Genial all-rounder and perennial Errol Flynn lookalike Wilfred of Ivanhoe. Metrosexual people’s champ Wolfric the Wild. Loveable bumbler Cedric of Rotherwood. The walking penis-metaphor that is Geoffrey Longsword. The characters from Cinemaware’s mid-eighties classic Defender of the Crown are, in many ways, a fine introduction to having children. Whilst you might love all of them, deep down you know you’ve got a favourite – the one who doesn’t pick his nose or fart at Auntie Ruth’s sixtieth birthday. The one who chides the other children for their grammatical mistakes, but is still good at football. The girl who decides that unlike all the other girls, she doesn’t want to be a Disney Princess – she wants to be President.
To me, Cedric of Rotherwood was all of those things and more. His strong leadership skills and firm hand on the lance saw me through many a campaign to restore to England its rightful ruler who just happened to be err, me, as it goes, and if you don’t like that I’ve got a whole army of marauding Saxons at my back and they’ll do you over good and proper, you slag.
Defender of the Crown was the defining game of my childhood, found at a Berkshire car boot sale, behind a copy of Super Mario 3 and underneath a table of VHS tapes, Wham LPs and some other old bollocks that nobody wanted, which was why it was at a car boot sale being sold to pikeys. The box enticed me in not just because it was so rare to find a title that old with its original packaging, but because it featured a man in full armour, on a snarling destrier, throwing a damsel in distress over his horse and battling off the evil, we presume French, knight who was attempting to abduct her. Whilst these days the notion clashes somewhat with my feminist ideals (though perhaps beneath that helmet there’s a woman called Sandra) at the time it indulged one of my most fervent childhood imaginings – that I could be a Knight, the ultimate Alpha Male, scourge of Skeletor, manufacturer of Mumm-ra’s malcontent, in short, a champion.
It got better when I read the back of the box. In big bold letters it proclaims ‘To survive this Knightmare, your mind better be as sharp as your sword!‘ which I see now was my vital first foray into the world of puns, my gateway pun, if you will. But punishable puns aside (doh…) this game required brains as well as brawn. And brains I had in spades. The other kids might have been bigger than me (I’m 6’2 now, suck on my growth spurt you little shits) but I was smarter than most of them. Here was a game which let me use my intelligence, the source of so many childhood slappings, to my advantage. Hallelujah. The blurb continues in fine form:
‘To reclaim the crown and conquer the heart of a beautiful maiden, you must outwit and outmaneuver hords of medieval marauders and Norman no-goods. Read maps, plan raids, even team with Robin Hood.’
Dodgy Americanised spelling aside (maneuver? hords? Seriously?) that sounded excellent. In my head the Norman Lords immediately became any kid at school cooler than me, which was most of them. And you could team up with Robin Hood! And Robin is my name! This, this right here, this is fate.
My first choice of character was Wolfric the Wild. He was wild. His name had ‘Wolf’ in it. I bet he got all kinds of women with a name like that. But before long I learned that Wolfric, cool as his name may have been, was shit. A strong jousting stat which inevitably meant you won every tournament going (in hilariously dodgy fashion) didn’t remotely make up for the fact that he was weak in every other aspect of the game, which as a result meant that he lost every battle and was defeated on every raid. So I moved on to playing as Cedric of Rotherwood, a man whose name may well scream to the world ‘I’m a virgin and I live with my mum!’ but who nevertheless had the stats required to unite the Kingdom.
Since its inception in 1986, there have been a host of remakes and homages – my original copy was in fact a 1987 port to the NES, which I picked up in 1998, but the original Commodore Amiga version was, for its time, magnificent. The graphical quality was outstanding, showcasing what the Amiga could do and indeed, the graphics had to be much reduced in the later NES port. The game play was unique in its compelling longevity and without it I’m not sure I ever would have graduated from being the nine year old geek who obsessively played Defender of the Crown to the nineteen year old geek who obsessively played Rome: Total War ten years later. Five years on from that, I find myself coming back to Defender of the Crown and realising, once you’ve played it through and know the system, it takes about an hour to finish. But that works out all right, because these days my gaming time is much reduced – which just about makes it the perfect title to mature with.
When you’re a lonely nerd boy, it’ll suck away your day like a hoover picking up the fallen debris of your childhood dream of becoming David Beckham, leaving you no time to feed the anxiety born of the fact that you’re not cool enough. But as you graduate into grownuphood, the time it takes to complete diminishes as your ‘cool’ levels increase. As you grow taller, more attractive, more confident, you’re able to enjoy the game whilst completing it fast enough that you still have time for a beautiful girlfriend and a life. Both of which I have by the way. Fuck you bullies. You have been conquered. The crown is mine.