Defender (Atari 2600)

While it’s easy to look down on the crude graphics and game play of the Atari Video Computer System (later redubbed the Atari 2600), it was pretty cool by late 1970s-early 80s standards.

One nice touch was the use of art on the game cartridge boxes along with a “backstory” in the instruction manuals.

Defender was created at a time when some of the basic video game genres were still being defined. While it was not the first game that could be categorized as a side-scrolling shooter, it was the first that extended beyond a single static screen. Defender was unique for its time in that the screen would continuously scroll in whichever direction you travelled. However, if you went in one direction long enough you eventually came back to where you started.

The goal of defender was to stop the aliens from abducting humans, turning them into mutants and taking over Earth…Hey, isn’t this the basic premise of the X-Files? There aren’t really distinct stages as in a more modern shooter but the game progresses in waves that get harder as you go.

While the Atari 2600 version can’t match the graphics of the arcade, it does a reasonable job within the limitations of the platform and plays very well. These days its easy enough to find Defender on one of numerous compilations in arcade form but the Atari 2600 version is worth a try too. These classics for the Atari 2600 are worth it for the Box/Manual/Label art alone but you’ll have to spend a few extra bucks to get a complete copy to really enjoy it. Defender is one of the more common Atari 2600 games so it’s a piece of cake to find if you don’t already have three.

Although the Atari 2600 version was no doubt the most popular home version of the day, it was also available for the Atari 5200, Apple II, Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit, VIC-20, Intellivision, TI-99/4A, DOS and several other platforms. Defender only had one real contemporary sequel titled Stargate (or Defender II for most home releases) that was really more of an update of the original. There was a 1991 update titled Strike Force that was an update to Defender in the same way that Smash TV was an update to Robotron. There was also an update released for the Atari Jaguar called Defender 2000 that was much more like the original but with updated graphics. There were also numerous clones and other games inspired by Defender released mostly on home computers of the day, the most well known of which is probably Choplifter.

Images above are all related to the Atari 2600 version of the game.