Monday, April 27, 2009

AAA looks at Midway Arcade Treasures 1 part 2

Defender - Some people claim this to be one of the hardest videogames of all time. They're right. In a future where aliens threaten mankind you must defend the humans from being abducted and bred into mutants that'll hunt you down.

Like any other early arcade game progress is broken up into waves. To advance to the next wave you have to kill all of the aliens while keeping the humans alive. The levels take place in a wraparound style where there are no ends of the playfield. Thus you could pass by an enemy, keep going forward and eventually you'll run into them again. The most recent example that I'm aware of that uses this style is the Vanillaware game Odin Sphere. 

Your arsenal consists of a laser cannon that shoots straight forward, smart bombs that eliminate everything currently on the screen(but will ignore everything else on the field), and a warpdrive that when pressed will place your ship elsewhere onscreen at a random spot. This can be used to get out of sticky situations but don't surprised if it lands you in stickier ones or worse..killed outright. Your most important tool however is your radar. It keeps track of your currently viewable area, the aliens, humans, and even enemy fire. This must be monitored closely as you can only see so much of the screen at a time.

Your enemy consists mainly of landers. These guys will shoot at you while scanning the horizon for humans to pick up. If they grab one they'll head straight up and if they reach the top of the screen they become mutants which are much harder to kill(and worse still the human is lost). If all humans are lost every enemy turns into a mutant and it's doubtful you'll survive much longer. There are other enemies to that exhibit different properties but your main focus should be on the landers as they represent the bulk of the threat in this game.

Now if you shoot a lander while it's carrying a human you have to catch the human as he's falling to earth and before he smacks into the ground(though if they're already close to ground when you shoot the lander they'll land safely without your help). Doing so will lead to bonus points(even more if the player manages to get close enough to land to drop off the human). Though you can pick up multiple humans be well aware that if you get killed you lose them so that means no bonus points and no end of wave points for their survival(plus the chances of mutant takeover increase)

Just to quickly put into perspective how hard this game is. Most Robotron players will start to feel overwhelmed by the time they reach wave 9. Defender? More like wave 3. You really have to keep track of everything going on around you as aliens are gunning for you, and the ones that aren't are going after humans, and so on. Your survival is linked to a number of different factors and if you ignore even one of them you'll see a Game Over before long. There's no complicated bullet patterns to avoid but when an enemy fires there's a good chance it's going to be aiming straight for you or worse it's going to be aimed at where you're going. You can't really depend on your smartbombs as they're extremely limited(you don't even get a fresh stock if you die) so once those are gone you're left with the wildly random warp. Even then if you're too busy fooling around trying not to get blasted there'll be landers on the other side of the map making off with precious humans. Even if you can get past all that after a certain amount of time tougher aliens known as baiters are going to appear right next to you firing wildly, leaving little time to screw around. Oh and shooting the humans for any reason is a bad idea as it's just as bad as letting them get destroyed by the aliens.

I should also point out that this game is very impressive in its use of audio cues. Audio cues are a very useful tool for letting players know what's going on around them even if they don't(or in Defender's case can't) see it happen. So everytime a human gets picked up you'll hear a very distinct sound thus making it quite clear that you need to rescue them(same goes for many other aspects of the game, despite being so difficult the game is more than fair with its constant warnings of danger). Defender is still above all else a fantastic game. Certainly it's one of the hardest but it can be immensely rewarding and the game is flawless in its execution of an innovative(especially for 1980!) concept. 

