Mr. Heli No Daibouken - Irem - 1989

Mr. Heli No Daibouken
Irem - PC-Engine - 1989

Reviewed by Alex Vormbrock (A.K.A. Herr Schatten)

In 1987, Irem's development teams must have been overflowing with creativity. Not only did the company release their be-all-end-all sidescroller R-Type, they also brought a very unusual shmup starring a cute little fat orange helicopter to the arcades. Mr. Heli No Daibouken was known as 'Battle Chopper' in arcades outside of Japan, but the ports for westerners' home computers were simply called 'Mr. Heli'. Confusing as all this constant renaming might be, I actually like the short form of the original Japanese title, so I will refer to both the game and its protagonist simply as 'Mr.Heli' for the rest of this review. In 1989, Irem themselves ported the game for the PC-Engine.

Mr. Heli, the hero you control in this game, is a little orange helicopter with legs. He can fly freely, but he can also walk around on the ground. The whole action is shown from a side perspective. Mr. Heli is equipped with three different weapons, each of which can be upgraded twice. Button II of your PCE-joypad fires the front gun, a bolt of blue energy, which can be upgraded to a double-shot and to a powerful (and very cool-looking) five-way cannon subsequently. Button I fires a missile straight up into the air. If powered up it is replaced by three or five homing missiles. However, if Mr. Heli doesn't fly but walk on the ground instead, button I drops bombs which explode after a short while.

There's a lot of unusual things that make this game stand out from the rest. First of all, there's the level design. Each of the six levels (except for the last one) consists of two sublevels. The first part is always different. In the first half of each level you're treated with beautifully varied backgrounds. The screen scrolls both horizontally and vertically, but always in one direction at a time. Surprisingly, auto-scrolling scenes take turns with others in which the screen only scrolls if you move in the direction you're supposed to go (similar to In The Hunt). This sounds confusing, but isn't. It is a good advice to proceed slowly in the spots where you decide how fast you want to go. However, there's no chance to rest, as enemies keep pouring onscreen plus there's a time limit you have to keep in mind. At the end of the first half of a level, there's a mid-sized mid-boss which is usually not too hard to beat. After killing it, Mr. Heli enters the enemy's base.

The base, being the second part of each level, looks just the same in every stage. It's always composed of yellow walls, has only two different types of enemies and starts out in complete darkness. You first have to find and destroy the gate that leads out of the first room in order to switch on the lights. This start of the every base sublevel strikes me as strangely pointless. However, the bases are always pretty tricky. There's no auto-scrolling and you need a lot of strategy to cope with the enemies. At the end of each base sublevel, you enter the boss room. The bosses vary greatly in size and behavior and they're a delight to battle. Of course you need very different strategies to take each of'em down.

Each level is stuffed to the rim with little secrets and puzzles. Want an example? Alright, here we go: In level two, there's a volcano whose eruptions get in the way. With the right timing, you can easily pass, but there's a better way to get past this bit. Just shoot at the ceiling above the volcano. Eventually, a part of the ceiling will collapse and the debris will clog up our fiery friend, thus making it completely safe to pass above it.

Extras and weapon upgrades must be bought in this game. Throughout the levels, there are lots of destructible blocks behind which blue crystals and displays are hidden. If you collect enough crystals, the displays showing certain pieces of extra-hardware light up and you can buy the desired items. In addition to the weapon upgrades, there are also various other extras such as shields or fuel cans. But beware, if you lose a life, you lose all upgrades and all the money you have collected and it can be a pain to power up again.

Thankfully, you don't lose a life each time you're hit. You have a little life-meter that goes down if you take damage, but it can be filled up again by buying fuel. How fast your life meter goes down is determined by the mode in which you're playing the game. If you chose arcade mode rather than normal mode, your energy is drained much faster. The only way to instantly lose a life is getting crushed by a boss, a volcanic eruption or moving walls and stuff like that. You can also be crushed by the scenery in the auto-scrolling bits of the game. Otherwise, you can touch the scenery without taking any damage.

The controls are superb. They are quick and responsive. Mr. Heli always does exactly what you want him to. He's influenced by gravity, though. If you let go of the d-pad for longer than a second, he will slowly sink down to the ground. However, this is implemented so excellently that it adds a nice touch to the game without harming the game play.

The graphics are average like in most of the early PCE games. This is not a game you play to impress your friends (or yourself) with eye-candy. And for all those of you who have picked slowdown-spotting as their new hobby: The game is not free of slowdown, but it's so minimal that you won't notice. The style of the graphics is a bit odd. It's not very serious, but the game's not a cute'em up either. There's some minor cuteness in it, but no bulgy eyes or grinning clouds or stuff like that. I'd rather call the style of the artwork 'semi-cute'. The sound is mediocre. There's some memorable tunes, but technically we have heard better music and sfx in many other PCE games.

But who cares about graphics and sound anyway? Mr. Heli is an absolutely unique masterpiece which doesn't get the attention it deserves. I am surprised that Irem never produced a sequel. And I'm even more surprised that no-one ever tried to make a rip-off of it. Sure, you can tell that games like Blood Money and Alien World drew a bit of inspiration from Mr. Heli, but still there's no other game like it. How many games are there of which you can say 'I know of no other game that is similar' anyway?

