Review: Dragon’s Lair (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Dragon’s Lair
Genre: Interactive Movie
Developer: Cinematronics/Digital Leisure
Publisher: Digital Leisure
Release Date: 05/18/2012

Back in the early days of gaming, when arcades were fairly popular and home gaming basically looked like blobs of God-knows-what on the screen, Dragon’s Lair and its spiritual successor Space Ace were big for the arcade crowd. The games looked amazing for their time, largely because they weren’t games per say, but interactive movies; press the right direction to keep the movie going, fail and watch a death animation before starting again. It was a neat trick for its time, but as games advanced, these… didn’t. The home consoles brought us games like Night Trap, Time Gal, Braindead 13 and, yes, Dragon’s Lair, and the novelty wore off as the reality of how the games worked, coupled with their lack of depth and variety, set in. Dragon’s Lair has managed to endure beyond the end of interactive movies, however, largely because it comes out for every console in existence; seriously, there are twenty two entries for that title alone on GameFAQs, and that doesn’t even include the releases of the sequels. As such, it was really only a matter of time before we saw the game on the 360, but Digital Leisure decided they weren’t content with simply releasing a direct port of the game, instead releasing Dragon’s Lair with Kinect functionality. Now, in fairness, you don’t need the Kinect to play the game, as it also works fine with the controller, but you can also play the game by using your own body motions to get through the castle. Whether or not you’ll want to, on the other hand, is a completely different matter altogether.

For those who have somehow missed Dragon’s Lair over the years, the plot is basically standard for the time. You play as Dirk the Daring, a courageous night who is on a quest to save Princess Daphne from the dragon Singe, who has had her abducted and brought to the castle of the evil wizard Modroc. Singe is holding Daphne on the bottom floor of the castle, and Dirk’s quest is to travel through the traps in the castle, kill Singe, and save Daphne. There’s astonishingly little plot to the game, despite the nature of the product, as aside from the attract video and final stage, the game is almost entirely Dirk dodging traps and slaying enemies, but the game tells its story in its action, and does enough with that to get by. There are a few different game modes available in the game, including solo and co-op play in the Kinect play mode, controller play, and the ability to simply watch the animation without bothering to play at all. Granted, there’s not an astonishingly large amount of content to work with, and at the end of the day it’s still all focused around playing Dragon’s Lair, but it’s nice that the game makes an attempt to expand the game a bit beyond simply being the game as we know it and nothing more.

The animation quality for Dragon’s Lair still holds up quite well in this day and age, and even in high definition looks quite good in motion. Don Bluth and company did an excellent job with animating the game when it was initially developed, and the animation quality holds up nicely today. The menu interface generally looks fine, as well, if unexciting, and the rendered Dirk they use for the tutorials looks goofy, but gets the point across well enough. Outside of the animations used for the core game, however, nothing especially stands out, and while everything looks acceptable enough, that’s about as far as that goes. Aurally, well… Dragon’s Lair has a solid enough soundtrack, in that it’s both fittingly grand and fittingly comical in equal measure, and the various sound effects that pop up from monsters and traps and such are quite good. However, the voice acting hasn’t held up well; Dirk sounds okay at best, and Daphne sounds so exaggeratedly stupid that it was annoying then and insulting at this point. The effects added to the game to indicate correct and missed inputs are good for indicating when you’ve failed and succeeded, but are bland and don’t mesh well with the game either, sadly, which doesn’t help, since they tend to be useful for actually playing through the game.

For those who have played one of the numerous other releases of Dragon’s Lair, you probably have a decent idea of how it plays with the controller: press in the direction the game indicates when it does so to move Dirk there, and press A to swing his sword. Succeed, and you continue with the scene, fail and Dirk goes through a comedic death sequence, at which point you start the entire scene again, or start a new scene, depending on what mode you’re playing. The Kinect controls are a little more involved, however. There are the standard up/down/left/right movements, which require you to jump/lean in the specified directions, and swinging your sword is done by raising your arm (either one) up, then down in a chop motion. You’ll also have a rope grab motion, which requires you to raise your arm up (this is arm specific), and a run motion, which requires you to, well, run in place. Later in the game, you’ll also have a “cup catch” move, which requires you to stick both arms out to your left, and a sword pull animation, which is basically putting both hands in a central position and pulling upward. The game is nice enough to provide a handy tutorial of how these moves work, allowing you to see them action and practice them before you start off, so you won’t be in the dark as to how the mechanics work when playing with the Kinect.

