Dragon's Lair Review

At least in the 2013 version you get visual cues of which key to press

  • Developer: Digital Leisure
  • Publisher: Digital Leisure
  • Release Date: 17 May 2013
  • Time played: 1 hour

The original Dragon's Lair came out a long time ago (well along time ago to me) in the year 1983. A developer named Advanced Microcomputer Systems was working on a graphical adventure game in the early 80s but were unable to market it successfully. It wasn't until the company president, Rick Dyer, happened to watch The Secret of NIMH that he realised he needed better quality animation for the game and an exciting script. So who better to animate the game than the animator of The Secret of NIMH, veteran animator Don Bluth himself. While I've never played the original Dragon's Lair, I've heard a lot about it and the scenes from the game were iconic. It was one of the first successful examples of an "interactive movie" and was so successful (grossing $32 million for its publisher Cinematronics) that some credit it as being responsible for helping turn around an apparent video game industry financial slump the year it was released.

So, the guys at Digital Leisure thought it would be a good idea to re-release the game to a new generation of gamers, 30 years later and see if anyone would be curious enough to give it a shot. I guess I am one of them!

Plot (2/5)
You play the role of a knight named Dirk the Daring and your goal is to navigate the many hazards and monsters within a castle so that you can eventually reach the eponymous Dragon's Lair, where a dragon named Singe is keeping the princess Daphne hostage. Yes, doesn't sound very original does it? Well you'd be right. Worse than that, Daphne seems to be a bit of an airhead - probably totally fine in the 80s but play it today and the ditzy, blonde damsel-in-distress just seems so outdated. Not to mention it felt really strange that as soon as you get to the Dragon's Lair, Daphne suddenly stops panicking and then motions seductively towards a magic sword to slay the dragon, wearing an outfit that only a porn star would wear - oh and that's actually no coincidence: apparently the artists couldn't afford real models so they decided to instead model Daphne off Playboy magazine photos - I kid you not!

Gameplay (2/5)
Being an early example of an interactive movie, gameplay is terribly primitive and basically consists of Quick-Time Events. As Dirk travels through the castle, you'll come across obstacles along the way where you'll have to either use the arrow keys in order for Dirk to jump/dodge or the space bar for Dirk to swing his sword. Timing is key and on hard difficulty, pressing the wrong key at the wrong time will instantly result in your death. Since you only have split seconds to decide what to do and since the only gameplay mechanic are the Quick-Time Events, you're probably going to die at least a few times (if not several like I ended up doing). Fortunately, unlike the original Dragon's Lair, the game has the decency to flash (but only for a second) which key you're supposed to press on the default mode. For the hardcore veterans in the audience though, there is an option to disable the hints.

You'll likely come across this guy a lot

Sound (3/5)
The quality of the audio seems low sometimes although at others it seems to be at a higher fidelity. Also, there's no denying that Daphne's voice when she screams out "Save me!" is very annoying - but that probably goes without saying for all of those that played the original 1983 game.

Music (4/5)
The game has actually very little music - all I can remember is the title screen music (and I'm not even sure if that was in the original game). What's there though is good stuff.

Graphics (4/5)
The animation seems a bit grainy but that's because animations in the 80s were. Besides the grainy scenes though, the game's graphics are fantastic thanks to Don Bluth's legendary animation style. This is the same guy that animated films like The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time, Anastasia and Titan A.E. - so he knew what he was doing in the art department (well, most of the time).

Replay (2/5)
The game is very short. It only took me 40 minutes to complete and I wasn't particularly good either - not to mention if you played the original, you could probably finish it quicker. There is however some temptation to replay the game thanks to the addition of Steam achievements which encourage you to try the game again on a higher difficulty or attempt to complete the game without losing a life! No mean feat.

Polish (4/5)
There aren't any serious bugs but I did notice that there were some mistakes in animating some of the scenes; for example, in one scene while Dirk is entering a room, the door in front of him is closed, however once he's ambushed the door magically disappears... no I meant the figure of speech, not actual magic! Geeze!

Score – 6/10

If you're one that enjoys experiencing video gaming history, a fan of the original 1983 game or a fan of Don Bluth animations, then you can't go past securing yourself a copy of Dragon's Lair. Revolutionary for its day, it demonstrates an early kind of interactive movie back when Laserdiscs were all the rage. As an actual game based on its own merits and compared to what is available nowadays however, there's not much to vouch for in a game reliant on Quick-Time Events for just about everything.

Dragon's Lair is available from these retailers:

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[ LINK: Digital Leisure's website ]