I always enjoy a game of Mr. Heli whenever I'm played out on other shmups. It feels like a fresh breeze every time. Unlike the horrible home computer ports, the PCE version of this game deserves very well 9 out of ten points and I highly recommend it to everyone. They don't make'em like that anymore.


One good look>>

Alex: This is how the second half of each level looks like. You have to proceed very carefully in order to avoid these enemies that, unlike you, can move through walls using big drillers.

Shaper: I really thought that this setup for stage 2 would get tired after one or 2 levels, surprisingly it did not.


<< Mid-Boss Mania

Level one looks similar to the first levels of most platformers. Rocks and blocks in cheerful colours are everywhere. Depicted here is the mid-boss of the first stage. He's easy to beat. I can't remember ever having lost against him.



Shield >>

This is the midboss of level two. It's a bit more dangerous than its predecessor in level one, but still it poses no real threat. The blue circle of electricity surrounding Mr. Heli is the shield extra. It's very useful. Buy it every time you have some spare money..


<< Realize that it was only 1/2 over

Alex: The first real boss encounter. Its huge yellow bullets are easy to avoid. Fire some missiles at it and it will be destroyed in no time.

Shaper: It was at this point that I realized that the levels were not absent of labels, but there were actually mini-bosses! Rock!




Insecticide >>

Level three starts out as some sort of ruined city. The whole place is infested with ugly huge insect monsters, two of which you can see here.


<< Mother Brain!

Alex: For unknown reasons, the ugly boss of level two is the toughest opponent in all the game. Even the very last boss is easier to kill. This huge brain thing bounces around the room and tries to crush you.

The easiest way to defeat it is to sit on the ground in the lower right corner. You must be one step away from the right wall, facing left. If positioned correctly, the boss thing will bounce between the floor and the wall without being able to hit you. Keep bombing like mad and the explosions of your bombs will take care of the boss thing's bullets and eventually kill the thing itself.

Shaper: Kudos, this boss is hard. Ridiculously hard.

Run!!! >>

Alex: The mid-boss of level three is a tricky one to beat. It moves really fast and it comes after you, so you can't actually avoid it. You'll have to run away from it as soon as it appears onscreen and drop a couple of bombs. The bombs will explode the very moment the mid-boss comes into their reach and instantly kill it.

Shaper: This Mini Boss is kind of tricky for one reason, You have to shoot the blocks directly under from where he falls to activate him. Tricky.


<< Creepy Crawlies

Near the end of the level the walls start to look quite a bit organic. These caterpillar monsters are everywhere.



Difficulty Ramp, going up >>

Alex: I level four the game suddenly goes medieval. It starts with this scene which reminds me of several clock tower levels in various Castlevania games.

Shaper: This is the point where I think the difficulty ramps up a good deal. Be cautions and move slowly.


<< Jump ... jump

The boss of level three is easy when you know how to handle him. During my first few encounters I tried to hover above him and I found it really difficult to avoid the enemies he spits out. To beat him, you have to stay near the bottom of the screen. This causes him to jump. Then pass underneath him and fire some missiles up into his stomach.

Going Down >>

Graphic-wise, level five is a bit like level one revisited. Of course it's a lot harder and there's plenty of new enemies around. The floating platform shown here shoots loads of missiles at you, making it really hard to maneuver at times.


<< Get Medieval

This is the end boss of level four. He's actually pretty easy. I always had more problems with the level itself.



Volcanic Spider >>

Alex: The boss of level five is not really on the easy side. The mutant spider creates these walls of fire that are often a pain to dodge. Strangely, I made the experience that the spider is easier to beat when you've lost all your powerups, because you can shoot your single missiles much more precisely and at a higher frequency than your homing ones.

Shaper: Herr lies, this guy was easy, seriously. ;p


<< More Mid-Bosses

And this is the mid-boss of the level. Like most of it's predecessors he's quite easy to take down, even if your life meter is running as low as Shapermc's here.



The End? >>

The usual second half of each level is missing from the last one. Instead, you fly out of the base and find yourself above a starlit desert. You get the opportunity to power up properly, then it's time for the final fight. The big end-of-game-baddie looks evil, but he's not overly hard and with a bit of experience you can kill him easily. Then lean back and enjoy a wonderful Engrish ending message.


<< Shoot and Chase

Level six. This is what I call the Gradius base. Everything here reminds me of the final level of the first Gradius game. This level is much tougher than all of the others. The only way to survive is to proceed _very_ slowly and take out the enemies, turrets and missile launchers one after another. The time limit isn't too tight, so there's no need to hurry.

Alex: All screenshots taken by Shapermc. Thanks a lot for that.

Shaper: No problem. I would like to take a moment to state a few opinions of my own about this game. I mainly went into it with no expectation aside from that a forum member said it needed a sequel. It at first seemed exceedingly difficult -- mind you that I was attempting to take screenshots with an emulator and a keyboard -- and I was getting really frustrated with the level 2 boss.

But after I stopped day one of screenshots I took it from a fresh perspective on day 2. It is quite a magnificent game. A true gem that if you have not played you should seek out. Herr is not quite honest enough about the graphics. Yes, there are better, but these are still great graphics for the time. I was shocked when the credits rolled and it said Irem 1989.

None the less I am in full agreed with Herr that this is a 9/10 game. There is a second loop and a steep difficultly level with Arcade, but none the less it is still very single credit-able. Great game and a lot of fun. Thanks for the introduction to it Herr.


shmups!   © 1997 - 2007  Malcolm Laurie