Dragon's Lair finally arrives on the XBLA, but has it aged well?
Dragon's Lair has already been available on pretty much every other system worthy of note. From its arcade roots, it's gone from the laserdisc format to the Gameboy Color and iPhone, eventually landing here, on the Xbox 360. It hasn't aged well, at all. Sure, the historical significance is still plain to see and there's that wish to give it respect, but it really isn't very good any more and only the most nostalgic will benefit from what is on offer.
For those not already in the know, Dragon's Lair is one big huge Quick Time Event. Originally an arcade title, players have to negotiate a castle of an evil wizard in order to slay the dragon and save the princess, Daphne. At the time of its initial release, Dragon's Lair was considered revolutionary at the time thanks to its "movie-quality" images and addictive style of twitch gaming. Nothing like it had been seen before, adding to the general furore.
You'd think this would hurt Dirk but surprisingly it doesn't
This doesn't translate hugely well to 2012. We've all seen more than our fair share of QTEs. Heavy Rain, despite its flaws, was a fantastic example of a cinematic game with QTEs, and while there would have arguably been no Heavy Rain without the influence of Dragon's Lair, that's still no reason to go back quite so far.
The Quick Time Events within Dragon's Lair are very rudimentary. Play consists of navigating 30 different scenes, randomised for each session, by tapping relevant buttons at the right moment. Dragon's Lair only uses the d-pad for directions and A to initiate a sword attack. Deviation is not allowed and fast reactions are vital throughout the game. When I say fast reactions, at times this involves cat-like responses. Players will be experiencing the death scene many, many times thanks to taking more than a split second to react to a situation. After all, this was originally an arcade game, keen to take many coins from its players.
Fortunately, despite having limited lives, players can always save at the start of every scene, taking much of the challenge out of Dragon's Lair. Instead, it becomes a futile exercise in patience and persistence that's only really rewarded with the knowledge that at least you've played a one time classic, and you've accrued a healthy amount of achievements along the way.
There are numerous attempts at making the game a little more up to date for the 21st century. Most vital is the addition of Kinect functionality. On paper, it sounds ideal. Just jump or lean in one of the four directions when the relevant moment occurs with a slashing motion to activate the sword. Unfortunately, it doesn't work very well with the split second reaction requirements of the game. Unless you're lightening fast at moving from position to position, there'll be even more death to witness and frustration to feel. A co-operative mode alongside this requiring players to jump in and out of action once someone has died makes it all the more frantic and all the less fun.
One of the many frustrating moments where cat like reflexes are vital
There's the slightest hint of easing off the player in the form of different modes but again it doesn't change the core, aged feel of Dragon's Lair. An Adventure mode entwined with Kinect ensures that the player can't fail, with players instead being scored on how quickly they respond to each scene. This is handy for newcomers to the game although loses some of the point that the difficult yet purist Daring mode provides.
On the controller based side of things, it's possible to turn off the move guide, thus providing the full arcade experience, but odds are players will only bother to do this when gaining the relevant achievement for doing so. It does, at least, make the player more likely to pay attention to what's on screen rather than just focus on the next highlighted move. The final addition of a laser disc mode that requires players to pass each scene before they can move onto the next rounds off the nostalgic collection of different ways of playing.
The aforementioned one time revolutionary graphics are still appealing to look at. The animated cartoon style has aged much better than other games of its time and brings with it a Disney style animation quality that's indicative of the quality of animator Don Bluth's work. Sound quality is less impressive though and the lack of sound clips feels noticeable compared to modern standards. Some of the scenes are quite humorous but for much of the time, you'll be too busy paying attention to what keys need hitting rather than taking in the visual pleasantries. A large number of the scenes are also repeated which can get a little tedious, even despite their short length.
Dirk the knight suffers greatly in his quest to save the Princess. Let's hope she's grateful!
Taking less than an hour to complete, even for those who have never played it before, it's a pricey package indeed at 800 points. Things are bulked out slightly with the addition of a movie mode enabling the player to simply watch the game play out. It's a nice touch, much like the steady supply of avatar items and gamerpictures that unlock, but it's still not enough.
DRAGON'S LAIR VERDICT
Dragon’s Lair is a very important piece of gaming history but for those who didn’t play it the first time round, it’s a tough one to recommend. Without the nostalgia factor, it’s just a very short and dated experience with a glimmer of the wonder that once gripped the arcade world. That’s really not enough to compete with what’s out there now.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Finally nailing that exceptionally obtuse key prompt while fighting the evil wizard.