Defender is the latest in a number of remakes for Midway. While other platforms are getting an updated 3D game (Xbox, for example), iobox has focused on bringing the original game, in all of its coin-op arcade glory, to the Pocket PC. Like most iobox ports, the arcade conversion is first-rate. It features modern amenities like customizable controls, varying levels of difficulty and concise instructions on the title’s premise. The sound and graphics are both authentic, taking advantage of the Midway license. With the exception of tweaks found only in arcade emulators, this is as close to the original Defender as you can get without splurging for a classic machine.
There continues to be interest in reviving old franchises. Is Defender a worthy franchise to resurrect from the grave? It’s got entertainment and to date, its options even best a few made for Pocket PC shooters that have come out recently. The objective in Defender is actually to enact defense rather than obliterate everything in sight. A cursory glance at your ship and the style of play, might suggest the latter is a good tactic. But actually, Defender places you on an alien planet where alien ships are bent on towing your fellow comrades into custody. As the lone defender, you must shoot down these ships and ensure the astronaut comes to a safe landing (by performing tricky maneuvers like catching him/her mid-air). Clearly, this is not your regular ‘shoot-em-up’.
Back when it was released in 1980, that was the same thing critics and gamers said about Defender. However, its special features, like a smart bomb that destroys everything on screen, are not so revolutionary anymore. Witness the gargantuan mess that arcade shooters, where the play has smart bomb galore, have come to with Capcom’s Giga Wing 2. Defender comes off as more thoughtful and interesting; an intelligent person’s arcade shooter.
There are concepts and things that must be preserved in our realm of entertainment, much like there are camera shots, technological processes and elements of artistic design that must be preserved in film. I’ve seen quite a few outer space-oriented titles ported, like Defender, to newer platforms. But they all share the same disregard for the platform itself. The immense black spaces in Defender make it hard to see, especially on displays with poor backlight or under direct sunlight. Defender is also demanding, in precision of controls, especially in the later levels, which is often not within reach of a mobile gamer on the go.
Still, as a holistic package, Defender is a good port and moreover, it is a compelling game that eschews mindless violence for a smarter approach to shooters. As a historical note and to add to the pedigree Defender has spawned, this game also inaugurated a new weltanschauung: the ability for a virtual world to exist and to allow things to happen outside of what is happening on the player’s screen. Such facets are taken for granted today but were not representative of titles released in the early 1980s. It was also when Williams Electronics was still schizoid, half immersed with the Williams name in pinball machines while Midway, when acquired, became its name in producing video games. Up until Defender, it only had a clone of Pong; not exactly the thing you’d make a name for yourself on. Obviously, we all know what type of entertainment won out in the end (case in point, you only hear about Midway now) but Defender represents gaming taking its first infant baby steps.
[08/10] Program Size
[13/15] Learning Curve
[ N/A ] Multiplayer