Review by Steve Jacobs



Graphics: 9

Sound: 10

Gameplay: 10

Overall: 10

Defender, for me, perfectly fulfills one important requirement for a satisfying videogame - evoking that feeling of 'just one more time!'. That is to say, no matter how many times I play the game, I'm always left with the feeling that if I had just one more chance, I could do better.

In Defender you must pilot a ship across the surface of a planet scrolling underneath you, under assault from assorted alien attackers. Humans roam the surface, and you are their only hope against the alien hordes.

YOU (aka The Good Guy):
When Defender first appeared, most people were initially turned off by it's intimidating control panel. No previous videogame had ever imposed so many necessary controls. Well, Defender uses all of the controls wonderfully.

Your ship is extremely fast, extremely maneuverable, and extremely well-equipped. You can travel vertically, as quickly as you can slam a paddle up or down the screen in Pong, by manipulating a 2-way joystick up and down. Thrust is applied, sensibly enough, by pressing the Thrust button. Acceleration is very quick, and if you aren't careful or well-practiced you'll lose control quickly and crash into an alien or enemy fire, losing one of your ships. Your ship is always facing left or right. If you need to reverse directions, you simply hit the Reverse button. The game maintains your inertia as you flip around to face the other way, having your ship instantly flip around, but continue traveling, now backwards, in the same direction you were going originally, until you apply thrust to overcome the backwards momentum. If you get in a tight spot and are facing certain death, you can resort to the Hyperspace button. Hyperspace will instantly transport you to some other spot over the planet's surface, taking you away from the immediate danger, but possibly putting you somewhere else deadly. Hyperspace may destroy your ship if used, so it's only recommended if you've got nothing to lose.

Now, it's been said the best defense is a good offense, so fortunately your ship is equipped with a couple of outstanding weapons. Your main cannon sends a laser beam from the nose of your ship to the edge of the screen. When fired, the laser emits a distinctive sound that is instantly memorable even 20 years later. The sound is ominous, high-tech, and just plain cool. The laser will destroy instantly anything in it's path, including the humans you are meant to protect, upon contact, so you can't simply blast everything in front of you. You are also provided a limited supply of Smart Bombs. When detonated, a Smart Bomb will instantly destroy every alien craft visible on the screen.

At the beginning of the game, you are provided with 3 ships, and 3 smart bombs. Every 10,000 points you are awarded an additional ship and bomb.

The humans are directly threatened by the aliens called Landers. Landers are relatively easy to kill, but there are many of them, and their agenda is to abduct humans from the surface. When a human is abducted, the Lander makes a beeline for the top of the screen. Once there, the Lander and human are merged into a Mutant. Mutants travel in extremely hyperactive, erratic patterns, making it hard to track and kill them. When a Lander grabs a human, a distinctive noise is made, alerting you to the emergency. You may then fly toward the ascending Lander and try to rescue the human. To do this, you must shoot the Lander before it reaches the top of the screen. You need to be careful to NOT shoot the human. If you manage to kill the Lander, the human will begin falling to the ground. You then need to catch the human and return him safely to the ground. If the Lander was still near the ground when shot, the human may land safely unassisted. In most cases, however, if you don't catch the human he will die upon impact.

There are also slow moving Bombers. Bombers are pretty easy to kill, but as they glide across the screen they leave small mines scattered behind them.

Also getting in the way are Pods, jewel-like ships that hold several Swarmers within. Swarmers are small, quick ships that attack your ship in groups, clustering around you and causing you to run into them, killing you.

Lastly, if you don't dispatch all of the bad guys on a level efficiently enough, Baiters will show up. Baiters are flying-saucer looking ships, that move very fast, make very sharp and abrupt turns, and try to ram you. Baiters are not only hard to keep up with, but as they are very flat it's hard to shoot them.

As the game begins there are 10 humans on the planet surface. The humans may be killed by your laser, from falls, or be turned into Mutants. When the last human dies, the planet explodes and you are sent into space, confronted with a huge increase in the number of aliens you must fight off. Every 5th level the number of humans is restored to 10.

At any point in time, you only see a small part of the action. The game takes place over the whole planet, but the screen only shows maybe a tenth of the planet's surface. You are aided by a radar display at the top-center of the screen. This radar displays the surface topography, your ship's position, and every enemy ship. Most skilled players will focus primarily on the radar while playing, relegating the main screen to a secondary tool.

OK, that's the rules of the game. Now, what makes it so special?

Defender has a lot to rave about.

It is a FAST, FAST, FAST game. Your ship moves so fast it's easy to lose control and kill yourself due to bad piloting. Many of the enemy ships move fast. Your weapons fire is fast. Once things get going, if you aren't in a trance, playing instinctively, you'll die. There's no time to think about what you're doing. The sounds are perfect. This game has the best sound effects I've ever experienced. Even the sound triggered by inserting the quarter into the coin box is one-of-a-kind and memorable. Each enemy makes a different, and recognizable sound. The Bombers make a 'thud' when shot. As Swarmers burst out of an exploding Pod there is a high-pitched squealing noise the Swarmers make. Your ship's laser cannon. The sound of a human being abducted. Usually followed by the sound of a Mutant coming into existence. The Baiters. The game is filled with action, and most actions have a unique sound. Defender uses sound wonderfully to enhance the frenetic, chaotic action.

Defender has wonderful, sharp and vivid graphics. The game has a black background (outer-space), and everything on-screen is drawn in brilliant, bright colors. Explosions fill the screen with shards of debris radiating out from the source of the explosion, stars twinkle, and the various enemies are all easily distinguished. Occasionally, when the screen is filled with objects some slow-down occurs, but it doesn't usually affect play. Detonating a smart bomb on a screen filled with bad guys generates a beautiful display of debris shards everywhere. There are little details like the humans walking across the ground, or the volcano erupting.

Unique gameplay mechanics. A necessary technique is to travel forward past an enemy, and then hit reverse and strafe laser fire down the screen as you glide backward, nailing the enemy you just passed. You may rescue a human, and then not deposit him back on the ground, preventing Landers from re-abducting him. There's just a lot going on here, and you need to concentrate on many different things simultaneously, all while navigating at high speed through very busy, obstacle-filled areas. Defender introduced the most complex control panel ever seen, and an all-time greats high score table that remembered entries even after the machine was unplugged.

Once you get proficient with the controls, this game will put you in the zone. It is deservedly a classic game, one of the all-time greats.


Go to Digital Press HQ
Return to Digital Press Home

Last updated: Saturday, February 14, 2004 06:01 AM