Saturday, 5 July 2014

Game Review of the Week: Defender of the Crown

Defender of the Crown
Released: 1986
Developer: Master Designer Software
Publisher: Cinemaware
Type: Strategy
Director: Kellyn Beeck
Developer: Robert J. Mical
Producers: Robert & Phyllis Jacob, John Cutter
Graphics: James Sachs, Steve Quinn, Richard LaBarre, Sol Masid, John Cutter, Rob Landeros, Doug Smith, Bob Swiger
Music: Jim Cuomo, Bill Williams

Defender of the Crown has you in the role of a Saxon knight just returned with the king from the Holy Land. While the knight is returning home the king is assassinated and, seeing as there is no heir to the throne, the country is thrown into civil war. As a good Saxon you must defend the country from the Normans and win the crown - actually, Robin Hood himself tells you to do so :-)

This was the very first game release by renowned developer Cinemaware. As the name of the company says, they tried to bring the quality of writing and vivid imagery of the cinema to games - and that's in a time where most games looked extremely crude. Cinemaware's hallmark are games with beautiful, hand drawn graphics, well told stories, and, more often than not, gameplay comprised of a number of mini-games of more or less successful character. Many of these games were loved for their graphics, and perhaps not so much for their gameplay, but the pure bliss of looking at those beautiful moving pictures made it all worthwhile back in the day.

Defender of the crown is no exception to that rule. As you can see in the pictures included here, the graphics were top notch, and they created an atmosphere in the game that made you want to play on. Bob Jacob, who founded Cinemaware in 1985 together with his wife Phyllis Jacob, was the man behind the original idea for Defender of the Crown, and he has this to say about how the idea came about: "I loved Risk the board game when I was a kid, I liked conquering territories, and I thought what we should do with a game is: Let's replace the dice rolling in Risk with your success or failure at various action sequences in the game." (source: Matt Chat 41, YouTube).

The game is a mix of strategic warfare and some minigames. The strategic part takes place on a map of England, where you build and direct your armies, conquer territories, and attack enemy castles. This is where the connection to Risk is most apparent. The minigames are the extremely hard jousting event at tournaments, showing your prowess in swordsmanship by raiding enemy castles or freeing damsels in distress, and knocking down castle walls using your catapults. All of these small events push your success in the game one way or the other, depending on how you fare. In my opinion, this is a hard game to finish, so you'd do well to find

Due to financial problems, the release of the original Amiga version was somewhat rushed, which meant that some features were stripped from the release and others not as finely tuned as desired. This is remedied in some ports of the game, e.g., for the C64. R.J. Mical, an engineer who worked on the design and development of the Amiga, took over development of Defender of the Crown late in the process, and apparently had to rewrite much of the code which led to the whole thing being fairly rushed in the end.

Verdict: Defender of the Crown is an absolute classic, and remains a favourite for many Amiga owners. Personally, I remember being awed by the graphics and sound, and thus spending countless hours trying to learn how to play the damned thing, just because the overall feeling of the game was so great. I recently picked up Defender of the Crown and started playing it on my Amiga 1200, and I must admit that I came away a bit disappointed, simply because I have come to expect more gameplay-wise from the games I play. That being said, I still do love this game, and I will give it another chance soon - I just need to figure out how to do that #!%$ jousting!

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