Few games have enjoyed as many shots at stardom as Defender of the Crown. Back in 1986, it was a showpiece for the Commodore Amiga computer, next a PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox game (starring legendary knave Robin Hood, no less) from Capcom circa 2003. Now, the catchy fantasy-themed title – in which you play a dashing knight who enjoys several action-packed adventures – is getting yet another lease on life, having just been released as a casual game by Cinemaware.
Starting out, you’ll notice immediate changes to the classic outing, from the pounding musical score to the choice of four ultra-manly looking heroes including Wilfred of Ivanhoe, Geoffrey Longsword, Wolfric the Wild and Cedric of Rotherwood. Each controls a different shire, treasury and number of troops (including knights, infantry and bowmen), plus sports special abilities (e.g. knights do more damage, enemies suffer more losses) in the form of collectible bonus cards. That’s right; at odds with the average match-three or puzzle-solving outing cluttering sites like Pogo or BigFishGames.com, what you have here is essentially a simple strategy game with surprising depth and loads of personality. Think Risk, only sporting a snazzy medieval makeover, or a standard tactically-minded PC title, minus most of the complexity, and with more catchy arcade-style mini-games thrown in for added flavor.
More intricate than typical casual outings though, newcomers will surely be lost in the dizzying array of options available, as you attempt to expand holdings by building armies, seizing territory and increasing your fame. It doesn’t help that the tutorial, while comprehensive, fails to introduce most concepts in a slow and methodical manner, leaving even those of us familiar with the franchise a bit overwhelmed up-front. But tinker around with the many buttons and options provided, and you’ll soon see that for all the audiovisual polish and potential courses of action offered, the game’s a simple, easy-to-master selection at heart.
Playing on a map of old England divided into jigsaw piece-like states such as Sussex and Dorset, you’ll attempt to slowly conquer parcels of land. Doing so requires quick reflexes and even sharper wits, as you decide whether to use turns to purchase more troops, acquire land (thereby increasing the gold flowing into your coffers) or kidnap an enemy princess. And, of course, a knack for turning the tides of battle – displayed as simple, yet enjoyable animated combat sequences between opposing forces, all of whom appear on-screen – using forethought and smartly-played cards alike.
Thanks to fairly savvy computer opponents, it’ll take some time before you’ve come to grips with the system and are successfully laying siege to enemy castles or enjoying action-based archery or jousting mini-games, however. And while core play and engaging side-quests that see you raiding rivals’ holdings or begging Robin Hood for aid do add excitement, it’s all destined to be a bit mind-boggling for beginners. Strikingly attractive, not to mention surprisingly deep, the adventure plays as well as it ever has, faithfully fusing the original’s charm with several modern-day enhancements, and offering tremendous value for the asking price. Still, you’ll need to accept the fact that there’s a significant learning curve to master before diving wholeheartedly into the outing.
Nonetheless, far be it from us to complain. While mostly recycling 20 year-old play mechanics and slapping on a fresh, mainstream-oriented coat of paint, 2007’s Defender of the Crown simply proves the strength of its original concept. That players starting at age 10 ranging on up to 100 can find just as much to rave about here only further speaks to the game’s overall prowess. While some strategy players might not appreciate their game being interrupted by the occasional action sequence, and vice versa, it’s hardly worth mentioning. Capable of attracting fans from both audiences – and enthralling an entirely new generation of gamers with its slick looks and polished excitement – this one’s easily worth its weight in shields and lances.