Dragon's Lair Review

This new port of Dragon's Lair brings Kinect support and leaderboards to the classic game, but its gameplay hasn't aged well.

by

Considering that the Xbox 360 has been around for over six years, it's a little surprising that we haven't seen a port of the 1983 classic Dragon's Lair until now. Not only is it one of only three games accorded permanent exhibition status at the Smithsonian Institution (along with Pac-Man and Pong), but it has also managed to worm its way onto everything from the Commodore 64 and NES to the iPhone in the intervening 29 years. Most of these were uninspired rehashes that brought almost nothing new to the experience, but this latest incarnation's leaderboards and Kinect support at least mark a step toward variety. Unfortunately, that's still not enough to make it worth your time.

Get used to seeing this shot. A lot.

Dragon's Lair was a colossal hit back in the days when visuals in video games were first evolving from wads of pixels to recognizable and iconic sprites such as Mario. Its appeal lay in its novelty. Harnessing the talents of celebrated animator Don Bluth, Dragon's Lair marked an ambitious attempt to jump over 10 years into the future, chucking the standard digital conventions of the day and being based entirely on animation.

At the time, it worked. In an age when Mario still wasn't "super," arcade goers could laugh at the antics of the goofy knight named Dirk the Daring on his quest to rescue the sultry Princess Daphne from the clutches of the dragon Singe. Instead of deaths that just knocked the hero offscreen, you saw poor Dirk subjected to snake strangulations and rib-cracking impacts. And instead of saving some generic princess, you won the hand of Princess Daphne, whose Playboy-inspired model turns heads as easily now as it did back then.

Even so, its animated focus demands simple gameplay even by the standards of its era. Indeed, little more than an interactive movie at heart, it's best understood in modern terms as the direct ancestor of the quick-time events (or QTEs) sprinkled throughout countless modern action games. Then as now, the entire game revolves around knowing when to press one of the four directions on a D-pad to move Dirk out of the way of danger, and using a button to slash your sword. Miss one of the lightning-fast prompts, and you find that death comes easy and often in Singe's domain. Unfortunately, such a setup means that success relies far more on memorization than true skill. The resulting trail and error is even more disappointing upon the realization that some of Dragon's Lair's 29 scenes repeat throughout Dirk's brief journey.

This sequence is anything but better with Kinect.

In theory, at least, Dragon's Lair seems like a perfect match for the Kinect. Freed of the constraints of a gamepad, you can act out Dirk's simple movements for yourself, jumping left as he dodges a snake to the right, or moving forward as he tries to wiggle through a hole in a rapidly closing wall. When it's time to stab at Singe, you battle him with a slashing motion of your arm. Unfortunately, it's those very moments that give Dragon's Lair so much trouble. Since so much of the game hinges on the speed of your responses, the time it takes to get back into place after a strafe to the left often leaves you in a bad spot when you need to strafe back to the right.

The slashing motions fare even worse because they don't always register. This Kinect mode compensates for such troubles by introducing optional directional indicators and allowing for occasional slips, but all in all it only adds to the frustration of an already unforgiving game. Gameplay gets even more frustrating in the local cooperative mode, which requires you to switch players every time the other player dies. And since Dirk has a nasty habit of dying every 10 seconds or so, the experience is more of a hassle than it's worth.

You might find some additional replay value in the multiple difficulty modes that strip the gameplay of its prompts or limit how many continues Dirk has after dying (in other words, making it closer to the 1983 arcade gameplay), but even then you'll probably master each within an hour. Leaderboards for the Kinect and gamepad modes foster some sense of competition, but Dragon's Lair is not the type of game that you'll set aside days or weeks for in an attempt to dominate the lists.

As a small bonus, this version lets you sit back and watch Dirk's adventures as an animated short if you're tired of tripping over yourself with the Kinect or missing cues on the gamepad. It's a welcome addition, since focusing on the necessary moves often means you can't fully appreciate the animation for itself unless you're watching someone else play. At the very least, it's useful as a walkthrough if you're having trouble on the promptless hard mode. Bluth's animation is as impressive as ever, although seeing it stripped of the gameplay only highlights the limits of the sound design. Aside from Dirk's shrieks of terror and some musical cues signaling a successful execution of a room, the only noteworthy sound file is the ditzy voice of Daphne explaining how to vanquish Singe.

Dirk's expression makes much more sense once you see what Daphne looks like.

Today, Dragon's Lair is little more than a historical curio. It takes barely more than half an hour to complete the game on its hardest modes, and a dedicated player could probably complete each achievement inside of five hours. The Kinect support is novel but ultimately more frustrating than the standard gamepad gameplay. In the end, you're better off finding a modern game with occasional QTEs scattered throughout its levels and smirking at your awareness of where such sequences evolved from.

