Looking forward to playing a traditional shoot ‘em up, my hopes were dashed soon after starting Global Defense. It falls squarely within the genre but is anything but traditional. Originally released as SDI – Strategic Defense Initiative in arcades in 1987, the Master System port followed a year later with a less obtuse moniker. Gameplay remained unchanged but proved complex for the simple control options of the platform. Playing solo was a cumbersome affair that yielded little enjoyment. With a partner, it was much more fun but still lackluster.
Piloting a satellite orbiting various backgrounds throughout space, my mission was to protect Earth from an unnamed foe. Stages were divided into offensive and defensive halves. During the offensive halves, I attempted to destroy as many enemy vessels, missiles, and bases as possible. If I survived, a defensive half ensued where I destroyed incoming missiles à la Missile Command. Anytime an enemy object escaped in the side-scrolling offensive halves or landed on Earth in the defensive halves, a notch was added to the ever-present damage meter. Should this completely fill up during the side-scrolling offensive halves, a life was lost. Alternatively, the outcome was an immediate game over in the stationary defensive halves. Unfortunately, the game implemented an awkward control scheme that made it quite difficult.
By default my d-pad inputs moved the satellite’s weapon cursor; to move the satellite, I had to hold the 1 button. With the inability to control more than one thing at a time, I often had to find a temporary safe space for the satellite while I gunned down enemies. The center of the screen was the safest space but as the pace and number of enemies increased, it provided less and less leeway. Further hurting my chances was the fact that enemies were only affected by my firepower in the vicinity of the cursor, even if their paths intertwined with my laser canon. These grievances were remedied when playing cooperatively wherein one person controlled the satellite while the other controlled the cursor. This was more tenable, especially considering the satellite automatically fired its laser in this mode.
Without a doubt, Global Defense is one of the more unique shoot ‘em ups I’ve played. Its blend of offensive and defensive stages kept the action from getting stale. However, the ham-fisted control scheme got in the way of significant single player success. If anything, this is a cooperative game first and foremost. The game is much better suited with a second movement input and while it’s not intended to be a two-player game, I feel it is best experienced with a cohort. There’s fun to be had with Global Defense, just make sure you have someone to share it with.