Don Bluth's Dragon's Lair Hands-On Preview

Dirk the Daring, Princess Daphne, and Singe are back...on mobile!

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If you frequented arcades in the 1980s, you may remember one particular machine that didn't fit into the usual coin-op scenery: Don Bluth's Dragon's Lair. This game stood out like a beacon among its space shooter and racer competition, since it was essentially an animated short that had been edited into a video game. Studly knight Dirk the Daring, who could contort his face into all sorts of hilarious expressions, had to invade the dragon's castle to rescue Princess Daphne while dodging traps and slaying monsters right and left. Dragon's Lair had very simple controls--but its fast-twitch gameplay bankrupted many an arcade-goer of quarters nonetheless, because the game would only give you a fraction of a second to react to a threat and avoid death. Now, Starwave Mobile and MMJ Games are bringing this piece of arcade lore to mobile phones. We took a dip in a deep pool of nostalgia to see how the game is coming along.

Dirk, you goofball!
Dirk, you goofball!

Dragon's Lair for mobile has been scaled down to the level of the Commodore 64 version, so the animation is simplified and most of the sound is gone, along with all of the full-motion video. That's OK, though, because the sequence of puzzles and fast-acting threats doesn't appear to have changed a bit in the transition to mobile, and the game looks as good as it ever did. The game opens with Dirk striding confidently up to the castle gate, where he then falls through the drawbridge and into the waiting tentacles of some kind of moat monster. If you hit the sword button in time, you'll get to proceed to other fun activities, like swinging from flaming ropes, fighting off giant snakes, and hopping around on crumbling platforms. This version of the game features hints that you can toggle on and off, which will prove very useful for first-timers; this displays a directional arrow or sword icon at the bottom of the screen when you need to do something. It removes some of the challenge, but it also makes it easier to memorize the necessary sequences of moves. It's a nice option to have.

The LG VX8000 beta of Dragon's Lair we played also makes use of a technique that's becoming increasingly common in mobile games--downloading content on the fly. The game seems to download in 10-room chunks. Each room constitutes a "level," where you receive a score based on your performance, which can then be uploaded to a board. Although the loading time between rooms seems pretty negligible, our copy of the game crashed the phone at the end of the first in-game download, every single time. We're assuming that Starwave and MMJ are still working the bugs out of the dynamic download system and will have it ready for the game's commercial release.

We like what we've seen from Dragon's Lair so far. If the designers fix the game's technical issues, we think that a lot of would-be knights will want to rescue the princess all over again. Dragon's Lair will be out before the end of the year on US carriers, and we'll have our full review of the game once the final version comes out.

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