Video games have been around for a while and have grown to become one of the most lucrative industries in modern times. Nevertheless, it was during the ‘80s that the foundation was laid for gaming to thrive as it does now. That decade brought us some of the most brutal, unrelenting, and iconic classics from which games today derive inspiration. Today, we’re here to talk about Defender, a game that could be considered the precursor to the space shooters of the mid-‘80s and early ‘90s, and which features the popular alien-busting action that we’ve come to expect from games in this genre.
Developed by Eugene Jarvis & Larry Demar, and published by Williams in 1980, Defender was among the first space shooters to feature a game area “beyond the first screen”. In other words, the camera would scroll horizontally when you approach the edges of the screen to reveal a larger area than what was initially available. This was a rarity in those times which, coupled with the game’s expansive controls (in relation to other games) turned some gamers off from this cabinet as it gave the impression of being overly complex.
The objective in Defender is to pilot the eponymous spaceship through a landscape beset by alien hybrids and prevent them from abducting the last vestiges of humanity. Should you fail, the world will literally explode as the last humans merge with the aliens and become hostile mutants. If this happens, your doom is almost certain as you will need to survive the hellscape that this event has created. Once you reach the fifth round, though, all humanoids are restored and the world will be back to normal. You can move to the next round by eliminating all the enemies present.
This is, by far, one of the most complex games in terms of controls of the time. Most games featured a joystick, one or two buttons, and that’s it. However, Defender has a whopping four buttons along with its joystick which, coupled with its intense, fast-paced gameplay, make it an intense experience for gamers of all skill levels.
Let’s take a look at the controls:
- Joystick: The stick in this game is used to control the vertical movement of the spaceship. In contrast with other games, you can’t move horizontally by using the stick since you need to apply thrust.
- Thrust: Moves the ship in the direction it is currently facing.
- Reverse Thrust: Moves the ship in the opposite direction it is facing.
- Smart Bomb: Unleashes a bomb that wipes out every enemy in the current playable area. However, it doesn’t affect enemies that are off-screen.
- Fire: Fires a laser. You have unlimited ammunition in this game so you should always be firing regardless of the situation.
- Hyperspace: Enters a wormhole that teleports your ship to a random spot in the current stage. It’s great for escaping the more relentless enemies, but it may also land you in the middle of a group of foes. Use with caution.
Defender is basic in terms of enemies; its difficulty comes from being able to navigate through the unrelenting assault and movement patterns of a few enemies, rather than from being overwhelmed by wave after wave of foes. As such, there are only a handful of enemy types, which you can read about in the following table:
|Landers||From the start.||They will sometimes fire at you, but will always prefer hovering above humans to abduct them.||150 Points|
|Mutants||When a Lander successfully abducts and merges with a human.||They will aggressively chase the player and are among one of the toughest enemies in the game.||150 Points|
|Bombers||From the start.||They hover idly by, placing mines in the air. The mines can’t be destroyed by any means.||250 Points|
|Baiters||Near the end of every wave.||They aggressively chase the player and are meant to put pressure on him near the end of every wave.||200 Points|
|Motherships||One in the 2nd wave, three on the 3rd wave, and four on the 4th wave of each stage.||They float idly, but release several swarmers when killed. They are the most dangerous foes in the games because of this.||1000 Points|
|Swarmers||Five to seven spawn from the wreckage of a fallen mothership.||They always make a beeline towards the player. Their numbers make it difficult to avoid and shoot them.||150 Points|
Tips for Staying Alive
Like many arcade games of the ‘80s, there is seldom a goal other than to rack up points and set a high score, and Defender is not an exception. In this sense, if you want to get good at this game, you need to learn how to stay alive. To this end, you will need a lot of practice to get accustomed to the thrusters and with how each enemy type behaves. Nevertheless, there are several positive practices that you can apply to your sessions to improve your odds of success:
- Embrace “Defender Fingers”: A practice that consists of mastering the act of thrusting while shooting. In this sense, you can always protect yourself from enemies that come from straight ahead, reducing your odds of running into an errant bomber or mothership. This will keep you safe at that start. However, since enemies start to fire diagonally at you as the game goes on, you will need to adjust your strategy.
- Use the Scanner: As we mentioned above, the game stage in Defender spans more than a single screen, which was groundbreaking at the time. Because of this, you have a scanner on the top of the screen, which shows you a layout of the entire stage. In this screen, every object in the stage is represented by a dot, with the colors of the dot varying according to the object in question. You must learn to read the scanner at all times to learn what to expect when moving around the map. Some players can even play and set high scores only using the scanner—without ever looking at the game screen itself.
- Wait Until the Right Time to Shoot Landers: Landers are programmed to gravitate towards humans and try to kidnap them. It is imperative that you prevent this from happening as the game becomes very difficult if all humans are abducted. However, by shooting Landers as they are abducting a human, and then saving the falling human from plummeting to his death, you will maximize your score. Specifically, you will get the standard 150 points for shooting the kidnapping Lander, an extra 500 points for rescuing a human, and 500 more for returning them to the Earth.
- Never. Stop. Shooting: This one goes hand in hand with the first tip. Since you have unlimited ammo in this game, you can basically mash the fire button to keep a steady stream of lasers flying straight from your ship.
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