Also available on PlayStation
Tiger-Heli is a Toaplan vertical shooter, so I went into this expecting a really solid shooter. I mean, these are the guys who made Truxton and Zero Wing, so they’ve got a reputation for quality. What I found was certainly not a bad game, but it definitely wasn’t the fantastic experience I’d been expecting.
In Tiger Heli, you control a helicopter as the title makes pretty obvious. You then go through four different stages (they loop endlessly once you finish the fourth stage) trying to rack up the highest score that you can. You don’t really get a lot of power-ups along the way, but you do have two cluster bombs that can be useful for taking out groups of enemies, and you can get two “mini helis” that fly beside you and shoot either in front of you, to the left of you, or to the right of you depending on which heli power-up you get. That’s it, though; there are no power-ups to your actual weapon. That in itself was a bit of a surprise for me as most shooters let you collect power-ups to improve your weapon. Not a deal-breaker, though.
What did catch me much more off-guard, though, was how slow the game is. The helicopter moves slowly, your enemies move slowly, and even the enemy’s bullets feel like they move slowly although that may be psychological due to how relatively few are on-screen at once. This definitely isn’t a bullet hell shooter, and while it seems like that should make it easier, it actually ended up making it harder for me. With bullet hell games, there’s usually a pretty precise rhythm or pattern of the enemy shots, and once you get that figured out, weaving between them isn’t as hard as it seems. When there aren’t that many shots on-screen at once, though, it’s like my brain overcompensates and freaks out as if it’s trying to compensate for shots it can’t see. The result is that I actually end up dying a lot more often on shooters like this than I do in actual bullet hell shooters, at least until my brain has enough time to process what’s actually on the screen and not what it thinks should be on the screen.
Tiger Heli is a pretty early NES game, and it shows both visually and with performance. It’s got some slow down and a lot of sprite flicker, but it also just generally doesn’t look that good. It doesn’t look bad, per se, but seeing in later games what the NES was capable of and see those games not only look better but also run better, it’s hard not to be a little underwhelmed with Tiger Heli. It’s definitely not one of Toaplan’s more technically impressive works. All in all, Tiger Heli isn’t a truly bad game, and it’s definitely worth at least checking out for fans of vertical shooters, but it’s not one of Toaplan’s better works, it’s not one of the NES’s better games, and it’s not one of the 8-bit era’s better shooters.