A few months ago I bought a used Atari Jaguar with nine carts. Since then I've bought several carts off EBay and from a couple of online stores. One of the Jaguar's major attractions for me is that there are many carts that can be bought very cheaply ($10 to $20).
Some of the new carts from Songbird and Telegames also look appealing, but it's hard to justify spending $70 plus shipping for new games - especially when I can pick up two or three older carts for the same price. However, I can understand that it's expensive to bring out new Jaguar games for such a small audience (perhaps a few hundred avid collectors), and I'd like to do what I can to encourage new development.
About two weeks ago I ordered a copy of PROTECTOR from Songbird Productions. It arrived yesterday and I've spent about two hours playing it so far.
Right off the bat I was impressed with the quality of the manual, the cart label and especially the cardboard box. I compared the PROTECTOR box side-by-side with a couple of other mint Jaguar boxes. Except for the missing UPC code on the bottom and the fact that the Songbird cart seems to be on a slightly thinner paper stock, I'm hard-pressed to see much difference in quality or look. The box is easily up to any commercial standards that you might expect, and looks slicker than a lot of "big professional company" packages. Frankly I almost thought it was overkill: instead of a cardboard and glossy brochure, I'd have rather had a nice controller overlay. Still, that's a minor comment - certainly the packaging looks terrific considering Songbird is a "one man" production. The plastic shell and label look excellent and could easily pass for an "official" Atari product.
When you power up the cart, the red Jaguar logo and rotating cube are bypassed. Instead you get a black screen with some music, followed by the Songbird Productions logo and a "title page" for PROTECTOR. I thought this title page looked a little flat and plain, and doesn't quite mesh with the rest of the cart in terms of graphics quality.
There are a couple of unique screens in PROTECTOR for the top scores, the controller configuration, purchasing extra equipment, etc.
PROTECTOR itself is a very good 'clone' of the old Williams arcade classic DEFENDER; you fly left and right over a scrolling landscape and blast baddies as they try to kidnap humans on the landscape surface. The movement of the various alien ships (landers, mutants) is pretty similar to the original game. There are a few minor additions to the game: at the end of every fourth wave you have to survive a meteor shower, and you can collect "power-up" prizes from the remains of some of the enemies after they are destroyed. These power-ups can then be used between rounds to purchase additional shields, smart bombs, etc.
The controller input is very well-done and has just the right level of sensitivity. PROTECTOR's graphics are very well-done, although for the most part don't really "show off" the Jaguar's "eye-candy" abilities like say Tempest 2000 or Atari Karts do. The scrolling backgrounds, foregrounds, sprite movements, etc. are all very smooth and high frame rate with little or no flicker.
The explosions look particularly good: when a ship explodes it sprays out a flower of white sparks that looks very sharp. In the height of battle the screen can be full of enemies , exploding orange fireballs, and white sparks, yet there's very little slow-down. The intensity of blast-em gameplay reminded me at times of T2K.
Some more good points are the music and sound effects. Normally I wouldn't bother to comment on these, but in PROTECTOR the background music and sound effects are well-suited to the game, and definitely set the mood. If you've ever played Alien vs Predator you know how subtle but well-done sound can really enhance a game.
Now for a couple of slight nit-picks. There's nothing about PROTECTOR I don't like, but there are a couple of things I'd have done differently if I were creating this game.
One is that the colourful outer space backdrop and foregrounds don't change very often. I've only made it about 5 waves (out of 40 I think) into the game, and so far the backdrop hasn't changed at all. PROTECTOR's foreground landscape seems to change every two waves. I'd like to have seen more variety, say a change after every wave. This way there would have been a more immediate pay-off or 'reward' for completing a wave: "hey, I've never seen that before".
My other nit is with the difficulty level: I've played the game on both easy and medium difficulties, and I can't really tell the difference. Medium seems to me to be about right, but the easy level stills seems just as hard. I think the easy level should be more easier, or perhaps have an extra, simpler 'Wimp' level.
Overall I'm very pleased with PROTECTOR, and would rate it as one of the better games for the Jaguar. I don't think it's quite at the level of Tempest 2000 or DOOM, but it is pretty close - say an 8 out of 10.