Dragon's Lair


Do me a quick favor; empty out your pockets.  That's right.  The review can wait  Just go ahead and put all the contents of your pants pockets in eyesight.  What do you have?  Likely a cellphone or maybe you even managed to cram a handheld system in there along with your wallet.  Now take a look around the room you are currently seated in.  I am most certain you have a computer or a nifty tablet gizmo and probably a television with a gaming console or at least a DVD player hooked into it.

A port of Dragon's Lair probably exists for each and everyone of your technological appliances that you interact with daily.  No joke.  A quick scan of the well fleshed out Dragon's Lair Wikipedia page has an astounding tally of everyone of the sixty six re-releases of the title throughout the 29 years post the laserdisc-based arcade cabinet wowed gamers with it's extraordinary animation from the legendary Don Blueth.


Dirk the Daring rides for the sixty seventh time-gracing the Xbox Live Arcade with his haphazard quest to save the princess Daphne from the wealth hoarding evil dragon Singe.  Packed with both the home and arcade versions of the classic game, leaderboard functionality and Kinect support; Dragon's Lair XBLA brings a few modern flourishes to the arcade experience to decidedly lukewarm results.


Often referred to as an interactive cartoon, Dragon's Lair's gameplay was a massive novelty back in 1983.  Instead of having direct control over the protagonist, players would quickly tap in either a joystick direction or mash a sword attack button to survive the many perils of Singe's castle.

Yes.  Dragon's Lair is the likely forefather of the modern Quick Time Event.

And that's about it.  No other nuances exist.  No hidden depth or advance tactics to deploy when playing through Dragon's Lair.  In fact, second only to a fast reaction time, memorization is your biggest asset in rescuing princess Daphne. Repeating a stage will greet you with the same exact button requirements and timing as previous visits. Hence an experienced adventurer can clear the game in less then twenty minutes with faults only chalked up to rare input error.


The lineage and...dare I say importance of Dragon's Lair simplistic innovation is unquestionable.  Games like Heavy Rain and Asura's Wrath have a heavy debt to pay Dirk the Daring and the crew.  But this does not alive the monotonous short thrills Dragon's Lair provides once removed from the coin-limiting arcade structure.  Any tension, unfair or otherwise, drummed up from the original arcade release was from a very direct continue limit; namely the number of quarters in your pocket.  Like most arcade-to-console ports, unlimited continues leads to a phenomena I have dubbed "Buying the End" where the hardest foe a player faces is their own attention span as they can struggle through all the coin-gobbling obstacles at their leisure.  Dragon's Lair is especially effected by this; as previously mentioned even those with the sluggish of reflexes could, in theory, bust through the game with zero fear of permanent defeat thanks to the definite required input each stage offers.

The one new gameplay innovation added in this Xbox Live Arcade port is Kinect support for up to two players co-operative.  By the very snappy nature of the proto-quick-time-events featured within Dragon's Lair places motion-based gamers at a distinct disadvantage to gamepad players.  The movements the Kinect requires gamers to pull off for everything from a quick dodge or sword swing are fairly responsive and largely intuitive but often leave you off-centered making quick multiple chain movements (such as those required with the Lizard King and the final showdown with Singe) frustrating.  Co-Op requires both players to do the movement simultaneously with the precise timing required of all the single-player mode.  This mode will dissolve friendships.  All the aforementioned issues with Kinect remains, perhaps even doubled if you have a particularly spastic partner.


Both the 1983 arcade version of Dragon's Lair and a "Home" variant are bundled in this re-release.  The "Home" build further simplifies the button prompts but otherwise features all the same animations and stages of it's arcade brethren.  Finally, there is leaderboard support which will compare you highest score with other Xbox Live users.  Props for the game filtering out both which version was played and method of control used, but simply put, Dragon's Lair is not a game I see many venturing through for leaderboard glory.  The first three pages of the leaderboard are filled with the perfect scores...so that hardlimit can only be corrosive to an improbable competitive scene.


Without a doubt, Dragon's Lair was a stunner of a beauty when it was pressed on Laserdics back in 1983. To place it in context, blocky pixel based displays of Atari 2600 games and Ms. Pac-Man cocktail machines were Dragon's Lair's contemporaries.  None of them held a candle-visually-to the saturday cartoon-come-to-life charm of Dragon's Lair.  Barring some jarring screen transitions immediately following button inputs, Dragon's Lair was flawless in it's presentation.

The vivid colorful world animated by Don Blueth still holds up today. Presented in HD, Dragon's Lair still oozes medieval goofy fun.  Character design is especially good.  While Dirk the Daring's facial expressions are second to none in providing some chuckles, I always loved the diverse look of the many crevices of Singe's castle.  The palate ranges from high risk flume ride to haunted catacombs and always attracts the eye.

The only sore spots are the previous noted screen transitions that appear as a brief shuttering-undoubtedly an artifact of Dragon's Lair's primitive Laserdisc origin-and the bland polygonal Dirk that awaits you on every "Continue" screen.  Nitpick-y as it maybe, that model is all kinds of awful.


Fun Factor

Dragon's Lair, once removed from the initial context of 1983, does not hold up on it's own merits. What was once a revolutionary novelty is now an outdated relic of the past. The gameplay is simplistic and absolutely requires trail and error until the pattern is thoroughly sussed out. After the first stumble filled run through, you can complete an entire playthrough of Dragon's Lair in twenty five minutes or so.  Nothing is more deflating than blasting through the game flawlessly after a quick warm-up round. So it's hard to sell this package on any longevity claims. The Kinect support is spotty at best and is really not the way you want to experience Dragon's Lair.


Dragon's Lair is a tough game to review.  While a healthy dose of appreciation should be paid to the title for it's innovation and the groundwork it laid for more complex adventure titles that developed out of the shadow of Dragon's Lair; it's just not a game that stands up to any modern benchmark.  Nostalgia is the sole reason I can fathom someone would want Dragon's Lair at this point and, admittedly, the Xbox Live Arcade version is as solid as a HD release as either the iOS or PSN release.  Regardless, Dragon's Lair is a quest best remembered in kind aged memories rather than on your Xbox 360.