The Good
A heavy dose of nostalgia
Attractive animation holds up even today
The Bad
Frustrating cooperative play
Kinect mode often unresponsive
Memorization more important than skill
Too short
4
Poor
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

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Leif Johnson (pronounced "Layf") is a freelance writer whose works have appeared on GameSpot, IGN, PC Gamer, Official Xbox Magazine, GameTrailers, and a host of other publications. He still considers GameSpot a "home" of sorts, though, as he got his foot in the door through GameSpot's blogging platform. He lives in Chicago.

Discussion

59 comments
angubaranar123
angubaranar123

This classic is for retrogamers only, there's not much sense in giving it a score.It's like saying that Ben Hur sucks cos it doesn't have any CG.

 

Personally I'll pass on this, I already have the Mega CD, the Win95 and the Anniversary edition, but the game is a timeless masterpiece, period.

 

I hope someone publish other laser games (not only DL 1,2 and Space Ace), Like Cliffhanger (fantastic), Super Don Quix-ote and so on. They were as cool as Don Bluth's ones, but they keep being forgotten. QQ

And about taking half an hour to finish... it's 30 minutes of pure action, not like modern games where you have something like: video, tutorial, video, 1 minute action, video, video, walk in an empty area, 1 minute action.

dylan35
dylan35

you can buy a hddvd or blu-ray of this , came out 5 yrs ago!

Gladestone1
Gladestone1

Can you play it old school..It be worth it if you can..This alone makes this game a perfect 10 in my eyes )..Game was the best in its day..This and space age rock.

terrascythe
terrascythe

It's odd that the PSN version hasn't even been scored by gamespot, yet the Microsoft port has.  Seems like the 4.0 rating is more deserving of the Kinect rather than the game itself.

HitManHey
HitManHey

You had to que to play this in the arcades way WAY back... look at the images and just think Space Invaders, Astroids, Pac Man et al, sat next to this beauty.

otanikun
otanikun

Of course GS would say something like this to a classic game, the gameplay hasn't aged a bit, it's classic old school gaming that these reviewers probably aren't used to anymore.

 

What didn't make it any better was the tacky kinect add on that ruined the gameplay and probably this review.

contraigon
contraigon

What I don't like about this is that it reviews this game as if it's supposed to be new and up to modern standards, as opposed to a port of a 30-year-old arcade game. In fact, wht is really the point of even writing this review? I'm sure there are already countless others out there judging it as what it's supposed to be, not what the writer would like it to be.

SciFiCat
SciFiCat

Long after our bones have turned to dust, this game will continue being ported to new hardware.

 

push88
push88

How many times to they to re-release this friggin game?  Is anyone still buying this?!  If you REALLY need to play it, just download it from PSN and be done with it.  I guarantee you'll play it once and delete it. 

soapman72
soapman72

What a shame...Love the game.

ItronTime
ItronTime

Was this written by a high schooler?  This is horribly written otherwise.

Cryptic_Shadow
Cryptic_Shadow

It feels like developers keep misinterpreting the capabilities of the kinect and as a result are giving it a bad rep/name.  I am not really a fan of the 'accessory' as a result.

 

This had 'bad idea' written all over it from the start.  There was no reason to bring this game back with the kinect option really.  Kinect desperately needs a developer that will implement its functionality as a utility and not as a gimmicky controller -- if you follow me.

 

Oh well, maybe next gen.  They should make it on-board as well. :)

bats94
bats94

Can't be as bad as the NES version.

OHGFawx
OHGFawx

I'd like to see Space Ace and Brain Dead 13 on PSN and XBLA

kkxtrouble
kkxtrouble

This must be the most milked game in history. (game, not series)

burgo81
burgo81

this game is like the village bicycle, every console has had a ride

oflow
oflow

um how can it be so hard to make the game responsive?? The arcade version had a joystick that you only moved four directions and a button....

BasilVZero
BasilVZero

How does the developer or the owner of the franchise (if you can even call it that) get the green light to make this game....

DeViLzzz
DeViLzzz

For the love of all things good about gaming if they could not get the controls right with many other non motion game versions and have it be responsive how did they think they would get a Kinect version right ?LOL

Printul_Noptii
Printul_Noptii

remember this back on the NES ? The horror... the horror...

Ranma_X_basic
Ranma_X_basic

This game has been ported to so many consoles that i've lost count. i had this game on the wii and beat both games and space ace (which wasn't easy).

 

but this game was more or less part of my gaming life as a kid.

nyran125
nyran125

Lets leave Dragons lair in the legend catagory and move on and if Resident Evil 6 sux, it might be time to do that with Resident Evil too AND silent Hill.

 

New franchises? or are we actually going to see Dragons lair 3D in 2020? Is it really necessary? Why not do a funny, shrek type cartoon animated Dragons Lair RPG or ARPG then? Wouldnt that be more interesting than this?

