The classic of classics.
Defender of the Crown has, for years, defined for me what a game should be: simple, challenging, beautiful, and most of all - memorable. I have first seen this game at the age of 5 or 6 on a neighbour's Amiga 1000; seeing as what I had 'till then was a Spectrum ZX80 and an IBM PC-clone (with CGA graphics), this was leaps and bounds beyond everything I've ever seen, and the experience has left its mark in me. Even today I can't help but gawk at the graphics, a piece of genuine art by James D. Sachs
, and get bleary-eyed at the sound of the game theme, written by the brilliant musician .
Defender of the Crown brings a genre-defying mix of strategy and action; dubbed an "interactive movie," though this may now sound corny it was definitely a novel concept when the game came out; Cinemaware's impressive knack for pulling the impossible has coined a legendary remark from one of the spectators where the game was on display, who has said: "So where is the laserdisc?" The game really is that good.
Starting with an overview of the map of England, you must proceed to build your army and use it to take over as much territory as possible. Five computer opponents (two Saxons, three Normans) will not miss an opportunity to hinder your advancement; they will attack and take over your territories, steal your taxes (check out the screenshots), call you out to a jousting match to demonstrate their superiourity. You will definitely want to strike back! Aided by Robin of Locksley (who will aid you up to three times), you can launch raides to steal gold from other Lords, attack their territories and lay siege to their own castles. There is always the possibility that a distressed Saxon Lord will send you to raid an enemy castle to rescue his beautiful daughter (and you will be rewarded with one of the most memorable scenes in computer gaming history).
Defender of the Crown looks and plays much like a movie, and the atmosphere of this game is simply astounding, as is its technical marvel. It is a piece of gaming history that for me will always define gameplay for the rest of my life.
The BadAn old game though Defender of the Crown is, it is easy to forgive its various shortcomings (most of which were addressed on the PC version, but are overstated in the other versions).
To begin with, the jousting scene is ruthlessly difficult. I can manage one out of maybe ten jousts on a lucky day; on the PC it's more like one of three (and on the PC, it's not only a matter of luck). The battle options are few and far between, and I sorely lack the warfaring characters of the PC's battle interface. The greek fire and disease options are missing from the Amiga version, which is unfortunate; also, there are two major problems in the battles: the larger army wins 99% of the time with ridiculously low casualties (even if the winner's is only 2 soldiers more than the loser's), and as for the other 1%, you can attack a 10 soldier garrison with 200 soldiers and lose. Last but not least, the swordplay scenes are generally ridiculously easy - just pick Geoffery Longsword, point your mouse to the right side of the screen and click away.
Defender of the Crown on the Amiga is also notorious for its loading times; I've never had a hard drive or an extra floppy drive for any Amiga I've used (none of mine [2x A1000 and 1x A500+] have any and neither does my neighbour's) and the constant disk switching and loading do get annoying after a little while. Also the game runs differently on the various machines; the music timing is vastly different between my A1000s (Kickstart 1.3), the A500+ with its default 2.04 ROM and the A500+ softkicked to 1.3. Still, seeing as I have the exact machine this game was meant to be run on (A1000 with 512k memory) I guess it's alright.
The Bottom LineA game like no other, an amazing ride for those who have been in the right place at the right time. I only wish people nowadays would be able to have this almost religious experience, but unfortunately Cinemaware's "new and improved" Defender of the Crown just didn't deliver. I still play this game in its various incarnations over 15 years after it first came out, and I don't think I'll ever stop.