Defender 2 - Released in 1981 this sequel isn't too great of a change from the first but it manages to stay true enough to its roots and deliver a worthwhile followup for fans who have mastered the original. New to the game is a warp hole. If humans are in trouble you can take the warp hole to appear next to endangered ones instantly. You also get an invisoshield that makes you invisible and invincible for a short amount of time. These two factors should make the game a bit easier but it's balanced out by the enemies packing more firepower and everything being more troublesome than in the last game(in fact it's safe to say D2 is quite a bit harder than the original). There are a larger variety of enemies to supplement this as well, making things more hectic and dangerous. The scanner has also been given a slight upgrade as it'll keep track of various things like how many humans are remaining and so on, giving you updates when necessary. The last new addition is the ability to warp forward a few waves by collecting 4 humans at once and entering the warp hole. While this results in quite a few points(especially since all surviving humans on the warp phase are worth 2,000 points each) I think more players do this so they can reach the harder waves faster(as they find the earlier ones too easy). Overall while it doesn't do a ton of new things at least unlike Joust 2 it doesn't add a bunch of needless complications that ruin the core experience either. All the same it's a solid sequel and definitely a must for Defender fans.

Marble Madness - For fans of losing their marbles this is the game of choice. While originally designed for trackballs the PS2's analog stick is a decent enough way to play this title. Lead a marble through an obstacle course filled with cliffs, pits, and a large number of wacky things that have an unexplained hatred of marbles. It's a challenging title certainly as there's only so much time to complete each stage but there's a very useful tool worth remembering. Though falls from great heights will kill, falls from not so great heights can save precious seconds. It's about the only tool the player has though aside from manual dexterity and possibly knowing what's coming next. Considered one of the classics of the arcade genre I can't help but agree. I'm absolutely terrible at it though.

Paperboy - Another one of those classic titles. This time you're a paperboy out to raise hell in the Suburbs by getting your bike and tossing papers through windows, at burglars, into flowers, and possibly into somebody's doorstep or mailbox. Stages are separated into days and in order to succeed you have to keep and gain as many subscriptions into possible. Though you can move as fast or as slow as you want due to pedaling you have to keep in mind that all houses with a subscription must be accounted and you must be careful not to damage their property.

Oh and there are of course people trying to kill you for one reason or another. Cars, kids on bikes, remote control cars, and well most anything you could imagine in the suburbs is somehow out to get you. Most of them can be slowed down or taken out with a well-aimed newspaper and aim is the key word because your supply of papers is rather low. When you reach the end of the street you get to do a bonus stage and hopefully score some extra points(or fail horribly).

Paperboy is considered a classic because it delivers a neat concept, good execution, and a lot of challenge and rewarding gameplay to back it up. This is another title worthy of your time.

Root Beer Tapper - As the bartender it's your goal to keep the customers happy. Angry customers will start making your ways towards you via four bars. By slinging them root beers you'll knock them away a short distance and hopefully out the door. If not however they'll swig their root beer and throw the glass back at you. So now you've got a glass to catch and you'll have to toss them another root beer. If somebody reaches the end of the bar you're sent for a ride and then you're out one life. You're also out a life if you send out a root beer and nobody's there to catch it. This makes for a pretty tricky game and it's pretty easy to screw yourself over by sending so many beers out that glasses are coming down all four bars at once, rendering you nearly helpless.

Thankfully in a smart bit of game design even if you run all the way to the end of one bar to collect a glass or some tip money you can still jump instantly to the next bar and right back to the other end. This is important to remember as it can quickly save time. The real challenge however is making sure you'll always send the right number of beers. Either way it's a decent little time waster.

Rampart - I've never been very good at this game. You select an area, erect a castle, and then defend it from invaders while the game periodically pauses for the player to rebuild walls and add additional cannons. I'm simply no good at this game but I'm sure it has many fans. It's probably a lot better for multiplayer as well.

Rampage - Become a giant monster and terrorize cities, eat people, and destroy the military until you run out of health. There's really not much else I can say about this one is that while I find the concept appealing the gameplay somehow manages to quickly get old even if I'm sticking to using one credit per play. I find this pretty odd since there are a number of other titles in this collection with even less variety but I find them more entertaining and addictive. Then again it would probably help if I could play this game with friends, as it becomes several times more interesting then.

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