever option would award you points instead.

Your capable wingmen also go down in one hit, so there’s always the chance to replenish it with another of your liking if you so choose. A minor point is that the firing rate of your sidekicks corresponds with your main unit, so you could unleash concentrated firepower on massed enemies if encountered. But strategy doesn’t seem to enjoy a place within the game – it’s mostly a case of shooting enemies as and when sighted.

I don’t find the forward-firing units having the upper edge of its horizontal-shooting counterparts and you’d find both of these add-ons pretty useful in some of the fiercest firefights. Personally, I’d opt for two side-firing components since you’d rarely encounter heavily-armoured vehicles in the game which calls for some heavy artillery upfront. 

tiger heli with sides

One important element missing from the game is the ubiquitous boss fight at the end of each level. Instead, you’d just land on a friendly helipad and have a minor assessment of your performance of that particular level.

performance evaluation tiger heli base

In fact, after you’ve completed Level 4, you’d be treated to familiar surroundings again – Level 2. Yes, this is the age-old trick used by some NES developers to ensure a longer shelf life of some of their products – the levels get recycled. You’d still get points as usual plus the extra life etc. but you won’t see the big boss at the end. Which is kind of an anti-climax if you ask me. The reason for hoarding the best possible setup is for your main unit to kick some big badass at the end, but no.

Overall, this is a decent shooter – if you really have spare time to burn. Otherwise, the other Toaplan aircraft shooter, Sky Shark is a better option. 


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