Cinemaware is a company that had quite a reputation back in the day. Well, actually, they had two reputations... one was as a company that produced very ambitious, highly polished games with tremendous production values, in an attempt to make games that captured the essence of classic Hollywood. The other reputation that was held in some quarters was that they were overrated, producing nothing more than a series of dull mini-games held together by ropey plots. Seems a bit harsh...
Ladies and gentlemen, please bear witness to the arrival of Sir PaulEMoz.
I've only played one Cinemaware game before today, and that was Rocket Ranger. It just so happens that that game is one of my all-time favourite Amiga games. Not having owned an Amiga in its halcyon days, though, meant that I never got the opportunity to sample the rest of the Cinemaware catalogue. The first of their games, and the one that served to hype their name to the heavens, was Defender of the Crown. Finally, twenty-five years after its release, I've managed to play it.
Defender of the Crown is a strategy game, with action sequence mini-games. You find yourself in Ye Olde England, in the time of Robin Hood. And in fact, you're one of his mates. But he's decided he's past all that heroic rubbish, and is leaving it up to you to wrest control of England (and Wales, I guess, as you can have that bit o' land too) from evil hands. That said, he does agree to come to your aid up to three times, should you require it. Mighty generous of him.
I love Eugene Jarvis. Oh, wait...
Once the game starts, you're presented with a map of England and Wales (well, most of it... the map stops at Yorkshire. Racists!). There are six castles on the map, one of which is yours! But you can't just sit in your stately home, Lording it over all and sundry. The crown is missing, and you have to not only retrieve it, but also defeat the other five usurpers and earn the right to the throne.
Many of our land's counties are not under rule to begin with. That's how the game starts, with you taking turns to mop up strategically useful pieces of land. You'll earn money off this land, and this can (and must) be used to build your army. This isn't complicated, or especially deep. The only units you can buy are soldiers, knights, catapults and castles. You'll need catapults to attack the other castles. Knights and soldiers should be gathered in nicely proportionate numbers to ensure effective fighting.
My counties are displayed in light blue. Looks like it's going alright, so far.
Once you have an army fit for a prospective king, you can go and set about one of the other pretenders to the throne. It's probably best to take some of their other counties first, lessening their forces in number before laying siege to their stronghold. You don't get to control fights, but you do get to have a go at smashing the castle. If you can correctly judge the strength at which to hurl each boulder from the catapult, you'll smash a big enough hole in the wall for your army to flood through, and that will be one foe conquered! Or at least, you hope it will... you're never aware how many opposing soldiers lie beyond those walls...
Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberries. Now go away, or I will taunt you a second time.
It's then a case of rinse and repeat for the rest of the game. Which makes it sound boring, which is to do it a disservice. And there's a little more to it than that. For instance, at times, tournaments will be called. All the contenders will be summoned to one location where they (and you) will joust, for fame and possibly for land.
On a more serious note, there's castle raiding. This can happen in two ways... off your own bat, or to avenge a damsel from foul Normans. Either which way, you'll break into a castle, do a bit of swordfighting, and if all goes to plan, have your way with a lovely maiden. Get it wrong, and you'll be captured, and will have to part with some of your hard-earned funds in order to secure your release.
Alright lads, we're in! You take this lot, I'll get the wench!
These bits all sound like fun, but the problem is, I can't win any of the mini-games. At all. Well, that's not strictly true... I can knock down the castle walls easily in a siege. But the jousting and swordfighting are proving to be impossible for me. Now, you can win the game without them... I did, on my first try... but where's the fun in it if you're not dominant in everything? You want to win the joust. You want to win the swordfights and rescue the damsels. Of course you do. I feel like a bit of a limp-wristed fraud.
Still, as a groundbreaking bit of strategy-lite, Defender of the Crown is something of a triumph. And I would go so far as to say that, even today, it would be a good introduction to the genre for anyone that's a bit wary (or even scared) of the more dense strategy games. You can count me in that number.