Defender of the Crown
- Manufacturer: Ultra
- Machine: Nintendo Entertainment System
Second-century England is the setting for this classic simulation of chivalrous swordplay, jousting and castle raiding. The king is dead and his crown missing. The Normans and Saxons are waging civil war, each accusing the other of doing in the king and making off with the crown. In this graphically extravagant adventure simulation, the player takes on the role of one of four good knights. Initially, each has varying degrees of skill in leadership, jousting and swordplay. The victorious player accumulates wealth, power, more skills, an army and, eventually, the crown.
This is the NES version of a popular computer game first released by Cinemaware for the Commodore Amiga. It was a great seller, primarily thanks to its breathtaking graphics. The game play, which was poor at best, was secondary. Has the cartridge conversion been faithful to the original or have the game-play mechanics been improved? Sadly, both the graphics and playability have suffered in the translation, but it is still a good adventure game with some of the best graphics seen on the NES.
The player selects a knight, a Saxon lord, to represent him throughout the game. In the beginning the other Saxon armies are allies. Their successful battles accrue the player more monies. As the game progresses and the player is closer to being crowned king, other Saxons may become adversaries, since they too wish to take over the kingdom. An introductory "scroll" is presented, with text intended to look like Old English. Unfortunately, this font is rather difficult to read. Robin Hood briefs the player at the start of the game and promises to assist in as many as three battles.
The player selects from such options as calling a jousting tournament, mounting a conquest, raiding, purchasing an army or reading the map. The menu is easy to navigate. A simple pointer moves at the control pad's request. The destination is selected by positioning the arrow on the map and pressing the button.
In jousting the player selects one of six opposing knights and rides against him. A carefully positioned jousting pole knocks the opponent off his horse. Killing the horse, however, means dishonor and loss of all wealth. Controlling the jousting pole is sluggish at best. There are only a few brief seconds, when the joust is in first-person view, where the player actually is a "participant" instead of a spectator.
Once one of the riders is dismounted, a one-on-one battle ensues on foot with the "morning star" - a spiked ball at the end of a chain. Again, the response to user controls is sluggish. If the timing is good, the ball will whip around and knock the opponent soundly on the head, with protection provided by a shield.
Should the player defeat all six opponents, he wins the tournament and increases his financial and leadership traits. A loser continues the game, with increased leadership ability for any successful jousts along the way.
After enough money has been collected, the player purchases an army with which to mount a conquest. Foot soldiers, knights, catapults and castles are available, and the menu option for reading the map allows the player to scout ahead before launching into battle. The user doesn't have any direct control of his soldiers during a conquest, but battle strategies, such as "hold your ground" (when the numbers are in your favor) or "ferocious attack" (when you are seriously outnumbered), are selectable. The results seem to be a foregone conclusion, based more on total manpower and leadership than anything else.
The player may also raid a castle under the cover of darkness. Here swordplay is the key to success. No matter how quickly the controller is manipulated, the knight thrusts and parries at a slow, steady pace. This sequence is reminiscent of the "paper cutout" style of animation used in the Monty Python shows (read: not very realistic). Such raids are generally foolish undertakings.
Each move the player makes is countered by all the other opposing Norman and allied Saxon armies. The player's own castle may be stormed. If the player wisely left behind a number of soldiers, he may stand a chance of protecting his home. While being stormed, the player controls a crossbow that slides back and forth across the bottom of the display, shooting soldiers off the ramparts above.
The player tries to crush all the Norman castles to become king.
Along the way, the player may be given the opportunity to save a damsel in distress. Becoming good at this game requires a lot of patience and persistence. Unlike the Zelda series of games, this adventure has no built-in save option. All leadership and wealth accrued is gone when the NES is shut off.
Defender of the Crown demonstrates some pretty splashy graphics, but, obviously, it can't compare with the exquisite art in the original Amiga version. It was the art, not playability, that sold the original product. Unfortunately, the NES version shows no improvements in either area. It makes the player feel more like a spectator than active participant, certainly not a key feature for a video game. All of the interactions require carefully timed responses, instead of the quick, precise movements used in most other games. The game's challenge is in learning these timing sequences. Only then does the adventure begin to come to life and captivate the imagination.