Thursday, January 22, 2015

Nerdicus NES Review #166: Defender of the Crown

Title : Defender of the Crown

Publisher : Ultra Games

Developer : ???

Genre : Scrolling Shooter

Players :  1 Player

Release Date : 1989

Estimated Value (as of today's date): $5-$10

Robin Hood, the Crusades, Hordes wailing armies, deaths of kings, and the infamous black plague. We're taking a trip back to the good 'ol dark ages of the medieval times.

If you're looking for the closest thing to a Renaissance Fair video game, well this is it. Playing as a mighty Saxon, you will be rescuing fair maidens, competing in jousting tournaments, and rescuing the land from vicious Norman hordes. After all, wasn't that what Medieval times was all about? Speaking of which, has everyone ever BEEN to Medieval times? I've been honestly trying to plan a corporate work party to go there (because I'm awesome like that), yet I have no knowledge of the damn place.

You would think that someone has "nerdy" as me with an obsession of the fantasy world and medieval era would have been there numerous times already. Nope, sorry. And even my lust to don a suit of armor and ride a horse into battle with my lance at the ready didn't even bring me to go there. Meh, the fact that you have to make reservations, and that it's all a big Disney-styled stage show kind of irks me. I want the blood and gore dammit....although don't get me wrong, I'd participate in one of those events in a heartbeat. Remember that scene from Cable Guy?

Wow, again...sidetracked...damn.

Defender of the Crown is actually a pretty unique concept considering it was ported to the NES, as well as a dozen other systems, from an original Amiga release. There is an insane amount of strategy involved, and this game is far from straightforward. In fact, the entire game revolves around you building an army, and gaining notoriety and fame to secure your position as ruler of England. If you have been looked for an old-school game that focuses upon the basis of a war of attrition, welcome to Defender of the Crown.

And besides some of the lackluster reviews this game has received, I downright loved it. Sort of? It's a love / hate relationship, really....

After a soothing tune of Olde English medieval jams and a background story told on scrolls and touched upon by the Spirit of Sherwood Forest (Robin Hood), you start the game by selecting which Saxon you will play the role as. Each player has it's own various set of abilities, so while one may be a pro at Jousting, he may be horrible at leading an army. Choose wisely, but let me also say that it doesn't matter who you choose because even the most well rounded Saxon will have a difficult time in this game. This is no cake walk. Then again, do what I did and choose whichever one had the most kick-ass name.

Of course, it was Wolfric the Wild! He's just crazy.....but I'll end up regretting it.

Now we get to the juicy bits of the game. It's basically divide up into a slew of various mini games that you'll have to complete in order to gain controls of segmented areas of the map. Once you choose where you want to go, you'll either be involved in one of the following events. A castle raid and siege, sword fight, jousting, army battle, or rescuing a damsel in distress. Hell there are even times when the enemy will force events upon you. Hence why you really need to strategize methods of slowly conquering the opposing forces.

The events vary from area to area and scenery is about the only thing that changes, but the game does give you enough of a variety to at least change up the gameplay to keep it interesting. at any of these events is pure luck.

Here's where it gets a little crazy.Prepare yourselves for one of the most difficult controls in NES history. I'm talking wonky, especially for some of the more difficult elements of the game. Don't get me started on jousting. Even as Wolfric the Wild (who was the best jouster), I could barely land a hit on anyone I jousted against. I legitimately tried doing it over twenty times and I succeeded maybe only twice.

Trying to understand the rules of war during an army battle is just as confusing. I didn't even know what I was doing half the time as I watched my forces march slowly across the screen and be shot down by enemy arrows. This is a game where you basically need to play through once, and just purposefully lose as you try to understand the controls and how to actually play. The instruction manual doesn't do a very good job of explaining, so it's really up to you.

Surprisingly enough though, once you get the hang of it, and move past the atrocious format, the game turns into a really epic piece of work. Sure, it's frustrating, but you have to appreciate what the developers managed to do on the NES with this type of game. Go ahead, compare it to the Amiga, but they did a fine job here.

You have to admit, visually this is one of the most spectacular NES games out there. Every cut scene was brilliantly crafted, and even the various events are stylized differently but set the mood perfectly. Sure, certain areas are better than others as I personally love the sword fights and the jousting matches, but the army battles leave a bit more to be desired. Still, those cutscenes. Masterful! I'm not even being sarcastic, they're really damn good.

Another plus - the music and sound. Takes me back to the good 'ol days of growing up on the farm and paying taxes to the local baron....ha. The composition is spot on, and does a superb job of setting the medieval atmosphere.

Defender of the Crown is an interesting mix of hits and misses. The game tries to do a bit too much, and apparently due to funding they were actually forced to scale back the game in a lot of its ports. This could explain the difficulty and the poor gameplay in some areas, but you know what you really have to appreciate what they were attempting to do. You need to go into this game with the realization that you're in for a rough ride, but once you get used to it, you'll experience something straight from A Knight's Tale.

By the way, that's my guilty pleasure movie......

Final Score (out of 5) :

Until Next time - Keep on Gaming!



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