Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair Review

Players old enough to remember the original Dragon's Lair fondly would be better off checking out the DVD version of the original Dragon's Lair.

A little history for you: In 1983, the video game industry, arcades to be more specific, were in a bad slump. Video games were on the brink of being the silly fad that parents were telling their kids it was. And then along came an incredibly unique and exciting game called Dragon's Lair, a game that, if you listen to the creators of the game, is responsible for saving the video game industry from itself. What made Dragon's Lair unique was its use of laser disc technology to present players with an interactive animated movie in which they could control the hero, which gave the game an unprecedented graphical advantage over the competition. Actually, Dragon's Lair was so unique, there really was no true competition. Now, the original creators of Dragon's Lair have brought back Dirk the Daring for a new adventure, this time in 3D. The result is an unimpressive action platformer with a few of the trappings of the original Dragon's Lair.

Dragon's Lair 3D resembles the original arcade classic...
Dragon's Lair 3D resembles the original arcade classic...

One of those trappings is the story, which again follows the bumbling knight Dirk the Daring as he goes on an adventure to save the perpetual damsel-in-distress Daphne from the dastardly duo of the wizard Mordroc and the dragon Singe. The amount of control you had over Dirk in the 1983 Dragon's Lair was limited to some timed directional commands and the occasional timed attack command. Using this simplistic control scheme, you guided Dirk through a series of rooms, which usually boiled down to basic puzzle-solving coupled with hard-core twitch gameplay. DragonStone, the developer of Dragon's Lair 3D, has stayed surprisingly true to this formula. But Dragon's Lair didn't have the most advanced gameplay in 1983, and in 2002, Dragon's Lair 3D has basically turned into an action platformer with a heavy focus on jumping puzzles. Dirk has most of the moves you'd expect from a Lara Croft-type character. He can run, jump, climb ropes and ledges, and dispatch enemies with his sword, and he can even roll up into a ball, just like a certain Samus Aran. It's just that he doesn't do most of this terribly well. The jumping mechanic is the worst--Dirk has only two kinds of jumps, straight up and down or a forward leap, and the game's plentiful and unforgiving jumping puzzles require more precision than these jumps allow. Dragon's Lair 3D predictably suffers from some camera problems that work further to make the jumping puzzles more frustrating than need be. The sword-fighting mechanic is also pretty shoddy, and though there's a lock-on mechanic, enemies are usually pretty slow-witted and benign, and simply running around wildly and hacking at them seems to do the trick just as well. But even without these control problems, the repetitive trial-and-error nature of Dragon's Lair 3D would keep this game from being very compelling.

Dragon's Lair 3D starts with a short animated sequence that sets the scene and is highly reminiscent of the artwork in the original Dragon's Lair. But that's the last you'll see of standard animation in Dragon's Lair 3D. Through the rest of the game, Dragon's Lair 3D attempts to emulate the animated style of the original Dragon's Lair by using the now well-worn cel-shading technique, and its execution feels limp. Only Dirk and some of the enemies you'll encounter have gotten the cel-shading treatment, which creates a certain separation between the characters and their environments. The cel shading feels incredibly mechanical, and the character design doesn't feel particularly inspired. Dirk lacks personality, and he has the same blank expression on his face for most of the game, accompanied by a pretty limited catalog of stiff-looking animations. The environments don't fare much better, and they are uniformly covered in dark, drab-looking textures. The game touts progressive scan support, though considering what you'll be looking at in superhigh resolutions, it's questionable whether you'd want to.

...but it's simply no fun to play. Stick with your fond memories.
...but it's simply no fun to play. Stick with your fond memories.

As in the original Dragon's Lair, Dirk isn't a chatty fellow, and his voice acting is limited to a handful of yelps and shrieks. Daphne, however, has fully functioning vocal chords, and she sounds just as squeaky and ditzy as she did in 1983. The rest of the in-game sound in Dragon's Lair 3D is pretty stripped down, save for the orchestral soundtrack, which, though better than the other sound effects, is much less sweeping and grandiose than the word "orchestral" implies.

In the rather self-congratulatory History of Dragon's Lair videos included with Dragon's Lair 3D, the creators of the game constantly talk about the glorious "20 years of Dragon's Lair!" and like to discuss the innovative nature of Dragon's Lair. But the truth is that if Dragon's Lair 3D is the best thing the game's creators can come up with, they've either just been spinning their wheels for the past 20 years or are completely out of touch with modern video games. Actually, it's probably a little of both. Dragon's Lair 3D is one of those game revivals that bears enough resemblance to its source material to draw up some nostalgia for the original, and yet it also exposes the weaknesses of the original, effectively betraying your nostalgia and retroactively tainting the original game. Players old enough to remember the original Dragon's Lair fondly would be better off checking out the DVD version of the original Dragon's Lair, or better yet, leave Dragon's Lair as a fond memory and move on.

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Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair

First Released Nov 18, 2002
  • GameCube
  • PC
  • Xbox

Players old enough to remember the original Dragon's Lair fondly would be better off checking out the DVD version of the original Dragon's Lair.


Average Rating

216 Rating(s)

Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
Mild Violence