Dragon's Lair Review
Dragon's Lair Box Art
System: Xbox 360
Dev: Digital Lecture
Pub: Microsoft Studios
Release: May 18, 2012
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Animated Blood, Cartoon Violence, Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes
Dirk's Newest Adventure
by Angelo M. D'Argenio

Back in the days when giant pixelated monkeys threw barrels at plumbers, someone got the bright idea to produce a video game made completely of animated cut scenes. This game was Dragon's Lair, and it was designed and animated by Don Bluth, a man who's lent his talent to such movie gems as Disney's Robin Hood, The Fox and the Hound, The Land Before Time, The Secret of NiMH, and more. Now, this classic 1983 title is being re-released on XBLA, complete with modern features like leaderboards and Kinect motion controls. Does this beloved classic hold up after all these years?

For those of you who are too young to remember Dragon's Lair, the game was one of the first examples of "cinematic gameplay." You "control" Dirk the Daring in his quest to save his beloved princess Daphne from a horrible dragon. The game is made up of several animated cutscenes that show Dirk in danger. The player has to press the correct direction on the joystick, or the attack button, at the right time in order to allow Dirk to survive. Yes, this pretty much makes the game one big quick time event.

Dragon's Lair Screenshot

In the old days, players would have to rely on the animation itself to figure out what directions to push and when. Unfortunately, there was no reliable way to figure out how to win aside from trial and error. Thus you would spend a fortune in quarters trying every single combination of directions and button presses just to allow Dirk to get to the next scene.

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While you can replicate the classic arcade experience in the new XBLA home version, you can also turn on more traditional video game button prompts as well. These button prompts will show up at the top, left, right, and center of the screen to indicate which buttons you need to be pressing and when. While this certainly makes the game easier, it doesn't make the game too easy. Unlike most modern quick time events, your window for input in Dragon's Lair is incredibly small, so even if you know what's coming, you can fail if you aren't quick on the draw. The positioning of the prompts on the screen also works to keep you on your toes. If you aren't paying attention to the whole screen at once, you'll probably miss a prompt or two. The fact that the prompts are black arrows on a brown background while Dirk frequently explores black and brown caves doesn't help either.

Dragon's Lair Screenshot

The game can be played fullscreen or with an arcade overlay. When playing with the arcade overlay, a small virtual dpad lights up in the upper right corner of the screen whenever you need to push a direction. I honestly don't recommend playing with this option on, as it makes the game far too easy. With all the prompts in the same place, it's hard to miss any of them, and (while this may just be my imagination) it feels like the prompts show up a bit earlier, giving you ample time to push them. This might sound good for those of you who enjoy games for their art and story rather than difficulty, but you actually end up focusing far more on this D-pad than the animation itself, passing scenes without actually even knowing which scene you are in. Though it will certainly help you beat the game, it comes at the expense of not actually experiencing the story.

Dragon's Lair for XBLA comes with two difficulty modes: easy and hard. Simply put, hard mode includes more button prompts with stricter timing than easy, though both are true to the original Dragon's Lair experience. You can also play Dragon's Lair in arcade mode or home mode. Home mode forces you to go through each room in the castle one at a time, restarting back at the beginning of your current room if you die. Arcade mode shifts you to a random room upon death, making it harder to memorize the inputs that will let you survive. Though you have a limited number of lives, there's no real penalty for continuing after losing them all except for resetting your score to 0. So even the worst Dragon's Lair players will eventually get to the end as long as they stick with it.

Dragon's Lair Screenshot

Of course, the biggest draw to this re-release might be the game's Kinect control integration, but frankly, this falls a bit flat. The good part is that the Kinect has you performing a variety of actions that mimic what Dirk has to do. This makes the game far more immersive than the normal up/down/left/right/attack interface. The bad part is that the game wasn't originally designed with the Kinect in mind, which makes playing with the Kinect incredibly frustrating.

First of all, it's hard to tell if you are completing the prompts you are given correctly. Yes, you get to see if you pass or fail depending on whether or not Dirk dies, but you never know if this is because your timing was off or if the Kinect just didn't like the way you moved. Secondly, some scenes require incredibly strict and rapid timing. Since the game basically forces you to jump around the room, it's near impossible, no matter how agile you are, to jump in two different directions at the same speed at which you can flick a joystick left and right. In the end, the Kinect controls are a nice diversion, but, more often than not, they'll just frustrate you. If you're the kind of person who likes to shoot for the high score, you're probably better off using a traditional controller.

Dragon's Lair has always been a classic, holding an important place in the hearts of gamers who remember the early days of the arcade. While the game certainly lives off the force of its nostalgia, there are certainly flaws that can be seen when comparing it to games on the market today.


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