This review will be a bit on the short side because of the nature of these games. What games am I talking about? Well, Defender
, Defender 2
, Robotron, and Sinistar
. Is there narrative structure? Diagetic or non-diagetic moments? Voice acting? What could I possibly talk about then in a review of games that seem... simple and primitive compared by modern gaming standards? Three word: pure game play.
Many people reading this review have either heard of or played these games. These games were not initially intended for a home release, these were arcade games. People actually had to go out of their homes, to an arcade, a bar, pool hall, 7/11, or what have you, to play video games. Here is an example of a gaming experience with an old-school arcade game. You would enter an establishment; off in a corner you may see one cabinet or perhaps more with a backlit transparent sign atop the unit advertising the game. At first you would be too far away to see what game it was, but as you drew closer, and the sign became readable, and the dark screen revealed it hand full of colors, you would know what game you would be playing. Then, as you stood before it, face to face looking through your reflection in the screen at the wondrous colors merging into shapes that moved about in strange yet familiar ways, your gaze would suddenly swoop down. Under the backlit sign, under the screen, and to a small red piece of plastic your eyes would focus; there was a small red glowing block, backlit from within the cabinet; it would read: "Insert .25". Or, if your were in an arcade, it would read, "Insert Token". Ah yes, true interactivity, you giving a game your hard earned money, listening to it drop down slot, hitting switches and impatiently awaiting the darkened screen to ignite to tell you its ready. Then a push of the "Player 1" button, and off you would go into a new world where your fingers, hand-to-eye coordination, reaction time, and trial-and-error experience would keep you alive longer, bump your high score up just a little, and make your girlfriend wait just that much longer for you to finish just 'one more game'.
Now after that lengthy reminiscence, how could these games receive a poor review?Defender
throws you into a battle on some weird planet where the point-of-view is in profile. On the surface are small stick figures representing your human comrades. Flying about are small green blobs - these are the alien bad guys. Instead of just blasting away at them for a high score, you job is something different. You are the Defender. The aliens fly down, pick up your human allies, and then hover to the top of the screen. If they make it, then they become super-aliens, faster and more deadly. What you have to do is prevent that from happening. You fly your ship left and right, up and down, firing your brilliantly colored lasers at these green aliens preventing them from capturing your human friends. Occasionally they will pick up a human, you will maneuver your ship, while under fire, to shoot the alien, free the human, catch it in mid-air, and return it safely to the ground. Yes, this game was leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, it forced the player to perform multiple jobs, (unlike in a game like Asteroids
or Missile Command
where all you had to do was shoot stuff).Defender 2
is the same type of game play as in the first, except there are more colors, new enemies, and it is harder.Joust
is a surreal game. You are like a medieval jouster, but instead of mounting a horse, you mount an ostrich type bird that can fly by flapping its wings. You have to ram into other combatants, at just the right, with more velocity than them, to beat each level. And each level has several vertically oriented platforms to run on or to fly over or under.Robotron
has more a cult following than any of these other games. It is a game from the top-down perspective. You are thrown, literally, into the middle of a fight where enemy stick figures try to converge on you and kill you. To defend yourself you can fire a sort of laser in eight directions all around you. The play is fast, furious, and to an observer quite confusing. This maddening experience is almost meditative. You must focus all
of your attentions on the screen or else you risk a quick death.
Finally there is Sinastar
. Think Asteroids
and you have Sinistar
. But instead of confinement just to one screen, flying off one side of it and appearing on the opposite, your ship has a much larger area of space to fly through, and thus you are constantly moving around the asteroids blasting at other space ships. This is the least impressive game of the collection, but, once again, the game play is very tight.
People whose first experiences with video games where on home consoles will probably not like this collection of old-time games for one simple reason: they are very difficult. For all you kids reading this, while you many have mastered Grand Theft Auto
or God of War
, your parents, or even grand parents, where standing at attention before these arcade cabinets blasting away of whatever they had to kill with superb hand to eye coordination, reaction time, and skill. Defender
was one of the most commercially successful arcade games of all time taking in millions of US dollars. When you think you are good at video games try to get to level five without having to restart. (And you are not aloud to throw your controller on the ground in frustration).
The Bottom Line
The bottom line: these are all great games. Their execution, while some might be more original than others, is flawless. The sounds are great, the colors are cool, and the controls are tight. But what is the best thing about these games? How can one express the brilliance of these games in just a single sentence? These video games are simple to play, (there was never any manual to teach the new player what to do), yet becoming adept required actual practice instead of learning how to manipulate algorithms. When a simple game can yield a diversity of experiences without complicated requirements, then a true masterpiece it is.