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Defender Review

Developer: Atari Publisher: Atari
Release Date: September 2, 1981 Also On: None

Amid the large quantity of space shooters in the early days of arcade and console gaming, there are a few games that stand out. Near the top of that list is an arcade game called Defender. Beloved by its fans, Defender was one of the deepest shooter games in existence when it came out in arcades, and so it was only a matter of time before Atari would try to capitalize on its popularity by making a version of it for the Atari 2600.

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In the Atari 2600 version of the game, the concept is simple (I think the concept may be somewhat different in the arcade version). You are in a ship flying through an arena trying to kill everything. Your ship does this by firing large lasers at its targets. Unlike many shooters at this time, you could fire whenever you wanted, but each laser would disappear if you fired another. Enemies would fire at you also, and you would die if you ran into either them or the bullets they shot. The enemy waves become systematically more relentless until you are killed and lose.

Aesthetically, Defender is pretty good considering it was released in 1981. Your ship is white. Enemies can be white, green, purple, or other colors. The background is a simple black. The bottom part of the screen that tracks your score has an orange background. This was a lot of color for this point in time. This game does have one graphical fault, however. Your ship disappears from view every time it fires. Unless you are one who mashes the fire button a lot (which won’t help you in this game anyway), it won’t be that big of a deal though. You’ve got your standard set of Atari 2600 shooter sound effects, but that isn’t a bad thing at all.

This game also boasts something else that most Atari 2600 games don’t have: a scrolling screen. That may not sound like a big deal, but it is for an Atari 2600 game when you consider the fact that most of them take place on screens that never move. Even the NES had many games in its early days that didn’t have scrolling screens. Add to that the fact that this game’s screen can scroll both left and right (something Super Mario Bros. couldn’t even accomplish on a more powerful system four years later), and you’ve got a very impressive feature to be found in this game. This feature comes at the cost that if you’re trying to systematically move in one direction and then have to backtrack a little, your ship turns around and will fire in the opposite direction until you turn around again.

Make no mistake about it. This game isn’t arcade perfect by a long shot. But the Atari 2600 game, even if it isn’t the exact same game, still does the name that it was given proud. This game can be replayed to increase one’s score, although, of course, the Atari 2600 doesn’t save high scores. Still, the game is worth replaying for the Atari gamer just because it’s so much fun. I heavily recommend finding this game if you are a fan of the Atari 2600 and don’t have it yet.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 10
Creativity: 8
Replay Value/Game Length: 8
Final: 8.3
Written by Martin Review Guide