Defender 2000

Jeff Minter is well known for his work on the Jaguar - indeed Tempest 2000 is widely regarded as the system's best game. Whether or not you agree with that is down to individual taste, but there is no denying Llamasoft's space shooter is a fantastic experience and still holds up today. What many people probably don't know however, is that Minter programmed another title for the Jag that is perhaps a little less well known: Defender 2000. As soon as you fire up the Defender cart, it's unmistakable as a Llamasoft game and even though there's no mention of the company name, the psychedelic swirling colour schemes, rotating bovine heads and spaced-out techno music are all recognisable hallmarks of the self-styled Yak's work.

As with Tempest 2000, Defender 2000 is a sort of homage to an earlier game. And just as with Tempest, you get several games on the cartridge - the original arcade version of Defender, a slight redux in Defender Plus, and the main event of this collection - Defender 2000. There's also a rather interesting bonus game in the form of Plasma Pong, which is meant to be an unlockable only accessible once you've beaten Defender 2000...but my cart came with it already unlocked so kudos to the previous owner who did the hard work for me. As the name suggests, Plasma Pong is basically the original Pong but with a nice vomit-inducing background of kaleidoscope colours and some updated bleeps and bloops. It's a fun aside and a nice bonus for completing the main game. Which is what we're really here to look at, so without further ado...

The premise of the Defender games is pretty simple - miners are working on the surface of an alien planet and it's up to you to keep them safe. I guess that's why it's called Defender then. You pilot a heavily armed spacecraft around, zapping alien nasties by travelling left and right across the alien landscape at terrific speed, all the while trying to keep the humans safe but also dodging alien attacks and utilising the map at the top of the screen to locate enemy units. The original Defender hit the arcades in 1981 and was a massive success for Williams, and playing this faithfully-recreated arcade port gives a clear indication as to why - the game is super-fast and hard as nails, but ultimately very enjoyable and a real test of skill: all ingredients that combine to make a great arcade experience. This Jaguar version is a recreation of the 1981 original and is every bit as playable today in 2014 as it probably was in 1981. I say 'probably,' because I was but a twinkle in my old man's eye in 1981, having being foisted onto an unsuspecting world the following year. I can only apologise.

The second iteration of Defender included on this cart is Defender Plus - essentially the same game as the original but with a few added graphical effects and a newly drawn spaceship for you to control. It's every bit as enjoyable as the first game but has the added bonus of psychedelic colours sequencing across the landscape and some nice sprite work for the aliens.

The final piece of the Defender 2000 package, funnily enough, is Defender 2000 - the updated and 'modernised' take on the original. I have to be honest here - I'm not a huge fan of the main event, and much prefer the other two games in this collection and the simple reason is that in Defender 2000 it is too easy to lose lives and see the 'Game Over' screen. This isn't because the game is just plain hard and I'm rubbish (both true, by the way), it's because the ship you pilot is far too large for the environment - dodging enemies and their projectiles is a nightmare because rather than piloting a sleek little fighter, you're now in control of what might as well be a Transit van with lasers bolted on. Defender 2000 does introduce some new features, such as the way the game now scrolls vertically as well as horizontally, and the re-drawn graphics and background images are pretty nice...but the mismatched size of the ship is a real problem here. If it had been of a similar size to the one in the original game, dodging projectiles and waving between aliens would have been a breeze. As it is, this one thing stops Defender 2000 being up there with the other iterations the cart. It's not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, and the music and graphics are great (there is liberal use of the Jaguar's blitter in all three titles too), as is the inertia-based physics engine of the space just doesn't feel as nice to play.

That said, as an overall package Defender 2000 is great. You essentially get three games on one cart (four if you count Plasma Pong too) and while one of them is just 'OK,' two of them are outstanding arcade classics. As a side note, there is another Jaguar title in the same vein as Defender called Protector, which was an unfinished game that was completed by Songbird Productions in the early 2000s. I've not played it personally (although I've seen footage of it being played) I'm reliably informed that it is superior to Defender 2000. Might be worth checking that out too if you're into your retro space-shooters.

1 comment:

  1. I like Defender 2000 a LOT! Too bad we'll never see Defender 3000 someday...