Jeff Minter (of Llamasoft fame) struck gold with Tempest 2000. The combination of audio-visual pyrotechnics and old school addictive gameplay made it arguably one of the greatest video games of all time. How do you follow up success like that? You revamp another all time arcade classic, Defender.
Anyone who knows their arcade history is familiar with the story. Alien invaders are attacking the planet, abducting humans and using them to create alien-human hybrids. You are the lone defender of life as we know it. Like Tempest 2000, Tempest X, there are three games on offer: Defender Classic, Defender Plus and Defender 2000.
Defender 2000 is very well presented. The title and menu screens are colorful and well composed. Classic looks just like the arcade original, as it's a port there's no surprise there. Plus adds bigger, rendered ships and a psychedelic pulsing landscape but is otherwise nothing spectacular. 2000 has a very different graphical style altogether. Instead of the sparse black backdrop there is detailed scenery. Everything from the humans on the ground to the attacking ships are much larger and the playing area is more than one screen high. You now scroll vertically as well as horizontally. The game runs at an insane speed and whilst the frame-rate remains very smooth throughout it becomes impossible to take in everything.
The music was handled by Imagtec Design, the same group that worked Tempest 2000. The tracks on offer are high quality techno mods which whilst not being quite as memorable this time round they are certainly well above average for the system. The sound effects are loud and clear providing a full-on aural assault that will annoy the neighbors.
Classic Defender plays like the arcade original as is just as hard. With the Pro-controller you also have the option of using the original control layout with buttons for thrust, reverse and hyperspace. The gameplay is spot on, challenging but rewarding. Plus mode adds a more powerful laser, bigger, harder enemies and an AI drone to assist you. The game is faster than classic but retains the same key elements. It's 2000 mode that suffers the most criticism from gamers. Defender 2000 looked and played just like classic Tempest but with enhancements that took it to a new level. Defender 2000 is more of a complete reworking of the game. It takes the theme of the original but looks and plays very differently.
As I've already mentioned, the game is ridiculously fast. It's near impossible to keep up with the onscreen action and you have to resort to using the scanner at the top of the screen to avoid incoming aliens. The vertical scrolling means it's easy to miss things above and below you. There are power-ups that give you AI drones and shields to protect you but in later levels swarming enemies pummel you before you have a chance to collect them. It's quite easy to earn bonus lives but even then games are frustratingly difficult and progress feels more due to luck than skill. With practice things do get a little easier but it isn't as fun as it should be. Terrifyingly according to the manual once you complete the game you unlock an even harder mode! I've not heard of anyone actually achieving this, though.
There are a couple of quirky redeeming features. There's an unlockable "plasma pong" mini game which is classic pong with hypnotic pulsating colors and weird sound effects. With 2 players it's quite fun. Plus mode also has a comedy mode that replaces your ship with a flying sheep and the humans with llamas. Typical Jeff Minter humor reminiscent of his shareware game "Revenge of the Mutant Camels".
At best Defender 2000 is a mixed bag. Classic Defender is the most playable, an excellent port of a legendary game. Unfortunately the updates aren't balanced. Plus is essentially classic mode with added graphics and bigger sprites. 2000 is too hard and fast for its own good. There's a fine line between challenging and frustrating and D2K is on the wrong side of that line. If you can pick it up cheap the game is worth a look but it's not the killer title people hoped for and the Jaguar desperately needed.