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The Story of Defender

Defender is one of the best-loved arcade games of the eighties. It is also one of the most difficult, with most people finding it a challenge to progress past the early levels. It was produced so that two players could play, one after the other, and was created in 1981. Back then the speed of the game was it’s main selling point, with the frenetic action of the title proving to be a major draw in arcades around the world. Defender was so popular it sold an amazing 60,000 units and was one of the highest grossing arcade earners out there.

The premise of the game

You are the Defender and your job is to protect the humanoids that are wandering around on the planet surface below. They are in dire need, because aliens are basically going to kill them off unless you rescue them. It’s a cracking premise for a game, and a compelling mission to take on. And once you have consumed that story, it's all about darting around the setting (space basically, with a wonderful lunar like landscape below) and collecting those poor unfortunate friends of yours. At the same time you have to dodge the considerably nasty attacks from the aliens themselves, which at times become so intense it's easy to find yourself feeling overwhelmed.

Hit the mother ship and sometimes a bunch of smaller ships will explode from it and give you even more reasons to want to cry. And if all those little guys are abducted by the aliens, it is Game Over.

The two main reasons for its success

The game really grabs you for two big reasons. It is probably one of the first examples of an arcade game that had special attacks you could utilise to help you stay alive. These were simply to help you avoid danger, and they were the Hyperspace move and Smart Bomb. The Smart Bomb did what you would expect it to do, decimate the opposition. This was always one of the most pleasing aspects of the game. Although it was strictly a defensive manoeuvre, it still looked pleasingly epic on the screen.

But the Hyperspace move was the big thing. This looks fantastic on screen, and worked so fast and fluidly within the game itself it actually felt, at the time, that you were truly playing a new kind of video game. It didn't help that the Hyperspace sometimes put you into a world of trouble (hyperspace moves into the middle of a group of alien ships were not uncommon) but that still added to the charm of the game.

Perhaps the biggest tribute to Defender is the fact that it was copied so many times. Other manufacturers simply took the gameplay from the title and transposed it onto a new graphics engine and then called it something else. It was the best form of flattery, but somehow the other games didn’t have the same kind of fast-paced action that Defender did. Games like Mayday, Defence Command and Mirage kind of looked the same, but were nothing like the real deal.

Defender is a truly fantastic game. It is even available now on Google Play for example, as an app. But anyone who was around in the early eighties will remember the first time they played it, and the first time they used that marvellous Hyperspace.

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Zeeshan Mallick

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