Dragon's Lair HD Review

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Publisher: Digital Leisure
Developer: Digital Leisure


Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: 1.8 GHz Processor, 512 MB RAM, 128 MB compatible video card, 16x DVD Drive, Windows XP or more recent operating system

Valiant knight Dirk the Daring braves the torturous traps and malevolent monsters that litter the castle of a dark wizard while questing to save Princess Daphne from the clutches of Singe the Dragon, where Daphne is held in a magical prison. Can Dirk live long enough to save the damsel?

Rating:
Kyle Ackerman


Dragon's Lair HD revisits the glory days of coin-operated arcades, but is something of an anachronism on modern machines. The game is one long sequence of "gotcha" moments. That was perfect for the arcade, when players had to dump quarter after quarter into a machine to learn, by trial-and-error, how to save Princess Daphne from Singe the Dragon. Better yet, with spectacular animation by Don Bluth that far surpassed the graphics offered by any other video game of its era, you could watch a player who had already mastered the game show off and guide Dirk the Daring through every animated challenge. But it's at odds with the modern experience, where dying or losing the game every few seconds is more frustrating and less commonplace.

Recent versions of Dragon's Lair have brought the experience of the original game to homes again, but Dragon's Lair HD is the first home version of the 1983 game that, using HD graphics and 5.1 surround sound, replicates the experience of standing at an original laserdisc-powered, coin-operated machines. It's all here, right down to the game's "attract" mode. Just as in the arcade, it's still fun to take turns guessing at Dirk's next move, in an effort to reach the animated conclusion – but it's not the sort of gameplay modern audiences expect. Winning requires a preternatural talent for Simon Says-style gameplay and no small measure of stamina to meet every challenge. Play is like the most demanding platforming sequence ever programmed. And while the game allows for players to continue after every death, it's hard to feel proud of your performance when nearly every trap between the drawbridge and the dragon means Dirk's demise.

When you do succeed (or remember from past failures what to do), Dragon's Lair HD is as fantastic to watch now as it was more than twenty years ago. Even in 1983, the game had a spectacularly high animation budget, and it's a joy to watch. Plenty of creative nasty creatures and traps await Dirk, such as the Lizard King, horrifying crypt creatures and the deadly Black Knight. The animation, characters and colorful (but deadly) world are splendid, and the quality of the animation means that this game can stand alongside modern titles in terms of visual quality.

Other than the style of play, few problems plague Dragon's Lair HD. One worthy of mention is the lack of instructions. The original game had a joystick that moved in four directions and a button to swing Dirk's sword. It would be helpful to have confirmation that the arrow keys and space bar serve in lieu of the coin-op controls.

The other problem is that the game sports a $50 price tag. For nostalgic fanatics of the coin-op game, that's worthwhile to be able to relive the experience and share it with friends. But if you never experienced the original game, you may find the gotcha mode of gameplay frustrating. Moreover, while you can watch the whole game (or individual scenes) on demand, the price tag doesn't justify simply watching this as a (very brief) animated short. And once you've learned how to win, the Dragon's Lair HD has minimal replay value.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 12, 2006 6:26 PM.

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