|Source // Martoon.org|
Like many recent entries on this list (too many, personally), my first experience with Defender was one of utter failure to get running. Thankfully though, YouTube saves the day with an upload from Old Classic Retro Gaming. A solid 42 minutes of gameplay, no less, so that should get me started (insert joke about the state of video game reviews here).
Shoot aliens, save astronauts, it's that simple. But it's not. Of course it's not. Above the screen sits a minimap with a white highlight in its center. That's you, and there are the enemies, and that's the floor... but why are is that highlight in the middle? Why would I need to know what's behind me as much as what's in front of me?
Yes, you can fly right to left as well as left to right in Defender. Alright, we aren't talking Earth-shattering technology here, but some game had to show this thing off, why not a game where you're skimming across the surface of a planet in your spacecraft, firing projectiles made of every colour of the rainbow, illuminating the screen like nothing else you've seen before?
Unless you're playing the Atari 2600 port.
Don't play the Atari 2600 port.
While it doesn't look like much, the visuals that Defender uses for those weapons and explosions do make for an entertaining time. Coupled with the distorted 'pew-pew-pew' that we all know and love, it's no wonder why it eventually went on to become such a popular game - you can have a fair amount of fun flying to and fro, saving the helpless and blowing shit up.
It's not quite the same if you do so in Defender II, but I can at least use it as an example of how that abomination above can be improved upon, even if still falling short of its arcade roots.
|Perhaps ironically, I've chosen three screenshots in which the ships all fly left to right.|
We've seen it before and we'll see it again. Defender is like Space Invaders, it's like Galaxian, and so on, but at the end of the day, it is Defender, it stands alone. It does what it does well and that's all we really want from a game - the ability to have fun regardless of what we're seeing or doing, because whatever it is that game ask us to do is crafted or coded with care and attention.
It looks great, the sound might get to you after a while, and persistence, patience and practice will get you the best results.
Many employees playing Defender during its development couldn't progress past the third level, and wondered if a score of 60,000 would ever be beaten. High scores of 33 million were achieved thanks to bugs, dedicated players, and the foresight to add repeating levels in case players actually were better than programmers.
Defender, developed by Williams Electronics, first released in 1981.
Versions played: Atari 2600, 1981, via emulation.
Defender II, Atari 2600, 1985, via emulation.