In 1983 thoroughly sensible kids were stealing and begging in order to play Defender. It was a plague. The addictive and explosive qualities of this otherweise harmless piece of silicon trickery hooked a generation. OK, so we're getting into nostalgia kicks here, but what the heck. The hours we spent hanging on to those machines, with bubble-eyed manic expressions, merits more than just a flippant mention.
It all got a bit crazy. There were young men who had refined the skill of popping a two-pence piece up the coin-reject slot and thus clocking up five free credits. They had lots and lots of friends.
Anyone who faced the 17th wave of landers, mutants, bombers and pods, without smart bombing, would be describing the oredeal later - at great length in the most horrific detail. Seven years later this icon of 1980s ultra-violence has made it onto the Amiga.
Software purists can bog off right now. We're not going to be talking about smooth scrolling, highly-defined sprites or interactive qualities. We're talking about class. The original cyberspace in a box, right there in your local fish and chip emporium.
Arc's effort is a triumvirate of three Defender games. There's the sacred and utterly unassailable original, there's the amphetamine and sometimes bizarre follow-up, and there's a curious halfway house in the shape of Stargate.
Arc has called the package Defender II, but one has the feeling it will be the original which gamers will find irresistible.
It's true that home computer users were being offered Defender clones when the Amiga was just a pipe dream. But no publisher has had the bottle to claim they could reproduce the real thing. Naturally Arc have failed, but this is to do with the impossibly high standards set by the original than any programming shortcomings. If they had succeede I'm sure it would have broken the hearts of those of us who thought we'd experiened something special.
OK, so what's it all about? Basically you get to cruise above a sideways view of the planet surface shooting baddies. On the ground are ten helpless and very stupid pods. The bread-and-butter of your enemy force are landers which dip down, pick up the pods, fly up and then transmute into very nasty mutants. Remember that landers are pussycats, but mutants are horrible suckers through and through.
Protect your pods at all costs. If all ten are wasted either by your careless shooting, or by zealous landers, the whole world turns inside out. All the baddies become about twenty times worse than they were, and you are looking at an untimely demise.
At the end of every four stages you'll get a new stock of pods. You'll need them.
You also get extra points for the amount of pods surviving at the end of each stage, but this is unimportant. Clocking up high scores is nice enough, but you'll soon forget about these cosmetics in a furious vendetta against all aliens. Points are merely a means to get extra life and extra smart bombs. Smart bombs kill everything on your screen and, tactically speaking, the use of these targets set apart the cadets from the captains.
As you'd expect it's harder the further into the game you go. Apart from landers and mutants there are bombers, swarmers, betas and Lord knows what else.
Seven year glitch
Arc have wisely decided not to add too many 'improvements' to any of the originals, and the only major changes are in the sound department. This is not wholly unwelcome. While that menacing growl at the start has now gone, there are new warning sirens when your pods are being picked up.
They have screwed up a bit by putting some aliens in the fray too early, but it would be pedantic to go through all the little glitches.
Graphically, it's faithful to the original. Pre-battle screens are a mishmash of psychedelic fun and enthusiastic tricks, and it's pleasing that the programmers got creativity out of their systems before embarking on the actual game.
A major quibble is the control method. Thrust, positioning and reverse are mouse controlled, while fire and smart bombs are controlled at the keyboard. This takes more than a little getting used to.