In the 80’s arcades ruled the gaming scene due to well-known titles such as Pac-man,Donkey Kong and Defender. When Dragon’s Lair released in 1983, it was the first time a game showcased the potential of the laserdisc format and the visuals that future games could utilize, but also severely limiting the gameplay for players.
Dragon’s Lair stood out in arcades showcasing impressive graphics utilizing full-motion animation from ex-Disney animator Don Bluth. When other games were relying on pixel sprites, Dragon’s Lair could easily be called the best looking game for its time. Sacrificing gameplay however was its downfall, but even when the entire game was one big quick time event, kids of all ages kept the quarters flowing. Playing on an Xbox 360 and can continue as many times as I want without breaking the bank.
The knight, Dirk the Daring ventures forth into the wizard Mordroc’s castle to rescue Princess Daphne from the evil dragon Singe. And on that very first screen, I died within first few seconds. Each area plays out as a separate quick time event, requiring you to press one of the four directions on the D-pad or the action button to strike with your sword. With prompts that disappear almost as quick as they appear, the game is more about memorization than about quick reflexes. If you delay for just a fraction of a second, you will be too late and have to watch one of the many different and comical deaths that await Dirk.
The deaths are the best part of the game and while I never purposely died (although there is an achievement for dying in a specific room), I enjoyed watching Dirk die in a variety of ways from swarming bates, tentacles strangling the life out of you or simple falling to your death down an empty shaft. While a skilled knight, Dirk is also clumsy and flails around the danger on screen. Everything adds up to a light hearted adventure that had kids laughing almost 30 years ago and still can get a chuckle out of me.
If you are brave enough, this latest port supports the Kinect to guide Dirk through the castle. If you thought the game was frustrating just playing with the controller, playing with the Kinect is much worse. While playing with the motion controls, you will perform different actions depending on what is happening on screen. I had a lot of issues with it recognizing the motions, but thanks to the Adventure mode, I didn’t have to worry about dying. Instead a color indicator lets you know that you mistimed it slightly or if Dirk should be a skeleton by now. Co-op, or as they call it co-op, requires you to use the Kinect with a friend. You and a friend take turns playing and share the same score. I would have liked to see a split-screen setup with each player trying to complete the game the fastest instead.
Even with the controller the game is punishing. If you press the wrong button when the prompt appears, you aren’t able to correct yourself and you must watch dying a humorous death. More often than I would have liked, I hit the correct button and even hit it when the prompt is still active on the screen, but received nothing but death. I don’t know if this is due to the less than stellar D-pad on the 360 controller or if the game’s timing is not the same for each prompt. One part in particular has you falling down a medieval elevator shaft, requiring a left or right press on the D-pad when the prompt appears. I went through all five lives in less than 20 seconds because the game didn’t think I hit the correct button. The fact that I received the incorrect buzz when I pressed the correct button even had me scratching my head.
The game only lasts around 10-15 minutes, depending on how much you die and what sections that you must re-try. Once you beat the game the first time, it becomes much easier as you slowly memorize the sequence that is needed. Visually the animation is still beautiful and holds up to this day. It brings back childhood memories of animated shows and movies of that era, ones you just don’t see in today’s market.
Dragon’s Lair is frustrating even after completing it a few times. The nostalgia factor does take over though for those that remember playing the game back in the arcades. It’s more like an interactive movie than a game, but I still had fun playing through it. Should it be received poorly due to the lack of gameplay when compared to modern day games? No. It should be received for exactly what it is, an excellent port of a game from 1983 with some terrible Kinect controls and punishing button prompts. The game is overpriced at 800 MSP and would be a no brainer to pick up at 400 MSP, even just for the nostalgia factor of owning a piece of video game history.Note: Dragon's Lair was reviewed on Xbox 360. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.