July 9, 2013 6 Comments
It’s strange how Defender, one of gaming’s iconic titles of the Golden Age of arcades, hasn’t been cloned to death by modern indie developers. I’m cool with that. Having played an endless supply of uninspired-inspired neo-retro games, I’m not keen on seeing Defender done wrong. Still, how did Defender fall through the cracks? Here’s a game that was predicted to be a huge bust, but went on to become the seventh-best selling coin-operated game ever. Maybe it’s because it was eclipsed by Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Or maybe because Defender’s track record since its original release has been mediocre at best. It got one of the laziest sequels of all time (which was called “Stargate” because of some legal posturing by Williams. James Spader was unavailable for comment). There was an unofficial sequel by Midway that nobody I’ve spoken with has ever played. There was an all-but-forgotten update to the format on Atari Jaguar of all systems, which means it probably sold like six copies. And finally, there was a 2002 3D remake for sixth-generation consoles that quickly found its way into clearance bins. Your average child actor has a more graceful flame-out than Defender has had as a franchise.
You know, for a spry young whippersnapper with a reputation for hating classic games, I sure do seem to have a love for Defender. I even have a Defender homage in my top 25. Then again, Orbitron: Revolution only mimics the flight and shooting mechanics of the arcade classic. You’re actually not defending anything. So I guess it’s not really Defender. More like Aggressor. Was there a game called Aggressor? No? Well, there ought to have been.
If you’re looking for a modern Defender-based indie, Aqua Kitty is probably a closer knock-off. I still prefer Orbitron’s faster pace and modern graphics. But let it be said, Aqua Kitty is a damn fine game. You’re a cat in a submarine that must defend little aquanauts while shooting wave after wave of enemy. And the cat smokes a pipe, which means he’s one cultured pussy. But, other than the setting and a couple of power-ups, this really is Defender.
Despite being a bit on the bare-bones side, Aqua Kitty is really well produced. I played both the XBLIG and PlayStation Mobile versions. I prefer the XBLIG port, which plays faster. The Vita version has the advantage of being mobile, but it seems clunkier in both framerate and controls. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still a pretty good game. But I would go with the XBLIG port.
It’s not perfect by any stretch. What really bugs me about Aqua Kitty is the total lack of ambition. Defender is an old formula in need of renovation. Aqua Kitty does some things to smooth that over, but it’s just not enough. Turbo shots? Good idea. But only have one type of turbo shot? Not so ambitious. Power-ups? Good idea. But having only three power-ups, one of which is a bomb, one of which is a health-up, and one of which adds flankers to your ship? Not so ambitious. Plus, the flankers are time-limited. This was presumably done to preserve the difficulty. Given that the screen gets utterly spammed with enemies and projectiles in later levels, this was unnecessary, as those guys really aren’t that effective at combating it. So where’s the wild, more modern weapons and items? Nowhere to be found, and that’s a shame.
Don’t let that all discourage you. Aqua Kitty is probably the best pure Defender clone in years and a genuinely good game. Near-perfect difficulty curve. Distinctive enemies. Cutesy themes. Solid play-control. What’s not to love here? I’m not sure why the inferior PlayStation Mobile is priced $0.50 higher than the XBLIG version. Some kind of temporary insanity brought on by the awesomeness of a pipe-smoking kitten perhaps. Happens to the best of us. I saw the pipe-smoking kitten and totally blacked out. The next thing I know, I’ve got a tattoo and I attempted to marry my Wii U.
240 Microsoft Points (XBLIG) and $3.49 (PlayStation Mobile) were unaware of the existence of a Defender song until some bastard sent it to me. It shall never leave my head now in the making of this review.
Both versions of Aqua Kitty are Chick-Approved, and the XBLIG version is ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Even the developers admitted to me that they prefer the XBLIG port. Go with that one.
I turn 24 on Thursday. Want to get me a gift? You can donate to Autism Speaks via my friend Kyle Lock’s charity event on July 12. Heck, don’t wait. Donate now. His goal is $200. Autism Speaks helped my childhood in ways you can’t imagine if you don’t have autism. It’s a great cause.