Arcade Blog Games Master System Sega

SDI / Global Defense (Master System, 1987)

Saving the planet, one bomb at a time.

*cue North Korean marching music*
For one mega dedicated player…

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous


GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 10/24/87 – (JP), 03/1988 – (US, EU)

Strategic Defense Initiative or Global Defense as it’s known in America/Europe, is a piece of late 80s Cold War commentary that I wouldn’t have expected from a company like Sega. The game is pure, brutal war between two sides of unknown origin. There are no people, only missiles, satellites, transport ships, and, er, power-ups, all of which are hellbent on the destruction of mankind.

Global Defense (UE) [!]001
“Terminator II” this ain’t.

You control a lone satellite equipped with high-tech weaponry, a limited range of movement, and a mysterious past. Where did this satellite come from? Is the satellite sentient or is someone inside controlling it? No one knows; the military gives orders, not surveys.

The satellite is tasked with both offensive attacks and defensive counterattacks against “the other side.” The first part of each level has you on the offense. Evil missiles and evil satellites and other weapons of varying degrees of evil whiz by or collide with your satellite. All the while, your satellite drifts aimlessly through the atmosphere, firing haphazardly, unable to remove itself from even the simplest of attacks (or so it would seem – more on this later).

In defense mode, the satellite sets up camp directly above the planet, just in time for dozens of missiles to reign down upon him and planet Earth. If the majority of the missiles aren’t destroyed before Earth accumulates a certain amount of damage (damage represented by the bar on the bottom of the screen), the game is over. Should you destroy every enemy in Offense mode, however, Global Defense will skip Defense mode and bring the satellite to the next stage. Obliterating the onslaught in Offense mode is not an easy task. Do it, and you’ll be the greatest satellite navigator this world has ever seen.

Global Defense (UE) [!]000
Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wein-er!

But before you can even think of having a freedom-oriented impact on Planet Earth’s behalf, you must learn to control the satellite – a trickier prospect than it initially appears to be. While most shoot-em-ups have you use the D-pad to control the ship and Button 1 and/or 2 to fire, here the D-pad controls the satellite’s cross hair, while button 2 fires. In order to move the satellite, you have to hold down Button 1 while using the D-pad to navigate. If you didn’t know this – say you didn’t have the manual or were unaware of GameFAQs – you might think that Sega was trolling the consumer by releasing an unplayable, unwinnable game.

Sadly, this control scheme was the best Sega could do without releasing an additional peripheral made just for Global Defense. In the arcade version, you controlled the satellite with a joystick, fired at Commies with a button atop the joystick, and maneuvered the cross hair with a trackball. I’ve never played the arcade, but it sounds like it would control smoothly, as long as the trackball was greased to perfection. As one might expect, though, playing with a standard controller on the Master System is awkward and clumsy. You can’t move the satellite and the cross hair at the same time, so unlike every other shoot-em-up in existence, you have to choose between moving or firing, never both at the same time.

Global Defense (UE) [!]002
Earth used to be such a lovely planet…

Unless, of course, you have a second-player. With two controllers, one person moves the satellite, while the other shifts the cross hair to the appropriate evil. The satellite fires automatically, so the only real controlling you have to do is with the D-pad. I gave two-player a try with my wife, and it did make Global Defense considerably easier. I recommend playing with another person if you’re just trying to get through the game, and particularly if you’re seeking to get 100% in Offense mode. For those seeking a challenge, shove the help aside and tackle the game yourself.

Global Defense (UE) [!]003
Save the moon! Destroy the drones!

I’m not entirely sure why Sega bothered porting Global Defense to the Master System.Controlling the satellite separately from the cross hair is an innovative mechanic, but it’s one that only makes sense with the original arcade trackball and joystick. Trying to wrestle the satellite with one player is a hair too difficult, while bringing a friend or life partner along makes saving the world too easy. Most importantly, Global Defense lacks any personality that would place it alongside Sega’s other works of this time period, works like Fantasy Zone, Quartet, and Zillion. A satellite is not an intriguing piece of equipment/protagonist to stop full-on nuclear war, and the Defense stages hail right from Atari’s Missile Command (Sega published Missile Command in Europe, so they were obviously quite fond of the game). Sega’s made worse playing games, to be sure, but few this banal.


9 replies on “SDI / Global Defense (Master System, 1987)”

I remember a friend letting me borrow this game. He never asked for it back. I think I played it a few times before realizing it required a bunch more dexterity than I had and just wanted to wait til my brain further evolved to try it again. Just last year I found one of the small AtGames Master System portables with 30 games and Global Defense was one of the titles on it. Nope, still not evolved into my 2001 Space Odyssey self yet. Good review. It is fun to envision the coping mechanic people would have to develop if this was the real deal and you watched the planet explode beneath you.

Foolish? SDI was a gigantic bluff. It never really existed. However, it did get the Communists to spend tons of money they didn’t have upgrading their missiles. It also prompted them to try to help their economy with glasnost and perestroika. As we all know, you can’t have a little bit of freedom, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist shortly after Reagan left office.

I haven’t played this, but it sounds like maybe you’re supposed to play with one controller for each hand rather than two players? Might hit the middle ground between too hard and too easy that way, and would be why there’s autofire in that mode.

I disagree that it is too hard one player.

I made it to the 9th stage (not half, STAGE) fairly easily on Master System so far.

The key is just to use explosions and not direct hits to wipe out multiple enemies.

Also, you should barely need to move the ship anyway. 85% of the time my ship is located directly in the middle of the screen, moving is only necessary when enemy bases shoot out projectiles or you need to quickly dodge an enemy.

After a few powerups the ship moves quickly enough that movement takes about a second or two.

Really poor review from someone who has no understanding of the game IMO

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