The planet Humanis has been at peace. That peace is coming to an end as an unknown alien force starts an all out planetary attack with its fleet. Alien Landers move over the surface of Humanis in search for humanoids. Once found, the Landers abduct the humanoids and turn them into mutant alien combatants that add to their forces. The aliens goal: capture every humanoid on the surface of Humanis before moving onto their next target world. But a hero will stand up to the alien force and fight to stop them, this hero is the Captain of the Starship Defender! On the original arcade version of Defender, the planet had no name and there was no real story behind it. Clearly, to add some flair to their port, the folks at Atari decided to create this story that would serve as the background for Defender on the Atari 5200.
As the player, your mission is to control the Starship Defender in order to attack the alien ships roaming the planet’s surface. Besides Landers, you’ll face Baiters, Swarmers, Bombers, Mutants, and Pods. Each of these enemies has their own tactic but they are all equally deadly to your ship. Landers are the first enemies to appear and they are the only ones capable of locating and abducting humanoids. Bombers lay mines that will destroy you on contact. Swarmers are housed within Pods and they released whenever a Pod is destroyed. Swarmers are excellent trackers so be sure to destroy them as soon as you see them. Baiters are usually the last enemies to appear in a wave. They are very fast (faster than the Defender) and they mean business. Mutants only appear if you fail to rescue a captured humanoid. If a Lander makes it to the top of the screen, the mutation happens and these very dangerous enemies appear.
The Defender is equipped with several tools to help its mission. A full-range scanner makes it possible to track the alien force and plan your movements. This scanner appears at the top of the screen. The main weapon of the Defender are rapid-fire missiles that launch from the ship’s nose. You will use these to attack and destroy the alien fleet. For situations that require mass destruction, the Defender has been equipped with a limited supply of smart bombs. Activate one of these smart bombs and every alien visible on the screen is destroyed. If you need a quick escape, you can use the hyperspace drive. Me mindful, though, as you cannot control where the hyperspace will take you and the jump may take you from the frying pan into the fire! Should you track a Lander that has abducted a humanoid, be sure to aim well so destroy only the Lander. Quickly rush to grab the humanoid before they fall onto the ground and return them to safety. Remember, if you fail in rescuing a humanoid, they will become Mutants that will not hesitate to destroy you. Should you fail to rescue all the humanoids, the cities below explode and disappear. You’ll need to survive through four waves of aliens before the cities are rebuilt and more humanoids appear for you to save.
Defender is a fast-paced game that requires a lot of quick thinking and manoeuvring. Just like the arcade, this 5200 port is quite challenging and fun to play. The 5200 joystick works well and there are even overlays available to use with the keypad (to select difficulty levels and number of players). Only one controller is used even on two-player mode (players simply swap the controller). Because of the available buttons on the controller, you can use the lower fire buttons for missiles, the top fire buttons for smart bombs, and any key in the keypad for hyperspace jumps. There is even trackball controller support if you prefer to play with it. The graphics in Defender are beautiful and colourful. While blockier than the arcade, they are as arcade-perfect as you can make them on the 5200. Sound is stellar, replicating the arcade experience remarkably well. Defender is truly a gem on the Atari 5200 and one every 5200 owner should have in their game library.