First LookDragon's Lair 3D

We get a look at the 3D adventure of video game icon Dirk the Daring.

The crossbow is Dirk's secondary weapon. It allows him to fire on foes from a distance.

We were recently able to take a look at Dragonstone's new Dragon's Lair game, featuring such memorable characters as Dirk the Daring, Princess Daphne, and the evil dragon Singe. Members of the original team behind Dragon's Lair, including Don Bluth and Rick Dyer, have been hard at work on this renovation of the original. Once again, Dirk must rescue Daphne and defeat Singe, but if you're expecting the same game featuring full-motion video scenes and minimal interaction, you're in for a surprise. Dirk now runs, jumps, and attacks in real time, controlled by the player in a third-person action adventure game. There have been more than 200 rooms added to the original castle, and the previous game's reliance on devious traps has remained intact, which implies that Dragon's Lair 3D will try to be as tricky and challenging a game as its predecessor.

Dragon's Lair 3D is quite the significant departure from the original laserdisc game--Dirk and the denizens of the castle are animated, cel-shaded characters, each with fluid animations that bring the creators' humorous ideas to the fore. These characters now inhabit, and Dirk now explores, a fully realized 3D re-creation of the original expansive castle, now upgraded so that every nook and cranny can be explored from a more direct perspective. The castle's expanded sections take advantage of modern console technology in ways that the creators of the original game could only dream of back in 1983. Some of the larger rooms are direct testaments to artistic inspiration, like a room inspired by MC Escher's endless stairs. This particular area gives you a view of an empty expanse, bordered by stairs and doors in a way that reaching them seems almost a logical impossibility (until you take a daring leap). Other room types include circular areas bordered by individual cells, creating the battlegrounds of a particular boss fight--where chasing down the bounding foe as he rounds the bends and occasionally ducking into the interconnected chambers make for a constant chase. In true Dragon's Lair fashion, this new game will be replete with collapsible floors, sudden pit traps, and dangerous environments.

All the characters are cel-shaded in a nice, lively manner, and the look is quite faithful to the game's legacy.

What appears to be most significant in Dragon's Lair 3D, aside from the move to a fully interactive experience, is the series of changes that have been made to the character of Dirk the Daring. Our hero can now leap, run, slash, and even tumble as situations demand, giving the character more depth than the previous game could allow. Dirk is also no longer dead after a single mistake, his fortitude now measured by a health bar--accompanied by a new mana meter--that displays his currently available magical reserves. While falling down a bottomless pit will still bring on one of the infamous Dirk "game over" screens, updated with renovated graphics while maintaining the overall look of the original, you have a greater chance of surviving against the rest of the castle's threats, because you are now capable of unpredictable defensive maneuvers and can engage in active combat. While the game is much more free-form in this current rendition, you are aided at nearly every turn by useful advice from the trapped Princess Daphne, who advises Dirk from within the amulet she resides in.

There seems to be some really nice use of particle effects in the game, which could really blend well with the characters' hand-drawn look.

In addition to his trusty sword, Dirk is now equipped with a ranged weapon--specifically, a crossbow. This crossbow can fire a variety of different bolts, including standard, fire, and magical. Standard arrows should be used as a convenient ranged attack when necessary, while the fire and magical arrows serve the dual purpose of triggering specific puzzle sections. Or they can be used for defeating particularly nasty foes whom rudimentary attacks fail against. You can fire this new weapon on the run, like a sword attack, but you can also switch to a convenient first-person mode, where sniping can be facilitated. For more dangerous maneuvers, Dirk can even pull off convincing strafe moves, which is so much better for shooting evasively. Arrows, as well as keys, health potions, mana potions, and a variety of treasures can be found throughout the castle in destructible barrels or unlockable chests.

Even more importantly, Dirk is now able to find five magical dragon pieces that each bestow a new ability that can either aid him in combat or allow him to traverse the game's tricky puzzle elements. The dragon's eye gives Dirk the ability to see through false walls, giving them a translucent effect that proves invaluable for finding secret areas. The dragon's scale changes Dirk's trademark chain-mail jerkin into a suit of green dragon scale mail that protects him from fire and heat. The dragon's wing gives Dirk the ability to embark on short flights, although his lack of balance and fear of heights make these trips a laughable event at best, although they are well suited for crossing otherwise impasssible pits or traps. One of the dragon pieces also allows for healing, while the last coats his sword in arcane fire, which is useful for defeating particular enemies or activating certain flame-sensitive puzzles. These magical abilities use up Dirk's mana reserves and form the majority of his new options.

Much of the gameplay seems to revolve around classic 3D adventure conventions.

The updated yet familiar landscapes of the Dragon's Lair castle are inhabited by many of the familiar villains of the original game, such as the distinctive goons and spectres, who have been given a fresh look, and new animation routines. In the current game, flares of color signify when Dirk or a creature is damaged and also mark the moment before they fade away from existence. Interestingly enough, living enemies don't walk or fly so much as bounce--it feels almost like you're playing through a video game rendition of a Ralph Bakshi film. The care that has been taken to animate the entire Dragon's Lair 3D world can even be seen in the bags of treasure that dance in a silly little sway before they are snatched up.

The team at Dragonstone has been hard at work fine-tuning and tweaking the animation and artistry in Dragon's Lair 3D for several years now, but it appears it is finally on the home stretch toward completion. The game is currently slated to ship on the PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube. We'll be taking a complete look at the game at next month's Electronic Entertainment Expo, where we'll give you an updated look at what's in store. In the meantime, check out our exclusive screenshots to get a firsthand look for yourself.

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