Retro Game of the Day! Defender
Defender by Williams Electronics, though to be proper we'll just say Defender by Eugene Jarvis - a 1980 arcade release that ported to several consoles.
Alright so - has a video game ever made you want to cry before? If not, play this one - Jarvis' games often have that effect on people. Often a little simplistic in the visuals, the games more than make up for it with their jarring complexity and absolute insistence that the operator be under some severe amount of mind-altering drugs in order to withstand a couple of waves of enemy assault in his games. His games are difficult.
Defender is an interesting little contest - it marked a lot of firsts when it appeared on the gaming scene. Mini-radar to show a multiple screen playfield, multiple button controller, and it probably must have set some sort of record for amount of sprites on-screen trying to kill you. The game throws a lot at you and expects you to understand from he get-go - otherwise, you're toast.
The play works out thusly - you are protecting humans from being nabbed by flying saucers. Blast away at the invaders, and if the quarry has been picked up, grab them before they fall to their doom. You have at your command a powerful straight laser, likewise a (limited-supply) super bomb which will wipe out all enemies in the immediate vicinity. Additionally, you've got a thrust button (in the arcade) and a hyperspace "escape" to get you out of trouble (or, into more of it, if you are not lucky). The horizontal playfield loops around, so you can just keep continuously flying over the entire field again and again if you so desire.
The arcade machine is a BEAST. Even now, on the rare happenstance that I come across one, I cringe - it's got too many buttons, it's so hard to play. The designers of this were not men - they were monsters!! The NES version is a little more approachable, and definitely enjoyable - though it can't help but feel neutered next to it's arcade big brother with that imposing control scheme.
Speaking of neutered, the Atari 2600 version pulls back on so many of the game features that it almost feels like it'd be not much more than a shadow of its subject matter - but the designer did a good job in working around the limitations (ONE action button!) and conserves the spirit, and fun factor, appropriately.
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