Strongly evoking memories of 80s arcade classic Choplifter, which saw players controlling a helicopter rescuing POWs from various side-scrolling warzones – and which had a number of outstanding computer and console ports too – Dustoff Heli Rescue II is a game that should be immediately accessible and entertaining.
The visuals are bright, clean, pleasingly colourful and reminiscent of Minecraft’s blocky – yet appealing – voxel characters and landscapes. Gameplay sees you undertaking a variety of tasks, from the aforementioned rescuing of prisoners of war to the delivery of supplies or destruction of a convoy. Various helicopters are available and some models are definitely best suited for specific types of mission. The onscreen radar does a good job of marking out enemies, allies and mission waypoints. There are even hidden dog tags to find in each self-contained, 2.5D warzone.
All good so far, then? You’d think so, but there are some spanners unfortunately thrown into the works. The helicopters all feel rather awkward to control – and just turning around feels a lot more difficult to do than it should be. Even landing can feel overly punishing at first, though this is definitely a skill that can be acquired. Your guns fire automatically at the closest hostile target in range, which is useful given that you spend most of your time wrestling with the controls, but it does feel as if this is something you should be given control over. The difficulty level is all over the place too; there’s little consistency in the challenge between stages. The menus seem a little awkward to get through, for some reason, with some odd design choices that are ill-suited to the console control scheme – and are, perhaps, a result of the game being ported from mobile. What’s even more frustrating about this is that touchscreen controls aren’t supported at all – with this option left out, the design choices are particularly baffling.
Despite these issues, there’s a reasonable enough game here. If you can get past the control issues, of course, there’s also a lot of content to work through. There’s quite a bit of replay value in getting the maximum three stars for level completion time, along with each level’s hidden dog tags, which are often easy to spot but difficult to actually get to, thanks to the deliberately devious placement of enemies. There’s a charm to the game that isn’t uncommon in the Switch’s indie library, which houses a number of low budget gems – some of which I’ve previously covered in other reviews.
In the early stages, it can be addictive and compelling – but it doesn’t take long for Dustoff Heli Rescue II to become awkward and frustrating, with issues that definitely do feel like they should have been ironed out. Those looking for an arcade-style heli rescue experience may be deterred by the awkward control scheme and difficulty spikes, but if you do stick with it there are still some elements to enjoy here.
It’s just a shame that these issues exist at all; with a little more work to make Dustoff a less obvious mobile game port, it could – and should – have been so much better. As it is, we have a somewhat unique indie game that does at least have little competition, even on Nintendo’s bustling, somewhat overstuffed eShop storefront.
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Available on: Nintendo Switch, PC, Mobile
Developer: Invictus Games Ltd.
Publisher: Invictus Games Ltd.