Defender of the Crown, first released in 1986 on the Amiga, was at the time one of the best-looking video games ever released. Or, at least it was on the Amiga. Some of the game's ports to other systems weren't quite so hot, yet in today's world of YouTube nitpicking they remain useful as examples of how wildly different ports used to be.
Felipe Pepe, author of the CRPG Book Project, has shared this image from the book comparing Defender's original Amiga version with eight of its over a dozen ports.
Defender of the Crown is always great for port comparisons: pic.twitter.com/XPFbCxA29F
— Felipe Pepe (@felipepepe) December 4, 2016
Here's why I find this interesting. Yes, the Amiga version looked the best, especially when it comes to the colour palette, but it's actually one of the worst versions of the game to play (a relative term, since this is still a classic), as it was released rushed and unfinished to market, with many original features missing or broken.
When Defender turned into a smash hit, these features — like more territories to conquer and more strategic depth when attacking — were added in for subsequent ports, so while that DOS version above looks like shit, its actually more fleshed out and fun to play than the Amiga original.
So which of these original editions (the game has since been remade) is best? That's the beauty of it. The Amiga original couldn't be patched with updates like a modern Steam release, and no amount of driver updates were ever going to get those DOS and Macintosh versions looking decent. In the end, each version remained as a distinct and different thing, a far cry from today where the difference between a PS4 and Xbox One title is measured in frames per second and the odd effect, not whether one is not even in colour.
Of course, this pondering over the merits of different versions is all academic; almost nobody had multiple systems in 1986, so most folks just got the copy they could actually play.
In a hypothetical universe where I did own an old PC, Amiga and Mac though, I think I'd have gone for the Amiga version, warts and all. I mean, it was 1986. While Mario was jumping around with a handful of colours and sprites the size of trucks, Defender of the Crown was looking like this: