The ability to play the original, unmodified Defender is the real joy of this cartridge.
There are few ideas nobler than the transfer of classic video games to the latest generation of game hardware. In many cases, games from the late 1970s and early 1980s are the ancestors of some of our modern favorites. We wouldn't be able to enjoy games like Capcom vs. SNK 2 or Final Fantasy X if not for the existence of Karate Champ or Ultima, for example. It's nice to be able to play these classics, because you get to experience some of the most timeless and enjoyable gameplay concepts unfettered by snazzy graphics or cumbersome control systems. Often, you realize that good gameplay is enjoyable regardless of the age or graphics of a game.
Still, some of the games of yesterday have not stood the test of time as well as others. Defender is a good example. In the original Defender, circa 1980, you controlled a spaceship that could fly in a limited horizontal range and fire its blasters toward invading alien spacecraft. The screen width was limited, in that when you traveled three or four screens in either direction, the environment simply wrapped around and you found yourself on the other side. The goal was to destroy all the alien ships before they captured all the humans stranded on the surface of the planet. If the aliens succeeded, the planet exploded. If you lost three lives, the game was over. For the time, Defender was a great game--it was basic and repetitive, but it was also challenging and something people hadn't seen before.
Defender on the Game Boy Advance is an update of the original idea, but it doesn't quite bring the game up to the level of current space shooters. Although there are five ships to choose from and 18 levels to play, the same looping backgrounds and repetitive kill-or-be-killed game design are still situated at the forefront. The addition of shields and bombs to your spacecraft, as well as enemy walkers and factories to the enemy's arsenal, does give this Defender more diversity than its ancestor, but not to the extent that it ever feels like anything more than the original game with high-resolution backgrounds pasted in. The inclusion of a cooperative link play mode is a pleasant diversion, though it too doesn't really improve the gameplay.
The graphics and audio are also somewhat substandard. The space backgrounds suit the premise, but they're undeniably flat and resemble computer desktop patterns more than video game settings. There's a great deal of diversity in the number of human and alien ships, and it's neat how many of the alien attackers burst into a plume of blood and guts when you shoot them, but the animation is basic and the sprites themselves disappear into the backgrounds far too easily. The same basic complaints can be leveled at the audio. There are a fair number of sound effects, such as blaster shots and alien screams, and while they do fit the setting, they're so low in quality that it's hard to believe you're not playing the game on an Atari 2600.
Even though this rendition of Defender doesn't do much to improve upon the original premise or advance the game into the modern era, fans of the original game will probably enjoy the opportunity to experience it with the addition of shields, missions, and gussied-up graphics. At the same time, Defender on the Game Boy Advance also includes the original Defender in all its rasterized glory, as well as an XG version of the classic game that overlays updated graphics on the original game. The ability to play the original, unmodified Defender is the real joy of this cartridge. It may be repetitive, and the graphics are certainly dated, but you can appreciate the basic challenge and take yourself back to a time when this was the most popular game in the arcades.
Midway and Outlook Entertainment could have done a better job with their remake of Defender. The updates really don't do anything to improve the gameplay and in some cases actually detract from it. Fans of the original game will get a lot more mileage from this remake than the uninitiated, due to the inclusion of the original Defender.