Category Archives: Williams

#95: Defender

Format: Coin-Op/Amiga Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up Released: 1980/1994 Developer: Williams/Ratsoft

Sadly, I’ve never played the original Defender arcade machine, although with the current growth of the retro game scene, it’s surely only a matter of time before I come across it at some sort of retro-themed club night. However, I did play the Amiga shareware conversion a helluva lot, so that’s what I’m going to talk about here.

Good old Ratsoft. Whoever you are.

There may well have been more than one shareware version of Defender, but after scouring t’interweb, I’m fairly sure that the one I had was developed by Ratsoft (thanks lemonamiga.com). Having never played the arcade original, I’m not in a position to comment of the quality of the Amiga conversion, but as far as I’m concerned it’s bloody brilliant. Interestingly, according to Retro Gamer and Edge (via Wikipedia), “most official and unofficial ports [of Defender] failed to accurately emulate the arcade’s gameplay”. If that’s the case, I’m obviously in for a real treat when I finally play the original arcade machine, because to my mind the Amiga version was nigh-on perfect.

Ah lasers. Good old lasers.

Unlike many eighties arcade games, Defender has really stood the test of time. The lightning-fast gameplay is  incredibly frenetic and tense, and the controls are amazingly responsive (which is in stark contrast to the woolly controls of one of its contemporaries, Space Invaders). The scrolling and collision detection are both spot on, so  however difficult the gameplay gets (and it gets very difficult indeed), you can never blame the game for an unfair death.

The trick is to shoot the alien without hitting the human - harder than it looks.

Speaking of difficulty, this has to be one of the hardest but most rewarding games out there. It’s difficult because the secret to success is aiming and shooting at enemies on the main screen while simultaneously keeping one eye on the top radar screen – a very difficult task unless you happen to have eyes that swivel independently of each other. Still, keeping an eye (or at least part of an eye) on the radar is the only way you’ll have a chance of avoiding any aliens lurking off-screen once your ship gets up to full speed, unless you have Tron-like reflexes. Likewise, the radar screen helps you to find and rush to the aid of humans who are being abducted, and one of the most rewarding (and challenging) aspects of the game is shooting a fleeing alien out of mid-air (being careful to avoid hitting its human cargo), then deftly catching the falling human and returning him/her to terra firma.

Whoever's playing is in a spot of trouble here - if the screen fills up this much, it's almost a guaranteed Game Over.

More often than not, your little rescue mission ends with you missing the alien entirely and destroying the innocent human instead, or shooting the alien but failing to catch the human before they plummet to their death, which is why it’s so damn satisfying when you’re successful. It’s a brilliant mechanic that’s endlessly entertaining, and despite my general awfulness at this game, it was enough of a carrot to keep me playing and replaying for hours at a time.

The fantastic Guardian - shame so few people got to play it.

Lastly, I have to mention an excellent Defender spin-off called Guardian, which was one of the very few games that was exclusive to the Amiga 1200 and the ill-fated CD32. Guardian did an absolutely amazing job of replicating the mechanics of Defender in 3D, and it’s just a shame that it was released so late in the Amiga’s lifespan (it was rated as the third best game on the Amiga in the penultimate issue of Amiga Power in 1996). The makers, Acid Software, were also behind the fantastic Super Skidmarks, but as far as I can gather, they were sucked up by some kind of black hole that emanated from Commodore’s HQ at around the time the Amiga imploded, and no-one’s heard of them since. Shame.

Anyway, here’s a clip of Defender in action – this is from the coin-op, but it’s pretty much identical to the Amiga version (make sure to have the sound turned up to fully appreciate the bombastic SFX).

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.lemonamiga.com)

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Filed under 1980, 1994, Amiga, Coin-Op, Ratsoft, Shoot 'Em Up, Williams

#76: Super Smash T.V.

Format: Super NES Genre: Run and Gun Released: 1992 Developer: Williams/Acclaim

The Super NES version of Smash T.V. was spot on. In fact, the SNES controller might as well have been specifically designed to work with the game, such was the perfect fit of the four facia buttons with the multidirectional shooting required in the game. Plus the SNES conversion was practically arcade perfect in terms of graphics and sound – a rare feat in the early 90s.

And of course, come the inevitable playground argument about the relative merits of the Super NES versus the Megadrive, Super Smash T.V.‘s control system provided yet more ammunition to remorsely fire into the soft underbellies of SEGAphiles. I remember SEGA did eventually get round to releasing a six-button pad for the Megadrive, but I think it was a looooong time after Smash T.V. came out, so I’m not sure how the designers got around the problem of letting players shoot and run in different directions when they only had three buttons to play with. I know that on the NES the player had to use the D-pad on two controllers to simulate the dual joysticks of the arcade version, but of course that meant you needed four joypads to play with two players.

The two player mode was definitely the way to play Super Smash T.V. The game was fun in one player, but it was a helluva lot more fun with two people and, thankfully, a little bit easier. In fact, the game’s difficulty was legendary – although it only had three levels (each comprised of several rooms), I only ever got to the end on a couple of occasions, and I don’t think I ever completed it. I loved the bosses though – Mutoid Man, the level 1 boss, is up there with the best end-of-level baddies of all time, along with Kraid from Super Metroid and Bowser in Super Mario 64.

The game was clearly based on The Running Man, and the film’s sense of black humour was carried over wholesale into the game. I loved the way that at the end of every level your score was judged on the amount of toasters and VCRs you grabbed, and the game had a very nasty habit of carefully positioning wads of tempting cash directly over mines. Despite the danger though, there was always the compulsion to collect every single prize on offer, just so you could glory in having a slightly larger pile of toasters than your friend at the end of the level. It’s the little victories that count in life.

For me though, it was the sound effects that really made Smash T.V. stand out from the crowd. The host’s endlessly repeated soundbites are still echoing around my head to this very day:

“BINGO!”

“Good luck! You’ll need it!”

“Biiiiig money!!! Biiiiig prizes!!! IIIII LOVE IT!!!!”

“I’d buy that for a dollar!”

That last one was lifted directly from Robocop – the designers certainly didn’t hold back on their referencing of movies set in a satirical dystopian future.

It wasn’t just the sampled speech that made the game stand out though – Super Smash T.V. featured some of the meatiest gun noises and explosions I’ve ever heard in a SNES game. Even the puny handgun you start with sounds like some sort of artillery cannon, and after you acquire a heftier weapon and the screen has fills with enemies, it sounds like World War Three has broken out. Listen below to see what I mean… and look out for the fight with Mutoid Man at the end – the only game character I can think of that carries a spare head inside his ribcage.

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.gamefaqs.com, http://www.vgmuseum.com and http://www.giantbomb.com)

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Filed under 1992, Acclaim, Run and Gun, Super NES, Williams