Airwolf Video Game

by Mark Nobes, chief editor

The Airwolf video game was, supposedly, based on the TV series of the same name, and was a helicopter shooting game set in a huge cave. Now, while the TV series was essential viewing for many of us back in the 80s, the computer game was less well-received by most. In fact, it was probably the first computer game to introduce me to the experience of swearing repeatedly at my TV screen!
The main plot of the game revolves around rescuing five scientists who are prisoners at an underground base underneath the Arizona desert. Your aim is to destroy the defence control boxes to make it through to the scientists.
AIrwolf by Elite Cassette (1984) ZX Spectrum
I cannot remember the Airwolf helicopter ever flying through caverns on the TV show, so I'm not sure why this theme was chosen for the game. Indeed, helicopters are not built to fly through caves!

Trying to navigate your high speed military helicopter through tight caverns would be difficult at the best of times, but the awful control system in the game made it a very frustrating experience. Add to this, trying to avoid falling spherical objects, enemy cannon fire and lasers in a tight cave (while at the same time firing at brick walls to create a way through), and you had a multi-tasking nightmare and one hell of a difficult game on your hands. In fact, it was a brutal game, and you needed a ridiculous amount of precision to complete it.

The BBC version was particularly bad, with ghastly colours and far too much gravity on the helicopter. Whilst the C64 version's graphics were probably the best of the bunch, it's control system wasn't a lot better.

So the main problem here is that the helicopter doesn't hover, and having to constantly battle with gravity becomes tiresome. The gameplay is just dull and uninspiring, too, and endlessly firing at walls and boxes is pretty yawn-inducing, to say the least! 
The first release of Airwolf was by Elite Systems for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum in 1984, and this was quickly followed by the Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, BBC Model B and Atari 8 bit versions. The NES version was released by Acclaim in 1988, and the arcade version was developed by Kyugo and released in 1987.
Personally, I found the best part of the game to be the actual music, which does, at least, sound like the theme tune to the TV series.

AMstrad CPC Version

The layout of the Amstrad CPC version was very different to that of the BBC Micro and C64 versions. It was still set in caverns, but they were even more tight to navigate, making the game incredibly fiddly, and the collision detection was dire. As with other versions of the game, much of the gameplay simply involves shooting walls and boxes. The vomit-inducing purple background and orange bricks was the final straw!
Airwolf - Amstrad CPC 464 version

Amstrad CPC 464 screenshot

Atari 8-bit Version (Blue THunder)

Although still released by Elite with the same Airwolf branding on the cassette inlay card, the Atari 8 bit version was totally different than the other home computer versions, and was actually a straight port of Blue Thunder from the C64. This left Atari owners feeling rather aggrieved and ripped off, and the graphics were pretty simple. With all the colours available on the machine, choosing just blue and a yucky green was pretty lame, and no effort was made to utilise the machine's advanced graphical capabilities.

ZX Spectrum Version

The ZX spectrum version is the most playable of the 8 bit versions, and also looks okay(ish) graphically, but it was still only a pretty average game at best. Again, the main problem is the frustration and anger at losing your life all too easily. Now, for whatever reason Crash magazine gave the game a 90% rating, which went against the grain. 
Airwolf - ZX Spectrum screenshot

ZX Spectrum screenshot

Airwolf - Commodore 64 Screenshot

Commodore 64 screenshot