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Defender - The Atari Times


Not as Bad as Rumored!
by Ethan C. Nobles

September 2, 2002
I've never figured out -- exactly -- why Defender is hated so much by 2600 fans. Sure, it's not exactly like the Williams arcade game that inspired it, it flickers like a crazy and is a bit too easy, but I've never thought of it as a bad arcade port at all. So, it's true -- I like Defender, and I don't care who knows it.

Now, arcade ports have always been rather hit or miss for Atari. After all, Atari's Pac-Man was shameful, Parker Brothers' Reactor was absolutely miserable and Coleco's Zaxxon was one of the worst games made for the 2600. On the other hand, there are some truly outstanding arcade ports for the beloved 2600. After all, what Atari fan can argue that titles like Frogger, Ms. Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Missile Command were fantastic titles for the system?

When we're looking at great titles for the system, why not include Stargate? That was the sequel to Defender, and has received praise while it's poor, older brother has been the object of hatred. While I enjoy Stargate as much as the next 2600 fan, Defender has some merits that I believe have been overlooked over the years.

In a nutshell, I believe 1982's Defender isn't half bad, given the complexity of the game. While Stargate beat the crud out of the title in terms of graphics and control (using the second joystick to activate hyperspace and smart bombs was an inspired move), I'd argue that Defender is very playable and preserves the elements that made the arcade game so much fun.

Defender, of course, is a side-scrolling shooter in which the player tries to protect humans from aliens wanting to turn them into mutants. The aliens, true to form, or sneaky, nasty, and dedicated to picking up hapless humans from the surface of the Earth and transforming them into no-good mutants bent on destroying mankind. And, to make matters worse, the aliens shoot at the ship out to defend the humans. The defender is charged with blasting aliens before they get close to humans. If an alien picks up a human, the player can blast the creepy off-worlder and carry his comrade to safety. If a human is transformed, then he becomes a mutant out to attack the player. If all humans turn into mutants, then the planet is lost and the player must fight wave after wave of aliens and their converted lackeys.

The 2600 version, then, preserves all the elements of the arcade game. Are there some problems with the conversion? Heck, yes! Like I mentioned, the screen flicker is enough to drive one nuts (the player's ship disappears every time it fires a shot) and the game is much easier than the arcade version. Also, the arcade allows players to fire smart bombs or enter hyperspace at the push of a button. In the 2600 version, the player must be at the extreme bottom of the screen to shoot a smart bomb (which eliminates all enemies on the screen) or at the very top to enter hyperspace and elude aliens.

All in all, however, this isn't a bad translation of an arcade classic. While I wouldn't swap it for my copy of Stargate, I do enjoy firing up this classic from time to time and protecting mankind from aliens up to no good. It sure as heck "feels" similar to the Defender arcade game, and that's good enough for me. This hated title has received a few knocks too many, I think.


(c) Atari

This game was even sold in music stores when it was originally released!
There really are more on the screen than this! The flicker makes it hard to grab accurate screenshots!
I always wondered why the ship disappeared when you fired... It made a great defensive tool however.
Your job: Rescue the flickering blocks called humanoids!
System: 2600
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Shooter
Graphics Score: 70%
Sound & Music Score: 70%
Gameplay Score: 85%
Control Score: 85%

Final Score: 80%

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