Friday, January 22, 2016

Dragon's Lair review


    Dragon's Lair is an interesting game to review as you wouldn't think it would still be playable despite the fact it came out in 1983. However, Dragon's Lair has been ported to console after console largely unchanged despite the fact it's more than three decades later. This is because of the Don Bluth animation which means the original laser-disc "graphics" are every bit as good as they were when I was three. I decided to play the game on my Xbox 360 because it hasn't yet been ported to Xbox One but I have no doubt that's going to happen. 

    The premise of the game is the same one of all 80s games not involving small animals: the girlfriend of a hero is kidnapped and it's up to the hero to get them back. Princess Daphne has been taken by Singe the Dragon and Dirk must get past the Tomb of Horrors-esque trap series within to get her back. If we're to assume the Happy Ending, which is what I do, I have to say Dirk is one of the most badass and simply lucky heroes of all time because Mario and Link have nothing on the dangers this guy faces.

Poor Dirk. You are a hero on a noble quest and are going to die.
A lot.
    Before I get into the actual game, I should also mention the game has a funny history by itself. The game was created with technology ahead of its time and was designed with almost no knowledge about how actual gaming was "supposed" to work. In simple terms, it was a quick-time-event game before quick-time-events were popular. Except, the game didn't give you any instructions on what buttons to push or when.

    As such, it was a game where you were killed in one hit and it was almost impossible to know just what you were supposed to do in a given situation with no real hints. Also, if you made a mistake, then your character was dead. Usually, in a hilarious way. Indeed, the games would not be nearly so popular if not for the hundreds of amusing ways which Sir Dirk the Daring can be killed.

Everything in the castle is trying to kill you. Everything.
    Dirk the Daring can be crushed, drowned, eaten by a snake, poisoned by a potion, knocked off a cliff by a bat, eaten by skulls, buried alive in a sarcophagus, crushed by traps, bopped on the head by the Lizard King, electrocuted, burned to death, smashed into a wall like Wile E. Coyote, and incinerated by a dragon. All of these are lovingly animated in a funny cartoon style that makes "losing" the game entertaining. Which is good because, bluntly, the game was impossible to beat in its original arcade form.

    Impossible.

    The animation is Don Bluth animation so, of course, its gorgeous. I would very much like to watch a Dragon's Lair movie and since they managed to fund one on Kickstarter, I'm looking forward to seeing it when it happens. The character designs are iconic, the scenes memorable, and I love Princess Daphne in her few moments of screen-time. Dirk is endearing in his own way, especially as we watch him horribly murdered repeatedly yet trudges on despite it.

You will see this screen.
A lot.
    The punishing difficulty of the game as well as complete lack of cues as to what you do in many places means I actually recommend you play the game on Easy mode which gives the usual quick-time event cues as to what to do as well as when.Some may consider this cheating but I actually consider the speed at which they come up to be something which still provides a decent challenge to match.

    The actual amount of content means it's only about a twelve-minute game if you play it perfectly and it took me about an hour to beat it but I considered it well worth my money despite events. It's also one I returned to and played again because, well, it was just that much fun to do so. I rarely can point to a game which provides so much consistently fun content as well as amazingly good "graphics" that tantalize the senses.

Oh Daphne. The original pin-up girl of gaming.
    Some individuals may find the idea of paying ten dollars for just an hour's worth of gaming to be overmuch but I considered it well worth it for the animation, the sheer challenge, and the fact it's a gaming classic. Also, you can try to do the game without the visual cues (once you've beaten it or it) and experience the epic frustration which ate thousands of quarters in the Eighties. My only real regret is they haven't released Dragon's Lair 2: Time Warp and Space Ace on any present consoles or as part of a package.

    So is Dragon's Lair the perfect short gaming experience? Not quite. Sadly, there's numerous examples of repeating scenes throughout the game in order to artificially lengthen the game. Which, I understand they probably never thought anyone would make it that far to care but were rather annoying in the console world of unlimited continues. Otherwise, I have no complaints about the game (on Easy mode).

9.5/10

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