Defender is one of those masterpieces of gaming's golden age that 5% of the population could play well while the other 95% played something that didn't crush their soul. None of the multi-fingered challenge of Defender has disappeared since 1982, but playing it again makes us simply realize how much we suck.
The goal of the game's complex control scheme was to make you feel like you're piloting a ship...at least for the 15 to 20 seconds you’ll be alive to do it. A two-way joystick plus buttons for Thrust, Fire, Reverse, Hyperspace, and Smart Bombs... that’s a lot to manage. All the controls (unlike victory) feel comfortably within reach on the 360 gamepad, but mapping Reverse both to a button and a joystick motion makes the Default and Classic control schemes fight with each other – they're active simultaneously.
The versus and co-op modes on Live are a nice perk and we are thrilled to see adjustable difficulty, though the touted "enhanced" graphics don't look notably upgraded. But overall, fiendish alien enemies that can lead their targets with uncanny accuracy, a smoothly scrolling planet, and a frantic need to save humanoids from being spacenapped combine in the same exact whirlwind of confused frustration as they did when you were a wee lad. It's almost too hard to be enjoyable.
Then again, as noted, we suck. If you don't (and really, we're betting you do), this lovingly preserved Defender's well worth the 400 Microsoft points. But there's more pure fun to be had for $5 in the Arcade - and what's the profit margin on 5% of Xbox 360 owners again?