Release Date: 1981
Players: 1 – 2
Genre: Shoot’em Up
Alternate Title: N/A
Model #: CX2609
Programmer: Bob Polaro
You are in control of the Universal Space Ship Defender and are tasked with protecting the planet from an invading space army. Years ago the Earth sent out friendship signals into the cosmos, and unfortunately for mankind the only things to receive the message are more interested in turning us into Mutants rather than being our friends.
The battle for the future of humanity takes place over the last remaining city. The alien Lander ships are systematically hunting down and capturing the five humans that are running through the city, while the bombers and the swarmers keep you busy in the sky. If the lander is able to capture a human they will alert you by screaming out. According to the manual it will sound like “the chatter of an excited chipmunk” (seriously, that’s how the manual describes it), at which point you will only have a matter of seconds to save them before they are taken to the mothership above and turned into a red flying mutant. If all five of the remaining humans are turned into mutants the city below is destroyed and you are left to face off against an army of mutants until the city can be rebuilt (which happens every five levels). This poses a problem for you since you can’t safely land in the city and detonate a smart bomb or get a reprieve from the action.
Thankfully your ship is well prepared for battle. You have an unlimited supply of lasers that stretch halfway across the screen, and if the action gets to be too much to handle you can land on the city below and detonate a smart bomb to clear the screen. Or if you need a quick escape you can jump into Hyperspace and move to a random point on the map. You also have a rudimentary radar system that gives you an idea of how many bad guys are left and where they are, as well as where the remaining humans are hiding.
Defender does suffer from a number of problems, most notably an incredible amount of flicker. There is simply too much going on for the game to properly process it, so ships and bullets constantly vanish. The game also starts out way too easy and ramps up the difficulty to an absurd level too quickly. By the seventh or eighth level the only way to kill a mutant or swarming alien is to either get lucky and catch it as soon as it gets on screen or to take it out with a smart bomb. If you miss or don’t have a smart bomb it will act like a heat seeking missile and destroy you since it can move twice as fast as you can.
Problems aside, Defender should still be played, if for no other reason than it is one of the defining games in the 2600 library.