Joust - one of the other famous Williams arcade games. Most gamers know Defender, but a lesser number know Joust and Robotron 2084. And it’s a shame because Joust, like Tetris, is one of those games that’s really as close to perfect in its simplicity as it gets. Flap your ostrich to get the higher ground over enemies and land on them to defeat them. That’s the basis of the entire game, and all the additional details are really built up around that: pick up the resulting eggs before they hatch, avoid enemies you can’t land on, like pterodactyls, don’t fall in lava. Master those four elements and you have mastered Joust.
Of course, it’s not that simple even when it is. Enemies fly with different speeds and patterns, and staying above everyone is nearly impossible, especially when you’re swooping down to grab an egg before it can hatch into a new pilot. The Egg Wave, which begins with 10-15 unhatched eggs and no other enemies, is a particularly brutal scramble to try and prevent being overwhelmed. A sequel, Defender 2: Survival of the Fittest, was released which had new rules, new enemies and even allowed you to transform your mount, but in expanding the game they lost the simple, addictive gameplay that made the first so masterful.
The cover art here comes from Atari home console boxes, touched up slightly to expand it out to a larger size (and to add the Williams logo); this is some wonderfully detailed art, even down to the fluffy ostrich feathers and the striking use of oranges and purple harks back to the late 70s/early 80s ambience. It’s slightly edged out in grandeur by the Joust arcade flyer, but the latter isn’t readily available unless you have a good amount of money and some luck finding one for sale.