Across three lush landscapes Heli Rescue tasks you with using helicopters to airlift a remarkable number of stranded people to safety. There’s no real explanation for the sudden search-and-rescue upswing, but I did start humming zydeco and get nostalgic about my dear NOLA. Heli Rescue ups the line-drawing ante with three types of helicopter, each with different cargo capacity, speed and fuel consumption. The slow pace of the choppers is an integral part of the challenge. Like many a route-management game, the more sedate the pace, the more deliberate you have to be in your movements.
The line-drawing controls are simple, intuitive and flawless. Draw a line from aircraft to destination and the heli will follow, issuing an affirmative “ping” sound when connected to a group of people or a landing pad. Unlike other games of its ilk, the aircraft will not wander off if left undirected, instead hovering wherever their line ends. Fuel runs down whenever the choppers are moving or left airborne, and is tracked in a meter beneath each aircraft. The necessary refuelling is achieved by allowing them to linger on a landing pad, and one of the game’s neat elements is that it is possible to direct a helicopter over another that is currently landed, then tap to swap them for evacuation.
People in need of rescue cluster in groups of one to four, with radiating targets turning green, then orange, and finally red to indicate the urgency of their situation. Failing to rescue people in time is game over, and for the experienced line-drawing fan that untimely end may occur more often than collision. Unlike Flight Control and Harbor Master, Heli Rescue’s real challenge is in managing the flood of stranded and stationary people. The rare heli-on-heli crash does end the run, but is less of a concern than keeping fuel levels up while clearing the screen of imperiled folk. A helicopter’s capacity for passengers is indicated by little dots, which turn blue when filled and it is important to prioritize not only groups of people but which aircraft you send to their rescue.
A sliding scale in the upper left allows you to control the game’s sound effects. There is no soundtrack though you can play the music stored on your device, and this is one of those rare times I’d recommend it. After awhile, the hum of helicopter engines, yelps of the stranded and persistent beeps of low-fuel warnings can get kind of grating without a little accompaniment. The low-fuel beep starts at about one third of a tank, and minimizing the drone to a quarter tank or less would be better. Generally, you know you’re short on fuel by the glare of the red meter and are just trying to eek out that last run.
The three playable maps increase in difficulty, with only Waterfall Creek open at the outset. Tropicana Breeze is a bit more challenging with less centrally located landing pads, and Diver’s Delta is downright brutal featuring a concentration of three landing spots and far too many people in need of rescue. From the main map you can tap each of the stages and see the number of shifts you have worked, your best shift, and your average shift.
The lush levels are a really pleasant back drop for the mayhem, and create the impression that you are rescuing a bunch of lost vacationers that strayed off the marked trails of a tropical isle. The green circles surrounding newly imperiled people are camouflaged by the maps’ flora in what I surmise is an intentional design choice for additional challenge (more often than not it was only the fresh yelp that alerted me that new people had appeared). It quickly becomes easy to discern a three from a four person cluster, but I would not mind if the three-person group were a little more distinct. That’s me picking nits (and annoyed that I have to wear my reading glasses to play). I love the attention given to detail like the slowly drifting cloud cover that casts a haze over parts of the map (nothing brutal like Sea Captain, however), and the water lapping against the shoreline.
The game’s menus are incredibly stylish. Enlist Now allows you to begin the game and assign a profile, enabling multiple users on one device. Your scores are uploaded to global leaderboards, which track all time as well as weekly high scores. You can opt to not submit your scores online, but why you’d want to do that is beyond me. One great little feature of Heli Rescue is that anytime you select anything that could take you out of the game like Challenge or More Games, a polite warning pops up that allows you to confirm you’re ok with exiting the app before tossing you out in the browser cold.
The game’s developers have mentioned more maps and helicopters, though the addictive quality of Heli Rescue needs little embellishment. At a price of ninety-nine cents you more than get your dollar’s worth with the current content. The careful pacing, introduction of fuel and toying with the vehicle to cargo ratio places an emphasis on strategy that sets Heli Rescue apart from the crowd and earns this route-management game a spot in your app library.