Let’s take a second trip back in the time, and visit 8 year old me again. Damn, I’m cute. We’ll check in on another of the Atari 2600 cartridges that claimed vast swathes of my time growing up, Defender.
Defender’s premise was, at the time, fucking awesome. Invaders from space (not that game) were attacking the planet, stealing humanoids to turn into raging mutants! The only thing that could stop them was your spaceship. This may seem like no big deal in 2010, but at the time it was truly cutting edge.
Graphics for Defender were notably geometric in nature. There was a rectangle that dropped tiny squares that would fuck you up, called a bomber. There was the asterisk called a swarmer. The triangle with a circle on top was known as a lander, and it was on a mission to grab the little blinking squares in the “city” (a series of rectangles and squares) and abduct them, presumably inserting anal probes and turning them into mutants: big red blobs of chase-your-ass-down-for-the-next-few-levels fucking angels of death. Like many Atari games, Defender was a Pythagorean nightmare; it was as if a crate of children’s blocks had animated and conspired to seal your doom.
This little guy? Here to fuck your shit up.
Defender stands out in my mind as a fun and challenging game for its time. In addition to just moving and shooting, there were numerous special actions. You could hyperspace jump, landing some random place on the screen and hoping that didn’t happen to be a spot already occupied. This would result in the leading cause of controller failure, the tantrum toss. You could time your firing to pass through foes, because for some reason firing your main gun made you completely fucking invisible, but for just long enough to cause trouble. You could also just generally rain destruction with the smart bomb, which would eradicate all enemies on the screen. All of those options were activated with the limit of one button, so kudos to the programmers for some serious out-of-the-box thinking.
Like all Atari games, there was no option to pause the game. Defender featured a poor man’s pause, though, which consisted of killing all but one foe and tucking your craft into “hyperspace”, the area containing the score and lives remaining. You never left a lander though, as this would result in a dreaded mutant invasion and fuck your shit up. Using poor man’s pause, you could go and have dinner when called to the table, secure in the knowledge that your attempt to kick your big brother’s high score into next week was still viable, and could re-commence after the dishes were done. Unless that prick finished his chores first and made it to the reset button. Not that I’m bitter. You might even, as I did one fateful July evening, wrap the score! (The score only went to 999,999…if you hit 1 million, it started back at zero.)
Scoring was fairly straightforward, though rescuing a humanoid was worth a ton of points. So, perversely, you would almost always let at least 1 lander try to make off with one of your blinking squares, and let them experience the thrill of free fall before catching them and dropping them off on the corner of 12th and main, with a new chilling tale to tell their grand-pixels in their old age. Failure resulted in a lovely sound effect that roughly translated to “SPLAT.”
Splat. The sound of failure.
I could say I lost many hours listening to splats and yelling at the screen, and just as many triumphantly scragging every alien in sight. Those hours weren’t lost, though, they were just paid as rent for an alien-filled studio apartment in Funville, right there on Nostalgia Street.