Review by Retro
"A classic shoot'em up rescue mission"
There's not many space shooters that are as classic as this game right here, Defender. Just like the title of the game, your job is to defend all the humanoids in a large city against the wrath of invading alien spacecraft from who knows where.
Defender isn't anything like the other classic space shooters such as Space Invaders, Galaga, Galaxian, or Asteroids. It's more complicated and you have to do more things, including constantly stay on the move. It's your duty to control an ancient looking spaceship that always hovers above the city below. You can glide east or west in your search for the enemy spacecrafts in which you must rid of as if they were a bad habit. Defender isn't a 3-D game; it's 2-D. As you travel either left or right into eternity, the screen scrolls along with you. The game is set in a sort of boxed-in area, but you can guide your ship up into the solid-looking barrier and down into the city that consists of several buildings with a few people scattered here and there.
There are a few different kinds of enemies in Defender that you must watch out for. There are some that look like big asterisks, many resemble square-shaped probes that always move in an upward fashion, and your biggest enemy of all are the ships that look a lot like Darth Vader heads (sorry, I don't have the instruction booklet to turn to for the actual enemy names).
All of these enemies have different ways of moving around and attacking. The asterisks split up into one or two pairs of eyes when you zap their original form. These asterisks can fire deadly bullets at your aircraft, and they usually move towards your ship and try to tag you to make you 'it'. Each level has one square-shaped probe that just moves from the bottom of the screen to the top all the time minding its own business while it leaves a couple of dots under itself in a consistant pattern.
Finally, the spaceships that resemble Darth Vader heads can shoot at you more aggressively than the two enemies I just mentioned. These Star Wars character wannabes usually just move around the screen in a slow pattern to the left or right, but like Darth Vader, they have a dark side to them. They can do something that makes them your worst enemy, and also the most fun nemesis. They can kidnap the people in the city that you're defending. That's right, I said kidnap. If you ever see one of these enemies moving straight down, then you know it's about to try and make the ever-so-small population of the city decrease by one.
When a human is stolen from the ground below, you will always hear a recognizable sound. Also, at all times during a game of Defender, there is a radar at the top-middle part of the screen that shows everything you need to keep a watch over. There are dots at the bottom of the radar representing the people, and all the dots that aren't staying still at the bottom of the radar, are your enemies. If any of the extraterrestrial ships ever steal any of the citizens, you will see a dot with a dot right under it on the radar.
When one of the alien spacecrafts steals one of your people, it will have the person, or dot, attached to the bottom of it. Once the kidnap is in session, the enemy spacecraft will move straight up with the person attached to it, until it reaches the top of the screen. If it gets to the top of the screen with the person, that human will be gone from your city forever. Also, that Darth Vader hat won't be Darth Vader anymore; it will change into a much faster and terrifyingly aggressive red mutant-like ship that will then turn all its sights toward playing bumper ships with your aircraft.
Luckily, since you are the cherished defender, you have a way to rescue the people even after they have been kidnapped. When you come up on one of the Darth Vaders who have a human being attached to them, just shoot the enemy and then move and touch the falling person that looks like a square dot before they hit the ground (the city). If you do it right, the person will be attached to the bottom of your ship. Then, just move down until your ship touches the city, which will produce a memorable sound that lets you know you just did a great job of rescuing a fellow human being. Now, if only there could be a way to get a much-needed raise for the pilot!
Other than rescuing the people, the object of Defender is to just shoot and destroy all of your technologically advanced enemies from the galaxies beyond. Once you shoot and destroy every foe in a level, a number that represents the level you just completed will appear onto the screen, and then it's off to the next level.
The levels in Defender don't change, but they do get much more difficult as your game progresses. As you get further and further, the enemies will become so fast that lightning might even become jealous of their flashy speed. Don't get me wrong though, Defender is not a game that's too hard to enjoy. Just as long as you use your radar and have good aim, you should do great.
If you get shot just once by any of your enemies or if you collide with any nemesis, you will lose a life. If the screen ever gets too hectic with so many enemies that you feel yourself drowning in claustrophobia, there is a sort of bomb item that you can use that will instantly destroy all of the enemies that are currently on the screen.
You can always keep track of how many lives you have left, how many bombs you have, and your score because they're all represented at the bottom of the screen. Of course, if you lose all of your lives, your game will be over. If all the people in a level get successfully kidnapped, the screen will flash like hyperactive lightning and then you will be transported to a land that has only a certain kind of enemy and that has no city. Now that is something that I call classic!
Defender is definitely one of the best games that were ever made for the Atari 2600. Whether you like space shooters or not, I recommend getting this game if you ever have the chance. It's a definite classic for the system.
GRAPHICS - Defender's graphics don't need anybody to defend them. For a video game made in 1981, the graphics are great to look at. Most of the enemies, especially the red mutants, are well drawn, and everything else such as the buildings and the radar, don't look spectacular, but they go great with the game, and if you ask me, they look very impressive. The game also has some great effects. The way the screen hectically flashes when the humanoids become extinct and the way your spaceship breaks apart into several tiny fragments are great!
SOUND - The sound is another thing about Defender that can take up for itself. There's not any music in the game, but a game like this doesn't need any. All the sound effects from when you rescue a person to when you lose a life, are all classic and very well done.
CONTROL - It's easy to control this game without any hassles whatsoever. All you have to do is move in the direction you want to move, and press the button on the joystick anytime you want to unleash your powerful laser or a bomb. Controls are responsive and completely free of flaws.
REPLAY VALUE - Other than Asteroids, I've probably played Defender more than any other space shooter that I own for any system. Defender can be played by one or two players (alternating turns), and there are twenty different games, or variations, to choose from in either one or two-player variety. The variations change the speed of which the enemies move and some levels can be played with only the red mutants.
OVERALL - I want so badly to give Defender a 10, but there are just a couple of flaws that keep it from getting that perfect score. For one thing, the game has the meaning of flicker down to an art. Every single time your ship fires its laser, it completely disappears from the screen for a second. This leads to a certain glitch. Shoot your shot at the right time, which makes your ship disappear for that second, and an enemy spacecraft could go right through your ship.
My other complaint is that upon shooting the asterisk-looking enemies, many times one of their smaller fragments will just 'jump' on top of your ship. These are just two very minor glitches that don't take much at all away from the enjoyment of the engaging gameplay. Everything else about Defender, whether it's the graphics, sound, gameplay, etc., has that nostalgic and classic feel to it that makes it one of the best games for the Atari 2600. So start defending those cities!
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 06/21/01, Updated 07/19/02
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