Developed by Jeff Minter of Llamasoft and published by Atari Corporation in 1995, Defender 2000 is a re-imagining of the classic Williams Electronics arcade game from 1981, but with more ‘realistic’ graphics. It was an Atari Jaguar exclusive and only appeared on Atari‘s ill-fated console, in cartridge form. It was released as a companion title to Tempest 2000 – also by Llamasoft – and which is arguably the better game of the two. Both are decent games, though.
Although Defender 2000 is an okay side-scrolling shooter, it isn’t that great and has dated quite a bit over the intervening years. The graphics in particular look very long-in-the-tooth by today’s standards, and – to be honest – weren’t considered that great when the game first came out.
Gameplay-wise, Defender 2000 is not too bad. You basically have to shoot the aliens to stop them from kidnapping humanoids that are located along the ground, which is easier said than done. Especially as it’s very easy to accidentally blast the humans yourself. If an alien manages to carry a humanoid away it will mutate into a faster, more meaner variant. So the idea is to prevent that from happening. A scanner at the top of the screen, and various on-screen messages, help figure out your priorities.
You also can acquire ‘wingmen’ who fly around with you, but my issue with that is that the wingmen look like something you can collide with, so they interfere with your enemy proximity sensors (ie. your eyes), and can make you do funny things with the controls (ie. panic and crash into something deadly). The presence of the wingmen takes some getting used to. You can also pick up spread weapons that help you blast the aliens (but can also make it easier to kill the humanoids); shields (that protect you from impacts), and you also have a number of ‘smart bombs’ at your disposal that will clear the entire screen of enemies when used.
The controls are reasonably responsive – at least enough to give you a fighting chance – and flying the craft feels quite good. To turn the spaceship around you have to double-tap in the opposite direction it’s facing, rather than press a button. Which is unusual, but it becomes intuitive after a while and shooting while moving backwards is a useful ability. Surviving for more than a few minutes takes practise, though.
Defender 2000 features all the visual pzazz of many of Minter‘s shoot ’em up titles, with graphic trails, particles, colour-cycling, fancy animated shapes and backgrounds, and all that jazz, but they can’t hide the fact that the gameplay is somewhat limited.
There is a version of the original Defender packaged with this, for those who want a more traditional blast, and also another psychedelic re-working – called Defender Plus – which is a mixture of regular Defender, Defender 2000, and one of Jeff‘s famous light synthesizers. All three versions are a good blast, and make for a decent package overall. Defender (and Minter) fans will probably love it.
Music and sound effects were provided by Imagitec Design and are pretty good. Overall, Defender 2000 sounds and plays like a proper arcade game from the 1980s.
I’d say that Defender 2000 is much better than Minter‘s other attempts to re-make Defender (I’m thinking of Andes Attack on the VIC-20 and Atari ST, and Defender II on the Amiga), and it’s definitely fun to play for a while.
See also: Jeff Minter Collection