11 March 2009










After last month's epic investigation into Bubble Bobble, RG's poor exhausted professor of posterity Stuart Campbell needed something a little simpler to deliver a definitive documentary dissertation on. But just so he didn't get off too easily, we made him play the hardest videogame series of all.


In business, the worst thing you can do is get something right first time. (Look at the GBA and the DS, for example. How many of you bought the same console twice, after Nintendo brought out a new version months later with all the features that should have been there in the first place?) Hit the nail right on the head with your debut release and you've got nowhere left to go when it's time to maximise the projected revenue streams from your brand franchise ("release a sequel", for those of you who aren't some marketing tosser in desperate need of being killed). All truly great games are delicately balanced, and can easily collapse under the weight of gratuitous extra features thrown in purely for the sake of adding something new to justify selling you the game again.

Defender is one such game. One of the most terrifyingly, instantly hard coin-ops ever created, it has dauntingly complex controls, an unusually large playing area which needs to be constantly monitored, and savage, merciless enemies who you'll need every ounce of skill and firepower at your disposal to stay on top of.  Even the few players who have mastered the game live on a constant knife-edge, where a moment's lapse in concentration can lead to catastrophe - a planet explosion early in Defender's five-wave "life cycle" will wreak carnage in the most diligently-amassed collection of ships and Smart Bombs.

So perhaps more than any other gaming legend, Defender is a title that's never been improved on by any of its sequels. (If you make it harder you render it utterly impossible to 99.8% of players, and if you make it easier then your core audience won't be interested. And not only is it conceptually incredibly difficult to follow up Defender, the game's physics and design are so finely tuned that the basic mechanics of it will be wrecked too if you let anyone even slightly cack-handed near it.) And if you're not convinced by that assertion, join us now as we Hyperspace through history to prove it.


DEFENDER (arcade)

Despite the design still being tweaked until almost literally minutes before the first player put a coin in the slot, Defender was a huge hit from the word go, its unprecedented difficulty like a gauntlet slapped across the face of complacent arcadegoers used to the gentler challenges of Galaxian or Phoenix.

It was also widely and swiftly (and generally very competently) ported to home platforms, from primitive machines like the Atari VCS (see RG27's interview with author Bob Polaro), Apple 2 and VIC-20 up to more capable hardware like the Colecovision and C64. The few systems that didn't get official ports saw excellent clones like the Spectrum's Starblitz and Acornsoft's legendary Planetoid for the BBC Micro. (There was also an even better unreleased version of the latter, called "Super Defender", which surfaced a while ago on the excellent Stairway To Hell website.)

PLAY IT NOW ON: There are lots of good ports for various formats, most recently the bargain-priced Midway Arcade Treasures collection for PS2, Xbox and PC, but you still can't beat MAME's configurable controls for getting as close to the coin-op experience as human(oid)ly possible.




That's very impressive, but he's behind you, you idiot.




(2,720 words), BECOME A WoS SUBSCRIBER


Comments? WoS Forum