When playing with the Kinect, you’re offered three difficulty modes: Adventure, where you’re just scored based on reaction time and basically cannot die, Quest, where you can die after so many failed motions, and Daring, where you die if you fail one motion. You can also play the game alone or with a friend in Co-op mode, where you each take turns on scenes. When playing with the controller, you’re offered only Easy and Hard mode; both offer the same amount of lives and infinite continues, but Hard is much less forgiving about its timing than Easy, meaning you’ll have to be much faster with responses, and it adds some additional motions in some sequences. Additionally, you can also choose Arcade (Dirk starts a new scene when he dies) and Home (Dirk plays the same scene until you complete it) game modes to play through, for those who would prefer to go through one specific experience over the other. You can basically blow through the game inside of half an hour, depending on how much you die, though there are also little novelties, like Achievements tied into specific actions and sequences, the ability to watch the game without playing it if you just want to see the game in action, and the ability to unlock Avatar Awards for various accomplishments, that give it a bit more appeal than one might expect.

Having said that, however, everything you need to know about the game can be summed up by one sentence: I one hundred percent cleared out the game, Achievements and all, inside of five hours. Dragon’s Lair, from start to finish, runs about sixteen minutes, all told, and while it randomizes the order of the events, the events themselves are functionally identical from one game to the next. If you’re particularly dedicated to saving and re-loading, you can clear the entire game in two, maybe three play sessions, but even if you go through multiple sessions, as I did, you can still do everything inside of five hours, and that’s with fully testing all of the mechanics and elements of the game. In other words, there’s not a lot to come back to and you can see everything the game has to offer in one sitting. Further, the Kinect mechanics don’t work as well as they could or should. While the basic dodging movements work fine enough, the sword and running actions aren’t as receptive as they could be, and the game honestly isn’t very fun to play with the Kinect. The controller scheme is significantly more responsive, but at that point you’re basically just playing Dragon’s Lair, and chances are good that, well, if you haven’t done so, you probably don’t need to.

Dragon’s Lair is fine as a novelty piece, reminding us of where games started and where they’ve come since that point, and if you’ve never played it ten dollars isn’t a bad price to experience it, but for everyone else there’s basically nothing to get excited over, especially given how many times the game has been released already. The plot is adequate, as are the gameplay options, and the animations and score are as good as ever, even if the menus, voice work, and added effects aren’t anything great. The game is as simple to play as it ever was, but the Kinect controls add some mild amusement to the experience, and there are different difficulty levels, options, Achievements and unlockables to aim for if you’re interested. However, you can complete a single session inside of half an hour and I literally did everything one can do with the game inside of five hours, which doesn’t speak well to the game’s longevity. Further, the game is incredibly basic, the Kinect mechanics don’t work as well as they could or should, and frankly, there’s not a lot of reason to play the game at this point. Dragon’s Lair is a relic of the old days of arcade gaming, and while it’s certainly significant for its time, there is basically no reason to keep bringing it back. If you’ve somehow missed it, and you’re curious, it might be worth a look, but otherwise, you can safely let this pass uninspected and move on with your day.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: MEDIOCRE
Control/Gameplay: BAD
Replayability: DREADFUL
Balance: BAD
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: WORTHLESS
Miscellaneous: BAD

Short Attention Span Summary:
Dragon’s Lair is the same game it’s ever been, with Kinect controls added on to the package, and while that’s a cute idea, it doesn’t change the fact that this is the same game it’s ever been. The plot and gameplay options are serviceable, if unexciting, the animation looks as good as ever while the rest of the visuals in the package are adequate, and the music and basic effects are good, but everything else is… not so much. The game is as incredibly simple to play as it’s ever been, though the Kinect controls add some mild depth and amusement to the package, and the game has some added content, in the form of being able to watch the game without the prompts and Achievements/Avatar gear, that could potentially add some value for fans or newcomers. However, the actual game itself can be completed inside of twenty minutes, there’s nothing new to experience once you’re done with the first go-round, and the entire game, unlockables and all, can be cleared out inside of five hours. Further, at the end of the day, this is still Dragon’s Lair, warts and all, and the Kinect controls add little to the experience to begin with, which is further compounded by the fact that they don’t work as well as one would hope. Basically, if you’re a huge fan of Dragon’s Lair, or you’ve never seen it before, ten dollars isn’t a bad price for it, but honestly, there’s nothing here that makes the game worth purchasing for the majority of gamers, and you’ll likely be done with it long before it justifies its asking price.



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One response to “Review: Dragon’s Lair (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

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