Back in the early 80’s – before the fateful video game crash that nearly crippled the entire video game industry – most games were sprite-based – with characters and environments that were pixelated, messy blocks.
When Dragon’s Lair from Cinematronics hit arcades in 1983, looking like a Disney cartoon, it changed arcades forever – mostly by making them more expensive.
Instead of using sprites, Dragon’s Lair featured breathtakingly wonderful animation from ex-Disney animator Don Bluth, utilising the relatively new Laserdisc format to provide full motion video; a revolution in arcade games at the time. Promising to give players control of a fully animated character, Dragon’s Lair ended up gobbling hundreds of thousands of kids’ quarters – and cemented a place for itself in arcade history.
It centred around the conquests of the clumsy, reluctant, Dirk the Daring, a hapless knight, who must endure the challenges of the evil wizard Mordroc’s castle, in order to save the ditzy but beautiful blonde Princess Daphne from the clutches off Singe – an evil, fire-breathing dragon.
Honestly, in spite of its continued legacy, it wasn’t a very good game even then. Featuring largely uninteresting, simple gameplay, the game treats you to barely interactive, repetitive chore. As Dirk stumbles in to each new room or area, he’ll be presented with yet another deadly situation – which you must get him out of by tapping the correct button or joystick motion at the appropriate time.Hit the correct input, and Dirk proceeds, miss the cues and you’ll die – forced to empty your pockets of coins to keep playing.
In short, it’s really just a long collection of quick-time events – and it’s all over in about 10 minutes.
It now joins the innumerable other ports of the game on the Xbox 360 – which brings the game’s gloriously animation to consoles in high definition – but doesn’t do very much to stop it from being a poor game. you can now make the affair easier by adding a few helpful onscreen prompts, give yourself a few extra lives – or play it in its arcade incarnation.
Also included? Kinect support – so now instead of just pressing buttons at pre-determined times, you get to jump, pull on pretend ropes or swing a pretend sword in one of the most frustrating, poor implementations of motion controls I’ve had the displeasure of working up a mild sweat to; it’s just far, far too imprecise – and ultimately, not at all fun. Playing with Kinect is a little more forgiving than trying to nail timing with a controller; perhaps too forgiving – you could probably play through the entire thing just by having an epileptic fit.
Bizarrely, there’s also a co-op mode which has players taking turns as Dirk – which is entirely pointless, and really just there for the sake of being there.
Remove the nostalgia, and it’s quite plan that Dragon’s Lair is just not a good game, but it does have some rather endearing characters, all brought to life by Bluth’s incredible animation.
Thankfully, in this version you can put it on auto and just watch the whole game unfold as a short film, making it possible to soak in the glorious – but spending 800 MS Points on a 10 minute animated short that’s available on Youtube just doesn’t seem seem like a good deal.
Dragon’s Lair – while a wonderful look at arcade gaming past, has not aged well. In fact, it was never a particularly good game. Beyond the fact that it was a pioneer in both quick time events and FMV gaming, and the (now I’m starting to sound like a broken record) wonderful animation, there’s very little compelling here for modern gamers – or any gamers, unless they’re die-hard fans.
Some things are just better left in the past.[Reviewed on Xbox 360. Dragon’s Lair is also available on just about every other device capable of playing games]
Last Updated: June 11, 2012