Another day, another overthrown terrorist regime.
To Beat: Finish Level 4
To Complete: Beat three loops
What I Did: Beat two loops
Played: 10/19/17 – 10/20/17
My Difficulty: 4/10
Video: Tiger-Heli Longplay
I have seen so many copies of Tiger-Heli in my life. It seems like every time I have seen someone’s NES collection, there is Tiger-Heli. Okay, maybe in a more curated collection you won’t see it, but as far as random NES games go it might as well be ubiquitous. I really wonder why there are so many copies of this game around. It’s not a flashy title, and not one that everyone has fond memories of. Maybe I am seeing the same set of copies passed around all the time. I will get to the bottom of it and see how Tiger-Heli plays on the NES. Then maybe these answers and more will be revealed!
Tiger-Heli was first released in arcades in 1985. The game was developed by Toaplan and published by Taito. In December 1986, the game was ported to Famicom. This port was developed by Micronics and published by Pony Canyon. The NES version came in September 1987 and was published in North America by Acclaim Entertainment. The NES box and manual also point to Taito, though they were not involved with the NES version. The European version of Tiger-Heli was delayed until early 1990. A spiritual sequel, Twin Cobra, was released in the arcades in 1987 and on the NES in 1990, and Twin Cobra II is its direct sequel that came out in arcades in 1996. That same year, both Tiger-Heli and Twin Cobra were released on a single disk for Playstation in Japan only named Toaplan Shooting Battle 1.
Tiger-Heli is a vertical scrolling shooter where you take control of an advanced “jetcopter” of the same name. This game has a typical shooter plot of one man attempting to defeat a terrorist regime. This time it is the fictitious country of Cantun with designs of taking over the world. The Tiger-Heli was specifically constructed as the ultimate stealth helicopter and is the only attack vessel that can sneak in to Cantun and destroy everything. The game takes place over four levels and if you can survive that long you have beaten Tiger-Heli.
The controls are simple. Use the D-pad to move Tiger-Heli in all eight directions. The B button fires missiles which are your standard unlimited weapon. Each shot is four tiny missiles wide and they only travel about half the height of the screen, but you can fire several shots at one time. The A button drops bombs which deal splash damage to a large area below Tiger-Heli. You can only hold two bombs at once and you can see them flanked on either side of your helicopter. If an enemy bullet hits a bomb, it will deploy automatically. This acts as a shield and it is typically worth the cost of a lost bomb. On screen, you see your score at the top, your remaining lives on the lower-left, and the number of bonus blocks you have destroyed on the lower-right. You begin the game with two extra lives and both bombs.
There are crosses on the ground that give you powerups when destroyed. They cycle between three different colors and the color determines what you get. Destroying either a red or gray cross generates a support helicopter at the top of the screen that drifts down slowly. Pick this up and now you have a small helicopter on your left that gives you extra firepower. The red support copter shoots to the side and the gray one fires straight ahead. You can collect a second one that flies to your right for triple firepower, and you can have both a red and a gray one at the same time. Support copters can be destroyed by enemy bullets, so you have to manage having a much larger hitbox to maintain full power. The green crosses generate a B powerup that restores a bomb when it’s collected. Acquiring another support helicopter or bomb when you are maxed out gives you bonus points.
There are also red bonus blocks in the stages. These are red diamonds that fade in and out and you can shoot them when they are visible. They give you points and add to the counter at the bottom. After you destroy ten bonus blocks you get an extra life. You also earn extra lives by reaching score milestones. You get your first extra life by reaching 20,000 points, and then you earn another life for every additional 80,000 points after that.
Enemies in the game are turrets, tanks, and boats. Turrets don’t move, tanks may or may not move, and boats always move. What they all have in common is their firing capability. Each enemy shoots at a steady pace and can only fire in eight directions. There is also a large tank that takes many bullets to destroy, and you get points for each shot landed so you can really rack up the score. There are many types of non-violent structures that you can blow up for points just because, such as cars, buildings, train cars, etc.
There are four levels in Tiger-Heli, and each one ends by landing automatically on a helipad. Here you are awarded 5000 bonus points for each support helicopter and bomb you have. At the start of the next stage, you get your bombs replenished. You also get your bombs back after you take a death. Sadly, there is no ending to the game and you may keep looping over the game until you lose all your lives. Just like with Sky Shark, loops begin at Stage 2.
This was my first time trying to beat Tiger-Heli. I was one of those weird kids that did not own a copy of the game until adulthood. I had friends who owned the game and I did get to play it some, but it wasn’t a game that we played very much. I was familiar with the first stage or so, but that’s all.
I had some free time after lunch one day and decided to try out Tiger-Heli just to see what I was up against. Turns out that wasn’t much, for I beat all four levels on my first try. I don’t think Tiger-Heli is exactly an easy game, but I picked up on it quickly. The next day I played a practice run, and then right after that I recorded my video. On the practice run I reached the beginning of the third loop, but I didn’t quite make it that far on video. The first loop is not that bad, but the difficulty picks up fast the second time around. The enemy’s rate of fire is much faster and therefore it is harder to avoid bullets and line up a shot. The little bit I played of the third loop was even faster. I suspect the third loop is the difficulty cap and if you can complete that you have mastered Tiger-Heli. I could have pushed myself to beat that third loop, but I’m satisfied with completing two loops and moving on to the next game on my enormous list.
The basic strategy for Tiger-Heli takes advantage of the enemies’ poor aiming capabilities. Enemies fire toward you but only in eight directions, so the idea is to sit inside the areas where they are unable to hurt you. Once they fire and miss, you then have a brief window to line up and destroy them. I found the red support helicopters quite useful because they fire sideways and then you can approach the bad guys from either the sides or below. The quicker you can take out enemies, the easier time you have dodging other attacks.
Here’s a fun little side note. As I mentioned earlier, Toaplan created the “Tiger” trilogy of Tiger-Heli, Twin Cobra, and Twin Cobra II, and the first two games received NES ports. I discovered this while I was writing up my review on Sky Shark a little while ago. One of my quirks of this project is that I switched games around on the master list so that sequels always come after I have played the previous installments. In this case, I had no idea Tiger-Heli and Twin Cobra were related at all. I normally avoid looking at the full list as much as possible, but here I had to see where both games landed on the list and swap them if necessary. Of course, Twin Cobra originally slotted here at Game #62 instead, so I had to switch them. I ended up with a free peek just a few slots ahead by coincidence. I also know now where Twin Cobra will appear on my list. I won’t spoil when that will be, but let’s just say it will be a very long time before I get around to it.
Micronics has a reputation for creating poor ports of NES games, but I think Tiger-Heli is one of their better ones. Now it’s not a great game, but it plays just fine. The gameplay seems to resemble the arcade version close enough. The graphics are a step down from the arcade version, but are passable on the NES. The music is neither notable nor annoying. Gameplay is on the slower side, but there are no performance issues like slowdown. There is a massive amount of flickering whenever there’s a lot going on, but they seemed to work around it about as well as they could without some of the more advanced techniques programmed into later NES games. I may sound a little down on Tiger-Heli, but the fact is that it is a simple game that is competent on the one hand and unexciting on the other. According to Steve Kent’s book The Ultimate History of Video Games, Tiger-Heli on NES sold over a million copies. That’s astounding to me. It also answers why I’ve seen the game so frequently. Today, it’s nothing more than a filler NES title, but you could do much worse than playing Tiger-Heli. Besides, you probably already own it!