Defender II, Amiga

Defender II was programmed by Jeff Minter of Llamasoft and published by Arc Developments in 1990. It is a home computer-only sequel to Williams Electronics‘ classic arcade game, Defender. The game includes a version of the original Defender, and its sequel, Stargate – as well as Minter‘s own Defender II.

The music in Defender II is pretty good, but unfortunately the gameplay is pretty bad. Mostly because the mouse-based controls just don’t work well enough to make the game enjoyable, and also you don’t seem to last more than a few seconds unless you’re completely on the ball from the word go (and lucky). Some might argue “that’s just how Defender is”, but there’s more to it than that. Defender II really lacks nuance, and an application of common sense.

To play the game with mouse controls you hold the left mouse button to thrust and click the right mouse button to turn around. The left Shift key on the keyboard fires. It seems inexplicable to me that the game doesn’t allow you to customise the controls. Having to make do with what you’re given (ie. a poor control layout) is crap, to be honest. Yes, you can also use the keyboard to play the game, but Defender II should really have a variety of control options (including joystick controls), plus keyboard customisation. The lack of control customisation options really holds the game back.

The inclusion of a ‘wingman’ (a separate craft that follows you and fires with you) is confusing and unnecessary. It makes you think you’re going to collide with it and makes you twitchy with the mouse, which often makes you crash into something hostile.

Graphically, Defender II is poor. The player ship looks pretty bad and is arguably too big. The rest of the graphics are generally quite unimaginative – if you ever get chance to actually focus on them before dying. The static moon in the background is also distracting and should really be moving horizontally as you move.

Sound effects are of mixed quality. The Hollywood bullet ricochet sound is totally out of place in this and shows a level of immaturity on the part of the developer that extends into other parts of the game (like the totally unnecessary trailing mouse cursor on the main menu screen).

Defender II is a huge disappointment from Minter. Especially as he’s produced some great shooters in the past. I don’t know what went wrong with this, but something definitely did, and the game was mostly criticised by reviewers when it first came out.

When I look at a game like Defender II I think that it could very much have benefited from having a producer – or someone guiding the project – who could reign-in Minter‘s excesses; to help him focus and iron out the game’s problems. The ‘History’ section of Defender II is a good example of this, because what you’re presented with is a huge wodge of text that is unpleasant to read and looks horrible, because Minter doesn’t know how to format copy to be enjoyable to read, or visually interesting. And Jeff‘s unrestricted creativity can sometimes result in a bit of a mess. Which Defender II is. Rare‘s Tim Stamper was right when he famously said that Minterhad a lot of talent“, but that it “always seems to be misdirected” (TGM magazine, issue 4, March 1988, page 31). Minter might argue otherwise, but there is something to be said for good direction and focus, and Defender II seems to be lacking a lot because Jeff had “final cut” and his ‘cut’ just wasn’t good enough… Which is a shame.

Anyway… If you like superfast, high-challenge, side-scrolling shooters then you might get something out of Defender II, but it’s not one of Minter‘s greatest moments. I didn’t enjoy playing it very much and kept thinking about what it could have been. The inclusion of Defender and Stargate are consolation, but certainly not enough to recommend it. Especially as they’re both basically the same as Defender II but with slightly different graphics and gameplay.

Defender II is currently (at the time of writing) available for download on Minter‘s own website.

See also: Jeff Minter Collection

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