There's something appealing about being a helicopter rescue pilot: it's one of those aspirations we have when we're children of what we'd like to grow up to be. Sitting at home pretending to be one via Digital Leisure's latest WiiWare instalment certainly doesn't sound the full realisation of such childhood pipedreams, but Copter Crisis does have the potential to provide enjoyment: controlling helicopters with the motion-sensing Wii Remote sounds like fun, providing it's pulled off correctly. Did it manage to soar into the heavens or was it another crash landing from Digital Leisure? Find out...
There's not much to the premise of Copter Crisis: you're a helicopter pilot who has to rescue people, pick up passengers, collect items and drop off cargo, while all the time being inexplicably required to fly through rings, ammo, health, fuel and upgrades mid-air; smash bull’s-eye targets; and destroy AA Turrets and cavern walls with lots and lots of missiles (sod the structural integrity of the caves!) If all this action weren't enough, you also seem to read lots of jabber about falafel and couscous (go figure). You're tasked with flying your 'copter through linear caves or caverns, avoiding taking too much damage (your helicopter can survive about five landslides/collisions/missiles, naturally), keeping your fuel topped up and completing the mission objectives. Underpinning this is a far from inspiring story that tries too hard to be funny with on-screen dialogue that the player will most likely not care about and elect to ignore. Really, if you're looking for an engaging story, you've come to the wrong place. (In all honesty, we didn't even understand what was going on half the time: the scientists were annoying, then they stole from themselves, we think, and retaliated against themselves under the guise of someone else, then they decided to blame the Black Canyon rescue group for some unknown reason and, uh, we just gave up!)
Looking like something from that infamous 32-bit station of play, Copter Pilot certainly won't have you salivating at its lush visuals. Do not expect to fly over wide, open plains and beautiful scenic spectacles: you're limited here to canyons and caves that are brimming with dull and bland visuals, with lots of repetition, with lots of repetition. It is also a bit of a problem that pretty much every mission looks like the one before (and after); the only real changes in the scenery are the placing of obstacles and power-ups - mission after mission you just get the feeling that you're repeating the same old thing with very little variety to spice it up. Furthermore, with only two (well, three, if we count the last mission of Act III) bland and repetitive background tracks playing over and over, the feeling of déjà-vu becomes so overwhelming you almost feel the urge to check you've not somehow skipped back a few levels. In an attempt to appeal to the completionists, each mission you finish will be graded on how well you met the additional criteria that's not vital to mission success (the time in which you completed it and how many points rings you flew through), but with each mission feeling like the last one, there's little chance you'd actually want to go back to improve its score.
If there was one factor that would be the true making or breaking of this game, though, it would neither be the story or the visuals; it would be the controls. We've seen many a time before developers try and squeeze out every drop of functionality from the Wii Remote and end up with a game that simply overreaches. In that respect, we can be glad Digital Leisure tried to keep things simple here (however, please note the operative word 'tried'). You hold the Remote in a vertical position and tilt it to fly up, down, left and right - all pretty simple, really. Unfortunately, the movements of the helicopter are rather erratic - you really do zoom all around the place - and the camera angle doesn't help when it tightens and takes your 'copter off the course it was flying on. The only other functions on the Remote you'll use (asides from the power button) are to accelerate the 'copter to breakneck speeds and to launch missiles on their straight trajectory (if you have any at hand). The trouble is that there's nothing amazing about the controls of the game - in fact, there's more frustration to be had with them, so playing the game with the standard Remote becomes quite unappealing after a relatively short while.
What's interesting to see is that Digital Leisure included use of the Balance Board in Copter Crisis. In many respects, the inclusion of this feature becomes the game's one saving grace. You see, while the Balance Board controls make it impossible to play and complete the three Acts (leaning the way you want the helicopter to fly is a rather hard-to-master science, which means you'll crash a lot and miss the mark with alarming frequency), it does provide something that can't be found when playing with just the Remote: enjoyment. Sure, the mission levels are mostly impossible to do with the board, but when it comes to the bonus levels (time trials and endurance missions for the most) you can actually use the fact that it's hard to control the 'copter to inject some much needed challenge into this relatively straightforward title.
Probably the most infuriating aspect of Copter Crisis (and the part worthy of its own paragraph!) is the use of 'Pay and Play' to download additional helicopters. If you want to play with a 'copter other than the solitary one you're allowed access to after spending your 500 points, you'll have to fork out 100 points each. Getting all ten additional helicopters will set you back 1,500 points, including the purchase of the game itself. Really, it's not worth it.
Copter Crisis is another example of a good concept for WiiWare that has been poorly executed. With bland visuals, repetitive gameplay and an absurd Pay and Play pricing plan, there's little that speaks in this title's favour. However, for all its faults, there is some fun to be had if you hook a Balance Board up to your Wii and try to master the taxing controls. Maybe it is slightly ironic that the jarring difficulty of the Balance Board becomes the main factor enticing you back for more, but it does provide entertainment... just not enough to offset the overall poor production quality of the title. Give this one a shot if you've a Balance Board and 500 points to waste: you might find some fun trying to beat some of the bonus missions on it, but otherwise be warned that this lives up to Digital Leisure's past WiiWare legacy.