Defender... One of the hardest classic arcade games ever made, what more is there to say about it? Well.. despite not being the first side scrolling shooter ever, it was the game which popularized the genre. Seriously this was the go-to game back in the 80's, which makes sense since it was Williams best selling arcade machine, they sold over fifty five thousand of these suckers. It's also one of the highest grossing arcade games ever, and for one simple reason, it's addictive. And when you combine addiction with difficulty you get a LOT of quarters. An average game of Defender lasts anywhere from ten seconds to a minute, perhaps even less for an inexperienced player, but the arcade machine had one, in my opinion, major flaw, and that's the controls. You see, this game doesn't use a joystick for fluid 360 degree movement, it uses a joystick to move up and down, and buttons for shoot, smart bomb, reverse (basically left and right), and hyperspace, the controls are not intuitive and are confusing for new players, thankfully this game was ported to everything. A basic search on Mobygames nets you 189 results, this game was everywhere, and probably on everything. Today though we're going to be doing a comparison between the two Atari 2600 ports of the game, Defender and Defender II/Stargate. I know the outcome seems fairly obvious but I'm gonna do this anyway.
Which game looks the best? I think that both of these games look pretty good for 2600, each have their own different style, Defender looks like an interpretation of the arcade, while Defender II looks like a straight up port. Now consider me surprised when I saw that the model number was CX2609, which if I'm not mistaken makes this game a fairly early release, I know the model numbers aren't the greatest indicator of release date, or even development order but that's still very early. Enough rambling, how does the game look? In a word... Good, it's a rather chunky interpretation of the game, but the enemies are fairly varied, and well defined to boot, your ship is fairly hi-res and the shots just look cool. The background is very different from the arcade, it looks more like buildings than mountains, but I kinda like that, it feels more like your defending a city, and protecting it's inhabitants, not flying around some hills protecting stranded astronauts. Sadly though Defender does have a graphical detraction, the people are flashing white dot's and they're kinda hard to see since they blend in with the background, and more importantly they aren't people, except in your imagination. Alright so I like Defender's graphics, how does Defender II compare? Well they're smooth I gotta hand it to the programmers, they did a really good job copying the graphical style. It definitely looks better than Defender, the enemies
look nicer, the background is the rolling hills of the arcade, and the people actually look like people. But this is a strange case where I think the graphics might look too good (I never thought I'd say that for an Atari game), I play Atari for the quirkiness of the games, the weird limitations of the console has brought around some amazing innovations, I don't feel anything by looking at this game, while I'll admit it's a remarkable achievement, to get actual arcade, or at least NES, quality graphics out of the 2600, I don't know, it just doesn't sit right with me. I can feel the blood sweat and tears from the '81 version, but the '84 version gives me nothing. I don't really expect you to understand where I'm coming from, but Defender II feels Triple A versus Defender's Indie, and I like 2600 for the Indie. But I'm gonna give it to Defender for feeling like an Atari game. (wow that got rambly)
Sounds? These games have 'em, but who's are better? Both of these games have a similar list of sounds, and to be honest most of them sound pretty much the same. The few sounds that are different though, sound way better in Defender II, especially the start sound, and the firing sound. In Defender the shooting sound effect sounds more like a splat than a bang, I can't help but chuckle to myself whenever I think about an interstellar pie fight. Again Defender II's sounds are a bit smoother, and just a bit better despite being fairly comparable to Defender. So I'm gonna give this round to the Sequel.
So... gameplay, the tiebreaker... which game shall rise victorious? The father, or the son? Which game shall conquer and rule the... Defender II, yeah Defender II gets this one... I may not like the graphics for... weird reasons, but the gameplay is excellent. I'm gonna use that word again... Smooth, this game plays smooth, especially when compared to Defender. Defender has one thing that it's sequel doesn't have but I'll get to that in a bit. In Defender you move around like a fly on crack, everywhere all the time, same thing goes for the enemies, Defender II is a bit slower and a bit more composed, it feels like I'm actually in control. Defender II is also harder than the '81 version since your shots aren't as wide, you tend to miss things more, which leads to some hairy and rather exiting situations. The original has you flying in one direction forever spamming the fire button, and since the enemies are dumber than bricks they just line up and let you demolish them. The '81 version also has a weird programming bug, whenever you fire your ship dissappears, and you gain a brief moment of invincibility, this is how you
play this game, flying to the right and spamming shoot, then you win, you can just fly through enemies as long as your shooting, and if you have something like a PointMaster Fire Control, or other turbo attachment, you win. So despite both of these games being very fun to play, I'll have to recommend Defender II simply because it's programmed better than it's predecessor. Don't get me wrong though Defender is still very fun to play, especially with a Pintmaster.
Even though Defender II won this, I'm still going to recommend you buy Defender before you buy the sequel, simply because it's cheaper. I'm rather tempted to put Defender II in the Collector's Zone due to the higher prices, but I won't since I feel the price IS worth it. You can usually find a copy of Defender out in the wild for less than five bucks, in fact I got my copy for a dollar. It's rare to find Defender II or Stargate in the wild and if you do, you liable to pay over fifteen dollars for a decent copy, Ebay is a minefield for this game in particular, and don't even bother trying to find a boxed copy, unless you want to buy from Venezuela.