AGH Jaguar Review: DEFENDER 2000

by Atari

When Tempest 2000 came out for the Jaguar in 1994, it created a lot of false hope and expectations for Atari fans. The game was so good, people actually believed Atari would support the Jaguar to its fullest, helping to create many more games of similar quality. This of course would lead to Atari being back on top of the videogame industry. Unfortunately, in the time between the release of Tempest 2000 and Defender 2000, the folks at Atari managed to take all of the Jag's potential and flush it down the toilet (which incidentally looks a lot like the Jag CD attachment).

Still, Jeff Minter was every Jag fan's best hope. He created a masterpiece in Tempest 2000, and some great visuals in the Virtual Light Machine on the Jag CD. Everyone looked forward to his third Jag project, Defender 2000, as the game that would presumably save Atari once again. In fact, in the last few months of 1995, things had started to turn around at Atari. Ted Hoff had reached out to the gaming press and public alike, and suddenly the games were coming out, they were for the most part very good, and Defender 2000 was only a few months away. Suddenly, right after Christmas, all that began to change. Rumors swirled that Atari was going to leave the game business. That seemed ludicrous, based on the mini-revival of the Jaguar, and with the recent creation of Atari Interactive. But then it happened Ted Hoff left. JTS arrived. Everyone with connections inside the company knew the Jag was dead, even though Atari refused to admit it publicly. Why should the Tramiel family be loyal to its longtime user base when instead, they could leave the game business, hide behind the JTS name, and watch the value of their stock triple in the next few months?

Ahh, but there was still hope despite all the turmoil. Defender 2000 loomed on the horizon, the savior that would resurrect Atari and bring it eternal life. Sure its release date had been pushed back a little bit, but it was still coming. And sure enough, it arrived, and all was well again. Or was it?

Jaguar fans everywhere soon divided into two camps: those who gushed over Defender 2000, wanting to believe it had fulfilled all of their expectations, and those who realized that this game was overhyped and that the savior was indeed a false prophet. At first, I wanted badly to fall within the first camp, but alas I had to face the truth. Defender 2000, while it can be fun, and while it does have its strong points, is nowhere near the game that Tempest 2000 is. What was supposed to be a grand finale turned into a wimpy ending.

Alright, if you've managed to stick around through all that commentary, here's a breakdown of the game. The classic mode offers a very good version of the original Defender. It's a little easier at first than its arcade counterpart, and according to Minter, that happened thanks to the advice of the game's creator, Eugene Jarvis. While Classic Defender looks and feels very authentic, it's not perfect. All you have to do is play "Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits" with the actual emulation of the arcade version, and you'll see that PlayStation, and not Jaguar, has the best console version of classic Defender.

The second game on the cartridge is Defender Plus, and this is definitely the strongest of the three versions of Defender done by Minter. It adds some new weapons, like the Lightning Laser, as well as introducing bosses and AI droids. If this game had been expanded upon, it could have been everything that Defender 2000 is not. Unfortunately, even Defender Plus is not without its problems. Your ship is too large, and so is the Stargate. You can just be flying along and accidentally fly through the Stargate because it's way too big. And if you get a lot of enemies on-screen at once you can get some seriously annoying slowdown. But honestly, those problems are somewhat minor, and Defender Plus still reigns as the best game on the cartridge.

It is in Defender Plus where you will find one of the three "Easter Eggs" that Minter left for us. "Flossie Mode" allows you to replace the spaceship in Defender Plus with Minter's pet sheep "Flossie". And instead of humanoids, your job is to rescue llamas. As you're flying around, the flames that normally would come out of the engine of the spaceship are now coming out of Flossie's rear end. Yes, very Minteresque indeed! But if you thought the normal ship in Defender Plus was too large, wait until you see the size of Flossie.

The second egg is a game called "Plazma Pong". Basically, it's Pong with a psychadelic background and some extra sound effects. It is fun in the two-player mode, and I must admit I was quite excited the first time I saw it. But the novelty wears off quickly. Still, it is nice to be able to play Pong on yet another Atari console.

And that brings us to the final game (that we know of!) on the cartridge: Defender 2000. I could hardly wait to play it. After all, Minter had previously taken a game that I never cared for in the arcade, Tempest, and created my current favorite game, Tempest 2000. Of course, that led me to believe that since I loved Defender in the arcade, that Defender 2000 would be the best game in history. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case.

Defender 2000 is a confusing game, with way too much going on at any one time. It's completely out of control. Sure, Tempest 2000 gets hectic as well, but you are always able to see what's happening on the screen. In Defender 2000, all you can do is look at the radar screen while flying and shooting as fast as you can. The only way to appreciate the parallax scrolling and the excellent graphics is by watching someone else play the game. You can't see your own game while it's going on since you have no choice but to play by radar. Some people will disagree, but I truly believe that is the weakest point of Defender 2000.

On the bright side, there are some fantastic weapons and power-ups added to the game, and there's a warp level that is just like the second bonus level in Tempest 2000, albeit a little easier this time around. You'll also notice that you hear "Beethoven's 5th" as the warp level begins. In fact, the soundtrack is excellent throughout the game. So are the sound effects and voice samples. Considering it's all packed into a cartridge, everything sounds quite good.

So basically, if you're a Jaguar owner, you should still buy Defender 2000. There's a lot of value for the money when you break it down. It's got a good version of Classic Defender, even if it's not the best. Defender Plus is good in its own right. The "Easter Eggs" are fun to play with, and add that special Minter touch to the game. Unfortunately, Defender 2000 doesn't live up to expectations. The rest of the cartridge is better than the rest of the Tempest 2000 cartridge. But when you compare the Tempest 2000 mode to the Defender 2000 mode, you will end up feeling let down.

Not everyone will agree with me on this one. But based on what I've seen in the newsgroups and on the Jaguar mailing list, I would say that my opinion is definitely in the majority. This game is better than 90% of the games for the Jaguar or Jaguar CD. But this game can't be compared with Club Drive or Kasumi Ninja. This game can only be compared with other Minter offerings, and perhaps Missile Command 3D. And that's where it doesn't measure up. Even Yak himself admits that Tempest 2000 is a better game.

It's almost fitting. As Atari was ceasing to exist as a videogame company, my illusions about Defender 2000 being the best game ever ceased to exist at the same time. As Alanis Morissette sings on her "Jagged Little Pill" album, "Isn't it ironic, don't you think? A little too ironic, yes I really do think." Defender 2000 may not be "like rain on your wedding day", but it's ironic that the sequel to the game that attracted many of us to the Jaguar in the first place turns out to be much less than we thought it would be. Kind of like the Jaguar itself, don't you think?

Title Defender 2000
Publisher Atari
System Atari Jaguar
Graphics 8
Sound 8
Gameplay 4
Replay Value 5
Overall 6
Reviewer Patrick Holstine

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