JMcN76
JMcN76

Ah, the good old days of video arcades...the 80s were so much fun!

edgewalker16
edgewalker16

That last picture makes less sense when thinking about what Daphne looks like and more sense when you realize he's got a pole shoved up his ass.

KillerJuan77
KillerJuan77

I have to wonder... is the game using the 1080p encode of the Blu-Ray and PSN versions?

BloodMist
BloodMist

Eh, whatever, despite the useless tacked on features, this is a true classic worth playing through if you never have before.Don Bluth forever!!!!

MJ12-Conspiracy
MJ12-Conspiracy

Honestly If I wanted this I'd get it on PSN, they also have Space Ace on PSN as well....

Both games were made by the same folks, same artist did both games animation....

SomePlayaDude
SomePlayaDude

The Kinect really needs some good work to make it work well. It's not the Kinect's fault to make a game bad; it'd be the devs. The developers should follow some exemplary Kinect games like Forza 4 or Gunstringer.

megakick
megakick

This is like the First big QTE game nothing more. Bad controls are bad no point of the game if it is unresponsive D:

UnwantedSpam
UnwantedSpam

I know this sounds really bad....but that third screenshot looks like he's happily taking it up the butt from those jewels.

 

Cannot be unseen.

1stormbringer77
1stormbringer77

 @HitManHey @ I played all those,but don't forget Bosconian,Gauntlet,Galaga,Centipede,Pole Position,Rally X & even Toy Pop.Games have gotten better visually & the plots are doing pretty good,too.But a lot of the games coming out now are really disappointing a lot of the gamers today because of the way some are played & having so many glitches,even the way they end them(ME3?).

jakesnakeel
jakesnakeel

 @otanikun and anyone under 40 would absolutely hate this "classic old school gaming" experience.  This game so doesn't stand the test of time.   I can't believe it even got a 4.

Rottenwood
Rottenwood

The purpose of this review, as with most reviews, is to determine whether a game is worth the consumer's money.  Said consumer might be curious to know if the Kinect implementation works well with Dragon's Lair, and apparently, it does not.  Players who have never heard of Dragon's Lair before might also be curious to see if it's worth playing, and apparently, it is not.

 

It's easy to forget that a majority of 360 owners weren't even alive when this game first came out.  They're not judging it as a curio; to them; it's a potential new purchase.

acemono
acemono

 @contraigon

 

LMAO, I get to the point where I don’t even read reviews anymore! I just scroll down to commits and people reviews!!

push88
push88

 @OHGFawx Space Ace is on PSN. I own it.  Why?  I'm still not sure...

Wula_
Wula_

 @burgo81 don't forget about home media players as well.

KillerJuan77
KillerJuan77

 @oflow The problem is that this was one of the pioneers of FMV gaming, however, that also means that the techonology was still sort of new so everything came with input lag (That is a million times worse than the one from Kinect, which is very responsive at times and very clunky in other moments IMHO) so add that with the fact that you had to play using some lightning fast reflexes and the game becomes a frustrating nightmare and that's a problem of the game itself regardless of the plattform. However... the iPhone version comes with a movie mode where you can see the entire "movie" without gameplay.

otanikun
otanikun

 @jakesnakeel Funny, I'm 23 and loved the game, so I guess I'm the exception in my age group.

 

Just because kids my age might not like the game or ones similar to it, doesn't mean that we don't enjoy a good classic game.

otanikun
otanikun

 @Rottenwood So it would be safe to assume that you did not grow up when this game was released correct?

 

You are more than correct in assuming that most if not all 360 owners weren't alive when the game was released, but those of us that appreciate it for it's nostalgic value growing or of having played it well after it's initial release will love it for what it was and is, classic gaming that this newer generation doesn't appreciate anymore.

OHGFawx
OHGFawx

 @push88 Really? I guess i need to actually start checking those PSN update emails.

UnwantedSpam
UnwantedSpam

 @Gelugon_baat Oh god...sword up the butt? What kind of sick stuff is he into?!?! And the fact that he's smiling at that...

UnwantedSpam
UnwantedSpam

 @slayerSS-3 He's having like a freakin' jewelgasm or something. Whatever makes him happy, I guess...

UnwantedSpam
UnwantedSpam

 @Gelugon_baat But even then it's all the way up there....

 

"And now, ladies and gentlemen, we present the warrior with the magically expanding anus..."

 

Never before in my life did I think I would type that sentence.

Dragon's Lair

  • PlayStation 3
  • Xbox 360
Dragon's Lair was an instant hit in its 1983 arcade debut and is now available on the PlayStation Store.
ESRB
Everyone 10+
All Platforms
Check out even more info at the Dragon's Lair Wiki on Giantbomb.com
Average Score See all 33 Player Reviews
5.6
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