Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair
Mostold - timers (I prefer the term 'veteran’- Ed) caught in a wave of gaming nostalgia like to reminisce about those undisputed classics of the golden era - the likes of Space Invaders, Star Wars Arcade, Chuckie Egg - all boasting awful graphics but gloriously pure gameplay. However, there was one title nearly two decades ago that completely reversed this formula. Based on cutting edge laserdisc technology, 1983’s Dragon’s Lair arcade game looked like a full-blown Disney animated movie, while its gameplay consisted almost entirely of pressing the right button at the right time. In a way, the millions who chucked their change into the slot for hours on end were little more than lab pigeons getting to see the next bit of the cartoon as reward for pecking the correct colour.
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While these days the art of game design is all about finding the balance between storytelling and giving the player freedom, back in 1983 a game with a movie-like plot was a real bombshell. Don Bluth, who has gone on to direct such animated rubbish as Titan AE and Thumbelina, is largely responsible for the great creation that is Dirk the Daring, a charming idiot of a knight, hellbent on rescuing the equally dippy princess Daphne. And while Dragon’s Lair consisted mostly of avoiding obstacles, the characters and amazing visuals made everyone feel they were starring in their own epic cartoon. There was even a short-lived animated series that showed events as if you were playing the game - Dirk would die horribly, with comments such as: "If Dirk had jumped on the crocodile’s head, this would have happened", before you were shown the route he actually did take.
Now, after a long history of Amiga versions and minor console outings, the pseudo-interactive hand-drawn animations of Dragon’s Lair are being recreated as proper 3D environments, for a new outing called Dragon's Lair 3D. The question is, will this next generation provide those incredible graphics with the real-time gameplay to go with it?
Well, having spent some time with a beta build of the game this I month, we can report that the answer is... not exactly.
Dragon’s Lair 3D falls rather neatly into the category of an action-platform game, a sort of simplified Tomb Raider that will be hoping to attract a younger audience rather than veterans with fond memories for the original. The PC version is identical to the console releases, so don’t expect any great depth of gameplay. However, what you do get is charm by the bagful, as you explore the castle, battle creatures with your sword, test your reflexes against obstacles, solve simple puzzles and bask in the retro cel-shaded graphics. There are even some spells - called dragon essences - which show how far the gameplay has departed from the memory-based skills of the original. In keeping with the spirit of the original (in which the creators of the game did the voices themselves to save money), the acting is pretty dismal. In fact you may be driven to find Daphne in order to strangle her high-pitched larynx rather than save her. But then your little brother will probably love it. And might too.
Download Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair
Dragon's Lair caused a storm when it hit arcades way back in 1983 with its incredible cartoon-style visuals and kooky sense of humour. Boasting laser disc technology and art design from ex-Disney animator Don Bluth, the trouble was that it was a shite game where you had practically no involvement in what happened.
As though there was some kind of public clamour for more of the same, here we are again with a 3D action/adventure revamping of this arcade oddity. As before, you are bungling knight Dirk the Daring, and once again it is your mission to rescue Princess Daphne from Singe the Dragon and his master, Mordroc the wizard.
To do this, you have to negotiate your way through castle rooms and dungeon vaults full of menacing beasts and devious pitfalls. There are platforms to jump, swinging blades to roll under, goblins to smite and items to use. Or at least that's probably something similar to what's written on the back of the box. In reality, your most challenging opponents here are the shatteringly bad controls and camera, the mind-numbingly monotonous combat system, and the frustratingly random nature of the traps (Enter room. Die. Learn from mistake. Enter room.
Don't die. Continue). OK, so the animations are nice, the music's decent and it's cheap, but it's a shocking game - make no mistake. And don't think just because you have fond memories of the ancient coinop that this will be a pleasant trip down memory lane, as many of the original's hallmarks, such as the multiple death sequences, are nowhere to be seen.
We've seen our fair share of arcade classics being remade for the latest consoles and unfortunately, many of them have failed to live up to the memories that we had of playing the originals. Mention Dragon's Lair to any of us old gamers and we are immediately thrown back to the early 80's where we hovered around that arcade game for days like it was some futuristic god, pumping in an endless tribute of quarters and tokens. Rightly or wrongly, for a moment in time, Dragon's Lair ruled in the arcades and earned high regard in the gaming world for its originality and innovation.
Dragon's Lair was very much a high tech version of the mouse in the maze, where scientists would 'teach' a mouse how to navigate a maze and secure a piece of cheese through repetition. You had to die many times before you learned the correct pattern and timing required to complete each room and be rewarded with a bit of triumphant music and the honor of being allowed to proceed further into the castle. Perhaps it was a bit silly, but it was great fun at the same time. We have the opportunity to relive some of that fun with the release of Dragon's Lair 3D
Count me among those that loved the original. When I received DL3D, I promptly played for 4 hours straight. The story is basically the same; the dragon has kidnapped Princess Daphne and you, as Dirk, must brave the terrors of the castle to rescue her. The good news is that this game has everything and more of what excited us 20 years ago, but unfortunately, it also has things that frustrated us. Don't get me wrong'I liked this game, but at the same time, parts were extremely frustrating.
One of the frustrations that I had with the original version of the game was how often you had to die just to learn how to beat a level. While the new version is not that picky, there are levels when you just want to scream. Half of the challenge is solving the puzzle of each room and the other half is overcoming the controls themselves. There are times when Dirk moves like he's wading in molasses and trying to time controlled jumps that are sluggish in responding to the controller more often than not results in your death. Don't worry though; you have as many lives as you need to resolve each level.
Overall the game is well done. The fully rendered 3D environments are rich and detailed using cel-shaded graphics to bring to the life the Dragon's Lair world. The addition of new levels and items like a crossbow, magical arrows, potions and treasures will keep even us old timers engaged. So, if you enjoyed Dragon's Lair, than you will love DL3D as it will bring much of the same kind of fun that you remember. But if you hated the original, will find little more to love in the revamped version, save for the beauty of playing an Xbox game at 1080i. Rent this game first unless you were one of the guys next to me pumping quarters into the arcade version.
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