5200 Defender is an excellent showcase for the Supersystem's
abilities. Man, I used to think this 5200 port was arcade perfect. Well, I know now it isn't, but it's still one of the best 5200 games and very faithful to Eugene Jarvis' arcade masterpiece. (If you really want arcade-perfect, get the Digital Eclipse emulated coin-op versions on the newer systems).
In Defender, you use your ship's incredible firepower to mow down wave after wave of a variety of deadly alien crafts, while protecting the little humanoid guys who walk about on the ground. The green Landers constantly abduct the humanoids, and if the ship reaches the top of the screen, a mutant is formed -- a fast, homing-in enemy. If all humanoids are destroyed, the planet explodes for a few waves, and you must deal with "freespace" and hordes of mutants!
Both graphically and audibly, this is clearly Defender.
All the craft are here -- pods, swarmers, baiters, landers, mutants. You can
accidentally kill your fellow humanoids (an important gameplay mechanic that was
omitted on the 2600 version), and the radar and mountains are there just like
in the coin-op. The frame-rate chugs a bit at times, but it's funny how we
never noticed frame rates back in the 80's! The screen is literally filled
with action and particles, it's very intense, as it should be! Sounds
are as close to arcade as possible.
Controls are excellent. The Atari 5200's twin firing buttons are
used for firing and smart bombs, and any of the keypad buttons will invoke
hyperspace. Do you recall the compromised (yet still good in its own way) 2600
version, with the one-button control? You had to drop to the bottom of the
screen and press fire to activate smart bombs; going to the top of the screen
and pressing the button activated hyperspace. Although these were genuinely
crafty solutions by the Atari 2600 Defender guys (i.e., Bob Polaro), it also just ruined the game
of Defender. Even the Atari computer versions (which used 2600 one-button
joysticks too) had to use the computer keys
for smart bombs and hyperspace. Defender belonged on the 5200!
If you're a gamer who loves Defender, you should definitely enjoy playing this version. 5200 Defender is one of the top 5200 games,
certainly it's one of my most-played Supersystem games. The only reason I don't consider it a "must have" is that the arcade-perfect Defender has been ported to so many systems, but still, you knew that, and you still want to play the classic Atari 5200 version, don'tcha? ;) Just crank up the difficulty to Advanced or Expert settings -- don't settle for the rather easy Normal setting -- and start blasting!
Defender on Atari 5200 (and the 8-bit computers) was programmed by an Assembly language pro named Steve A. Baker. He also had a near-complete version of Stargate ready for the system. Here are his own words that he shared with me, with his permission (thanks, Steve!):
Steve Baker: "I still have my T-card with 5200 STARGATE.... Its exactly like the standup arcade machine...(I had one in house to compare while developing). It even had the "arcade setup front end" to set the various standup machine parameters.... Atari "failed to pay me" to it... It never got released...there are images out there that someone posted from another copy of the game... It was state-of-art coding the hardware to allow me to have dozens of players on the screen crossing over each other ...even old timers looked at it and jaws dropped...LOL. I pushed the hardware to its limits and then some... oh well... file it under Apple-II Dick Tracy..."
Mr. Baker still designs and codes games for the computer, accessible from his site. He also calls the 5200 controllers his "most hated thing" about the system, "worst piece of crap ever designed", he states. Finally, he says that his favorite 5200 game is probably Mario Brothers!