Dragon's Lair Review

Eighteen years later, it's still a refreshingly innovative game.

Long before SquareSoft became synonymous with in-game cinematics, Dragon's Lair from Don Bluth Studios had broken ground with its own brand of motion-picture-quality animation and charming story. The game itself was simple: Use timed joystick presses to guide the hero, Dirk the Daring, through 29 perilous scenes in search of his ladylove, Daphne. If you've ever played a full-motion game such as Night Trap, Sewer Shark, or Cobra Command, you've experienced the genre that Dragon's Lair begat. It's old hat now, but the game was quite innovative in 1983 and went on to earn nearly 32 million dollars in its first year of issue. A sequel followed, as did numerous comic book, cartoon, and merchandising tie-ins. Eighteen years later, Capcom has released a Game Boy Color conversion, and despite some cutbacks, the translation is amazingly faithful.

Dragon's Lair is a game composed entirely of cutscenes. In it, your quest is to help Dirk solve an array of direction-based puzzles in order to rescue Daphne from the clutches of the evil dragon, Singe. Thankfully, you get five lives to accomplish this feat. While the Game Boy Color version is missing a few pieces here and there, all 29 distinct scenes have made it into the game. Your first experience sends you falling through a drawbridge, and hopefully you'll tap the slash button to escape the creature below. As you partake of this one scene, Dirk creeps stealthily across the colorful drawbridge setting, slips energetically through the wooden slats, flails his sword through a throbbing green menace, and pulls his way to safety. In a single Game Boy Color game, you'd expect to see two or three such story-advancing scenes. In Dragon's Lair, you'll see an additional 28 more. Through the gate, you'll tap your way past a collapsing ceiling, leap across flaming ropes, navigate treacherous underwater passages, and battle hordes of dastardly goons. Tap incorrectly or at an improper time, and you'll lose a life. The gameplay isn't exactly cutting edge--it's all just tap, tap, tap, slash--but the experience is immensely pure and the onscreen result is immediately gratifying.

Dragon's Lair's biggest problem is longevity. Once you've learned the correct sequence for each scene, there's really nothing more you can do but react correctly or incorrectly. Some scenes are repeated, some are randomly selected, and a few rooms are mirrored, but that's about it. Then again, if you're the kind of person who can master the 100 or so button presses it takes to view the entire story, you'll take great pride in showing off your skills again and again. As the Game Boy Color's first interactive movie, it's at least worth the price of admission.

Old time Dragon's Lair fans are probably interested in knowing how true this conversion is to the original arcade release. The gameplay is spot on, so no worries there. Graphically, the game is great. Its color palette is less than that of the arcade version, but instead of dithering colors to create new ones, the team at Digital Eclipse repainted the entire game in a more pocket-friendly manner. The artwork remains roughly the same. Admittedly, a few scenes have been abbreviated, but what's present is certainly more than expected out of a 32-megabit Game Boy Color game. The same cannot be said of the game's audio though, as despite a couple of garbled speech samples, a few tic-tic "warning" sounds, and a "success" chime, the rest of the arcade game's soundtrack and voice acting are absent. It's not a terrible flaw considering what's been crammed into the cartridge, but it's a barb nonetheless.

Regardless of its rough edges, most Dragon's Lair fans should be pleased with this adaptation. Eighteen years later, it's still a refreshingly innovative game.

The Good

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The Bad

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