Defender of the Crown was Cinemaware’s first game, in a landmark of videogaming for that reason and many others. Inspiring the imaginations of many game players at the time and for years afterwards, it’s an irresistible combination of arcade sequences and strategy, all rolled into the heraldic atmosphere of Saxon / Norman England.
The most immediately memorable thing about DotC are the graphics, which were absolutely wonderful for the time—not just part of the game, but a true work of art. The astonishing visuals play a key part in taking you back to the age of heraldry and chivalry. The music too is good (even on the ST’s humble Yamaha sound chip) and the game play, while often simple, is extremely compelling. The strategic planning part of the game was accessible strategy for the masses (who soon came to realise that the game was, in fact, virtually impossible unless you started the game in the right position!) and the arcade sequences are simple but fun.
Jousting is very addictive, despite the fact that few are actually good at it. Sword fighting can bring rewards in the form of money or, sometimes, an affair—perhaps even marriage and alliance with one of the other Saxon lords. Of course, anything is better than letting the nasty Normans conquer England completely... but the game can’t be won unless you defeat them and unite the land. Manning the catapults becomes easy once you learn the trick to it, but bashing down those walls never really gets old. Robin Hood only has a cameo role in the original game, though Robin Hood: Defender of the Crown would later turn the classic game play on its head with you in the role of the man in Lincoln Green.
There are four characters to choose from: Wilfred of Ivanhoe, Wolfric the Wild, Cedric of Rotherwood, and Geoffrey Longsword. Each one has different abilities in Leadership, Jousting, and Swordplay, which leads to a slightly different game experience with each character. Although, like most self-respecting adolescent boys of the time, I couldn’t possibly accept playing a hero called “Cedric”—it just wasn’t right!
Although Defender of the Crown came out for the 8-bits as well, one thing that made this game really stand out from the crowd was in showing a generally unacquainted public just what the 16-bit machines could do. It certainly set a new standard for graphics and using cinematic techniques, which laid the groundwork for much of what modern gamers take for granted. Even though Cinemaware released some great games after this, to many—including myself—Defender of the Crown remains their definitive contribution to the gaming world.
This game has since been reinvented and re-envisioned, usually by Cinemaware themselves, for various systems. It just goes to show that the strong appeal of the original game and its concept is as strong as ever. Thanks to the generosity of Cinemaware putting the originals up on their site for free download. With the aid of an emulator, you can relive those glory days of saving England from those pesky Normans.
First published in RetroAction Magazine Issue 3.
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Jonathon Wisnoski - Game Reviewer and Commentator