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Defender of the Crown: Heroes Live Forever

Defender of the Crown: Heroes Live Forever

 Defender of the Crown: Heroes Live Forever

Another childhood memory destroyed. Remaking the 1987 Cinemaware classic Defender of the Crown (and giving it the cheesy subtitle of Heroes Live Forever) might have been a great idea on paper, but the game crafted by TechFront Studios is so awful that it tarnishes whatever happy memories you might have of the original. This is more of a repackaging of the first game than a true remake, and the production values are so far below the bottom drawer that they're in the basement. Do yourself a favor and leave this game in the back of your mind's closet along with Reaganomics, Cyndi Lauper, and the rest of the 1980s.

While the game box bears a colorful retro look indicative of a reasonably big-budget production, the game within looks and plays like it was cranked out over a long weekend in somebody's shed. The main screen's map of England is blurry and blocky, while battles are brought to life with tiny pixelated stick figures. The action sequences, such as archery contests, jousting, and rescuing princesses, feature animation so jerky that you have to wonder if the developers have ever seen a human being move in real life. Sound effects are practically nonexistent, aside from a trumpeting musical score that's so insistent and annoying you wish that the developers had paid as little attention to it as they did the wimpy smashes or bangs that accompany battles.

Defender of the Crown: Heroes Live Forever is every bit as ugly to play as it is to look at it and listen to it. As with the way-back-when original, the goal here is to guide an English hero with a colorful name like Geoffrey Longsword or Wilfred of Ivanhoe from lowly lordship over a single territory to the kingship of the entire country. You do so by killing your five rivals for the crown, conquering all of their castles via turn-based management and battle sequences. Game mechanics retain all of the simplicity of the 1987 classic, making for an awfully austere campaign to claim the throne. Basically, you raise armies at your castle, invade neighboring territories to raise the gold needed to buy even more infantry, archers, cavalry, catapults, or the like, and repeat until you either slay all of your foes or your foes slay you.

No serious strategy is involved in any of this; you just buy as many troops as you can then set out to cut a bloody swath across England's green and pleasant land. You can only have a single army, so you can't launch even something as basic as a two-pronged attack. There is no way to save the game, which means that you can't experiment with radical approaches unless you're up for a lot of restarts. Even if you could draw up plans and take risks, your tactics can be quickly ruined by random events that pop up unannounced every few turns. For example, you might be just about to unleash a horde of infantry on Wolfric the Wild's castle when a bunch of your knights decide to go off chasing the Holy Grail. Or you might wind up with a budding leader who lets you buy two units for the price of one for a turn. Who knows? You might as well just roll the dice to see who wins.

Enemies who display little artificial intelligence make everything even more of a crapshoot. Some sit back on the defensive until they're wiped out, while some get crazy aggressive and slaughter rivals from the get-go. Generally, your enemies tend to stick to attacking one another through the early stages of matches, as long as you aren't being so expansionistic that you pose a threat to a rival's castle. So you're best off taking just a couple of territories to boost your income then simply sitting back and buying lots of armies. Of course, this tactic is as dull as it is effective.

All you can do to liven things up is take on the arcade-style side missions where you shoot an arrow at a target in an archery showdown with an enemy lord, hit the tournament field for some jousting, besiege fortifications with catapults, and try to rescue or kidnap princesses from rival castles. These assignments seem to have been pulled out of the 1987 version, but with no ornamentation. All you do to fire arrows or joust is juggle the cursor, while you launch rocks with the catapult by clicking on a meter and rescue fair maidens by choosing attack methods to dispose of her guards. Robin Hood you're not (although you can visit Sherwood Forest and barter for the help of Robin and his Merry Men). After one or two rounds of this dreck, you'll find yourself turning down all challenges and leaving those Rapunzels to rot in their castle towers.

Battles themselves take place in turns on a separate tactical screen, although there isn't any need to think here either. There are just five different types of units available when buying armies, and there are no commands available when heading onto the battlefield. You just select attack or flee and then everything runs on autopilot. Players can alter the outcome with hands of battle cards (the only significant change to gameplay introduced in this remake) that can be purchased on the main screen, but these deal entirely in simplistic tricks that either boost your stats or reduce those of your enemy. Also, they're drawn randomly until you hit your hand limit of four, so it's pure luck whether or not you're going to get one or two that will help buff your chosen complement of troops. For instance, getting cards that crank up the damage of your bowmen don't do you much good if you're loaded up on knights. However, cards admittedly do add depth to the game. If you get the right ones in your hand, you can lead a smaller army to victory against superior opposition, so at least this feature means that battles involve a little more than straightforward number crunching.

There's no reason why this remake had to be such complete trash. Sid Meier's Pirates! showed that you can revive and update classics for a contemporary audience, so there's absolutely no excuse for the terrible effort demonstrated here. A game with such an impressive reputation and lingering fan base deserves better treatment than this reheated regurgitation that only serves

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