Orbitron Revolution is a recent indie game that puts a new spin on an old classic, but both games stand alone as awesome.
A brief history of punishment
Most arcade gamers usually cite the simplicity of classic games as one of the biggest reasons why they like them and remain popular. This is true but we all know that nostalgia outweighs any sort of logic when it comes to video games (or any toy, for that matter). Defender is one the most well-known arcade games right next to Galaga, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. However, Defender is also one of the most difficult arcade games you’ll ever play and that is one reason why I never liked it.
Playing Defender is a lesson in brutality. It lacks big visuals (even for its time), it’s almost too fast, the controls are somewhat complex and the biggest turn off for me is its lack of obvious-ness (that’s a word now). When you start up Pac-Man or Galaga you know what to do right away. Even if you don’t know how (or aren’t trying) to get high scores, you can make your characters move on screen and be relatively successful. This isn’t what happens when you play Defender and it’s discouraging. Why punish yourself with Defender when Donkey Kong is already hard enough? Yet the release of a recent Xbox Indie title has taught me a lesson in not only the evolution of games but of gamers like myself.
Orbitron Revolution is one of the best-looking indie games you’ll see on the Xbox. Maybe I’m just a sucker for anything that reminds me of Wipeout, but from top to bottom this is a well-polished game and is worth your $3 for that alone, honestly. Add to that great sound and music plus three great challenge modes and you’ve got yourself a game that will please even the most timid arcade gamer.
Much like the aforementioned Defender, Orbitron charges you with destroying bad guys across a horizontal playing field and wraps around to be a giant donut…so it’s more or less an endless board that warps in enemies the longer your survive. You also get a duo of special weapons that deliver some extra punch, but only if you can collect the canisters left by the ships you destroy. You obviously get points for each kill but the faster you shoot them the higher your multiplier goes, so while you can just start shooting things one-by-one, if you’re trying to march your way up the leaderboard, that strategy probably won’t pan out. Of course, that depends on what game mode you’re playing.
In “Countdown” mode you’re racing against the clock, so all you want to do is destroy enemies as fast as possible, multipliers be damned. You get three minutes to fly around the space station and rack up points. In “Guardian” mode, your job is to rid the space station of drillers that are trying to destroy each of the four sectors (A, B, C and D). That sounds easy enough but there will be hundreds of baddies trying to stop you. You have unlimited lives in Guardian mode but once all four sectors are destroyed it’s game over. Last is the poorly named “Extra” mode where you’re given only one life to try and score as many points as possible. There aren’t any sectors to defend here, just lots and lots of aggressive enemies. This is the mode where you can work on your killing strategy and really get that multiplier up.
Orbitron is a really solid shooter that delivers what it promises. It has fast arcade action, great visuals, awesome sound and most importantly to me, it supports my joystick so I’m not left to play with the analog stick or awful D-pad. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better looking and better playing arcade shooter in the indie games lineup…so the $3 price tag is a no-brainer. This is one of the best arcade games I’ve played in a long time, and I’ll play just about any shooter that comes down the pike. But as I mentioned at the start, this game has made a greater impact on me, specifically in relation to Defender.
Re-discovering a classic
Orbitron isn’t a Defender clone or even a remake, it just borrowed some mechanics. If anything, Orbitron Revolution is a nod to Williams’ arcade classic, and a good one at that. But while playing Orbitron I started to think about Defender and why I can love Orbitron so much but hate Defender when they are very similar in design and spirit. So to be fair, I went back and played Defender again while trying to keep my past judgement at bay.
To my surprise, Defender made sense now. I understood what I was supposed to do, the mechanics clicked…in other words, I finally “got it”. Defender is still insanely difficult, much harder than Orbitron, but I ended up enjoying Defender more than I expected and it is quickly rising up in my list of favorite arcade games, albeit slowly. I’m not sure that Orbitron suddenly made me like Defender but I think that since Orbitron doesn’t have quite the barrier of entry Defender does, I was able to get my head around the play mechanics and challenge of that type of shooter. Orbitron helped me re-discover Defender…like the times when you find out a song is a cover and then you discover and fall in love with the original artist. It took something new to appreciate something old, and I can now see why Defender is such a revered game.
Digging a little deeper
However, I can’t also help but think about my own gaming evolution in relation to Defender and even Orbitron. It had been years since I played Defender because when I first played, it was so damn hard that I gave up too soon. It was too brutal, but Defender‘s minimal presentation didn’t help things either. There’s not a lot of information on-screen to help you decide what to do or how to go about doing it. Every character is pretty small and the controls are a bit awkward. Mash all those things together and you have a game that will only appeal to players that enjoy punishment…and that’s why I’m hooked now, many years later. I like punishment. I want punishment. I’ve played enough games by now, particularly arcade shooters, that I’m finally ready for Defender. I’m ready to be punished.
This all probably sounds silly considering Defender is more than 30 years old, but I’m not ashamed, and I have Orbitron Revolution to thank for all of it. Without that gem of a game I wouldn’t have revisited Defender, so in some ways I got two games for the price of one. But do yourself a favor and do not play Defender and Orbitron back-to-back. Rightfully so, they are two different games with different challenges and different goals, and jumping between the two in one session just makes things more difficult than they already are. Buy Orbitron Revolution because it’s a great game created by some hard-working folks, and we should all want to see more from the studio, Firebase Industries. Go back and play Defender because you’ve gotten complacent with your current stable of games and want to be reminded why you started playing video games in the first place.
Orbitron Revolution is available through the Xbox Game Marketplace and is only $3 (240MSP).