Dragon’s Lair Review

Platform | Release Date
PC, 360 | May 18, 2012
Developed by Digital Leisure Inc.
Published by Microsoft Games

The Pitch:

Dragon’s Lair,” one of the most beloved arcade games of all time, comes to Xbox Live Arcade on Friday, May 18th! From Digital Leisure Inc, this arcade authentic version is playable with Kinect or the Xbox 360 controller so you can really show how well you wield Dirk’s sword. Included with this ultimate edition are bonus Avatar items, Gamerpics and even a full watch feature to sit back and enjoy Don Bluth’s stunning animation.

In “Dragon’s Lair,” you play the heroic Dirk the Daring, a valiant knight on a quest to rescue the fair princess from the clutches of an evil dragon! Find your way through the castle of a dark wizard, who has enchanted it with treacherous monsters and obstacles. Lead on adventurer. Your quest awaits!

From the distance, the darkened room glowed and flickered a variety of light and color. The arcade invited passersby into its depths, provided they had the coinage. This was the home of the video game. It was where the most advanced technical spectacles could be witnessed in Attract Mode: looping cinematics and gameplay demos flashing “Insert Coin”. One game was famously indistinguishable between game and movie; the graphics were so gorgeous it looked like you were playing a cartoon. While computers and home consoles provided games in 1983, Dragon’s Lair was the first arcade game to demand players pay 50 cents per play. Those players lined up outside their local arcades to have heroic Dirk save the princess Daphne. And it was pretty.

Now it’s 2012. Gamers download budget arcade games for $15 a pop, unlimited plays and hours of enjoyment from their home theater systems. The few physical arcades that still exist strive to serve a niche market (and Japan). Dragon’s Lair has since been released, ported, and packaged in various collections upwards of 67 times. Is this release, available on your personal Xbox Arcade with Kinect support, worth your money?

I’ve tried to play Dragon’s Lair a number of times. I might not have been playing games in the arcade when Dragon’s Lair launched in 1983, but I am old enough to have visited a few as a kid. Even several years past its prime, seeing a Dragon’s Lair cabinet immediately pulled me in with its the hand-drawn animation. Curiosity overcame my reluctance to pay a full dollar for one attempt. Death immediately followed.

Was I supposed to be using the joystick and sword button? What should I press? My character seemed to move on his own without my input, yet my input must be required at some point because he died.

Two minutes and three dollars later and I knew this game was too rich for my blood. I had to stop. I reasoned that both the game and I were broke.

Years later, Dragon’s Lair was released on DVD. My PS2 (or any device) could play it, and it took no quarters. This appealed to me as a means to finally retry the game from my youth. Unfortunately, the DVD was badly pressed and the scenes would play randomly regardless of input. There were no copies to exchange it with, so I still have this broken disc (with working copies of Dragon’s Lair 2 and Space Ace) on my shelf.

Years later still, I was offered this gig: review Dragon’s Lair for Kinect.

I jumped in first on easy mode with the default input prompts enabled to show you which button to press and when. Played this way, Dragon’s Lair is Quick-Time Event: The Game. The prompts tell you to press Up, Down, Left, Right, or A, and you do it in time or you die. Even with the prompts, you will die a lot, but unlimited continues means you will still beat the game within 20-30 minutes at most.

“Ah hah!” you might say, “but this is Dragon’s Lair Kinect. How does that work?”

The Kinect motions of jumping forward, backwards, to the right, to the left, and chopping wood (sword) do not add anything to the game. Even the addition of a couple extra commands such as Run in Place or Swing from Rope do not really expand the experience, despite being literal additions. It’s implemented well with a variety of options besides the traditional Instant-Death mode, such as a Kinect “No Fail” mode which simply scores your successes/failures. It also has a good blended mode which borrows from Indigo Prophecy/Heavy Rain, where each failure is marked but a failure here or there might not kill you. Instead, you have to screw up a few times in a row before Dirk dies. There’s even a Co-Op mode where two players can trade-off between each scene controlling Dirk. Watching prompts slowly fade into view, then performing the jumping action or running in place just isn’t very fun, however, especially if the Kinect ever misdetects you. Dragon’s Lair wasn’t about following commands or gaining a high score (well, as an arcade game it was, but), it was about survival.

Dragon’s Lair is at its most fun when it’s challenging you. Or killing you. To really re-experience the game that robbed me of my innocence and quarters, I had to recreate it. I went into the options and turned off the fancy HD widescreen options, the control prompts, set it to Hard mode, Arcade, with the Controller. In hindsight, I should really have pulled out my fightstick. Next time.

I had a fun time dying. I imagine this is a very streamlined Demon Souls like experience: one step met with death, next time maybe make it two steps. Eventually, you find yourself at the end boss fight, swearing and watching the same unskippable introduction to the scene, but refusing to turn off the game and go to sleep. “This time, I won’t fuck up left, left, up, left, left like I did last time…I wonder what the next action will be after left- FUCK I forgot to do the 2nd left! Now I have to watch Daphne explain the dragon has a key around his neck *again* and that you can kill him with the magic sword *again*!”

This is Dragon’s Lair, again. There are a lot of options, such as playing with a Kinect, changing your difficulty, presentation, prompts, or just watching the game run through as a movie. The game itself is still short and bare-bones and it’s at its most fun at its most traditional. I finally got to experience Dragon’s Lair, but I can’t honestly recommend others play it because you don’t really “play” Dragon’s Lair, you “experience” it. If you want to try it despite being a shallow series of quick-time events, because it is a piece of gaming history, because you still remember the first time the cabinet robbed you of a dollar, or because you are just too damn curious, go for it.

Just don’t expect to play a game. Expect to experience death.

About Aaron Phokal

Aaron is a staff writer for Splitkick.
Bookmark the permalink.