Defender of the Crown
C64, Cinemaware (1987)
In 1986 Cinemaware released Defender of the Crown for the Commodore Amiga, introducing a new style of game to home computer owners. Equal parts movie, strategy and action, Cinemaware called their new style of games “Interactive Movies”. Defender of the Crown begins like a real Hollywood experience, complete with opening credits and a montage explaining the game’s back story. The Amiga version’s graphics were literally mind-blowing. No one had seen graphics like that before on a home computer, and gamers were convinced that the game would not appear on any other platform. Commodore 64 owners got their wish one year later, when Cinemaware ported the game over to the Amiga’s 8-bit little brother. Defender of the Crown was also eventually ported to several other platforms, including the Apple II, Atari ST, NES, and even the PC. Much like the Amiga version, the Commodore 64 version of Defender of the Crown raised the bar on graphics for the system.
Defender of the Crown begins with a bit of back story, relayed to your character by none other than the infamous Robin Hood himself. The King of England has been murdered and the crown has been stolen. The Saxons and Normans have blamed each other for the King’s death, and war has broken out across the land. To recover the crown and declare yourself the new King, you’ll need to gather some troops, amass some weapons, and kick some butt medieval-style.
The basic core of Defender of the Crown plays like Risk. Each round, your character earns gold based on how many territories you own and how much equipment you’ve acquired. In turn, gold can be used to purchase more equipment, such as catapults and soldiers. During each round, players have several default options: Hold a Tournament (which takes gold), Conquest, Go Raiding, or Buy Army. Other game specific choices (cush as Rescue Fair Maiden) appear throughout the game.
The format of acquiring new territories is also similar to Risk’s. While some randomization of soldier loss occurs, generally “he with the biggest army” wins. Other actions, like tournaments and castle sieges, lead players to arcade-style action sequences. To destroy an enemy’s castle you’ll need to be a good shot with a catapult. In castle invasions, you’ll participate in swordfights alongside your men. During tournament jousts you’ll need to line your bobbing lance up with a bobbing opponent on horseback headed toward you. For the record, I’ve won about three jousting tournaments since I first started playing this game almost 20 ago. You’ll need more than Robin Hood’s help in that area to be successful.
With each round you’ll earn more gold, which will eventually begin to open up more options. Keep in mind your enemy’s armies are growing each round as well, so it’s best to attack early and swiftly. The ultimate goal is to conquer all of Britain by capturing the other three Lord’s domains, and you’ll need a large army along with catapult skills, a true blade and quick reflexes to pull that off.
Defender of the Crown isn’t perfect. Fans searching for an action-packed title may find themselves bored waiting for things to happen, while those looking for a fun strategic title may find their plans dashed by an unlucky lance to the head. Neither portions of the game are particularly deep in design, but to me that’s what makes it an enjoyable title for a broad range of gamers.
The game’s biggest drawback has since been overcome by technology. Due to the amount of graphics, cut scenes and different mini-games, playing Defender of the Crown on an original Commodore 64 was SLOW. The game was incompatible with most turbo loading cartridges, forcing users to wait (and wait and wait) for the game to load. While the cinematic experience is impressive the first few times, having to wait almost five minutes each time to start the game is frustrating to say the least. Thanks to modern emulation (and WinVice’s warp mode”) load times can be practically eliminated.
Cinemaware went on to release several other fantastic games for the Commodore 64, including Sinbad, Rocket Ranger, and The Three Stooges. Although the company originally filed for bankruptcy in 1991, several of the company’s employees have resurrected Cinemaware and released an updated version of Defender of the Crown for the Xbox and PS2 consoles titled Robin Hood: Defender of the Crown.
With equal parts cinema, action, and strategy, Defender of the Crown was a ground breaking game that should be played by every Commodore 64 owner at least once. Only load times and somewhat shallow action/strategy portions keep the game from being perfect.