Old-school gamers may recognize Defender of the Crown from the mid-80’s PC game of the same name and the eventual NES port from the late 80’s. Nearly 15 years later Cinemaware breathes new life into the franchise and now GBA owners across the globe can get a taste of this multifaceted strategic title in all its glory. Defender of the Crown chronicles a time when Britain was thrown into chaos, where great men vie for fame and power in a war-torn country. A time when heroes are born and history is made. Unfortunately, not a lot has changed from the decade and a half old titles, save for better visuals and the inclusion of everybody’s favorite thief: Robin Hood. The pacing can be a little irregular and unfavorably awkward at times, but this is unlike any other game in the GBA library and the pros far outweigh the cons.
DotC is, at its foundation, a Risk-esque board game where micromanaging your army is of the utmost importance. But Cinemaware hit the ground running with this idea and included a few mini-games that allow you to do such things as initiate a siege on the opponent’s base using catapults and good old-fashion man-power, compete in jousting events, and even perform midnight raids on the opposition in order to increase your gold supply. The gameplay in these scenarios are basic but precise, action-packed, and entertaining.
There are four factions in all, including your own, that will be competing to claim Kingship over England and it is only with intelligent thought-out actions that you’ll be able to declare victory. As the months progress in the game you’ll be allotted a certain amount currency and with this cash you can purchase soldiers, knights, and catapults in order to take over enemy territories and claim them as your own. But defense plays just as vital a role in the quest for dominance as offense since you’ll need to be prepared for enemy takeover attempts and bandits who are out to pilfer your gold. Building a large army to keep watch over the castle is a must in order to save yourself from defeat.
During the course of a game each player will take turns, and occasionally you’ll be asked to compete in jousting tournaments. If you only have dominion over one piece of land you’ll compete for fame, and if you continually win, you’ll raise your leadership rank, thus giving you the ability to better manage your army in battle scenarios. However, if you have multiple sectors of land under your power you can wager one of them for an enemy’s, the resulting winner will then claim ownership to the opposing forces territory, giving you that much more control over the country.
Executing a siege is perhaps the coolest aspect of the game as it allows you to knock down your enemy’s castle piece by piece using a catapult. The other action sequences include swordplay in midnight raids: as you progress closer and closer to the adversaries stockpile of gold you’ll need to bust out some major swashbuckling. Vertical and horizontal sword slashes are possible and by hitting the B-button you can block. In some instances, you will be asked to raid a castle in search for a damsel in distress. In jousting tournaments you participate in a three-round guy-on-horse event wherein each player will have a lance and charge at each other, if you manage to unseat your rival the action switches to a side-scrolling mace-wielding slugfest where your only two options are either to hit or block.
While the old-school Amiga, Apple II, and Atari versions of this game pretty much hit the nail smack-dab on the head in execution, the GBA version does an even better job in terms of managing your army, keeping the gameplay tight, and purporting detailed visuals. There are plenty of between-scenario illustrations and animations that help to give Defender of the Crown a polished look and the many instances of combat are set against varying and detailed backdrops. Aurally, the game seems to have all its ducks in a row, but it is hard not to notice the similarities between this title and the previous ports as far as the audio elements are concerned. Sound effects vary from scenario to scenario and the digitized clips that are featured in the jousting mini-game really stand out, but the medieval musicxperience though, and this title has aged surprisingly well. But DotC is certainly not for everybody since it has a pretty steep learning curve for the more intricate facets of army management, whether it is worthy of purchase or not is a matter of personal preference, so give this game a rent before you make any final decisions.
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