Dragon's Lair


Review by Matt Paprocki

Digital Lesuire


Graphics: 8

Sound: 6

Gameplay: 2

Overall: 5


Conceived by game designer Rick Dyer and animated by Don Bluth, Dragon’s Lair was a radical concept in 1983. It’s questionable as a game, though that was what initially attracted the attention of arcade goers to its fully animated stylings running off a laser disc. It’s more of a visual interactive experience, and this HD transfer, on both Blu-Ray and HD DVD, is the product it was meant to be.

It’s hard to understand Dragon’s Lair. Players follow the exploits of Dirk the Daring, a clumsy adventurer who sets out to rescue Princess Daphne, captured by the evil dragon Singe. Dirk’s progress is created through some memorable animation, on par with any full length features at the time (and modern in many cases).

Players merely guide Dirk at certain moments by pressing a single direction or the lone action button. It’s a game based on memory of the scenes, and the term "game" is used loosely. Newcomers will need to figure out specific timing to control Dirk, and it can feel unresponsive. It’s a product sold entirely on its animation and style.

That does leave a lot to be desired. The “game” can be viewed without any input at all. Since the action needs to move so quickly, there’s no time to spend building a character or even learning anything about the world this is placed in. It’s not a movie either.

The unique characters and their encounters still prove to be memorable. Their designs are colorful and unique. Dirk’s death sequences are always handled in an amusing manner, and the final showdown is undeniably fun to watch unfold regardless of the lack of information leading up to it.

This HD DVD version is the lesser of the two HD editions. There are no gameplay options, such as selecting the number of lives. A cursor is always on screen to let the player know when to press the button needed to complete the scene, and there is no option to turn this off.

Anyone can figure out this is the best looking version of Dragon’s Lair ever produced though. The question becomes how much of an upgrade is it, and in this case, it might as well be a brand new game. The apparent upgrade is the color, finally bringing forth the characters and backdrops as they were originally intended. Previous releases looked flat and muted. This looks like some of the best restorations to come from the respected films in the Disney vault, only it isn’t from Disney.

The added resolution and clarity does expose some extensive film grain. It’s immediately noticeable, but when compared to the heavy compression required for other formats, it’s a fair trade. There are no aliasing issues common with animation, impressive especially in the face of the brighter, richer color that includes a lot of red.

Dragon’s Lair had somehow avoided a full 5.1 presentation up until now. Fans will likely be disappointed though. The soundtrack is almost lost in the background, and of considerably lesser quality than the sound effects. It’s practically impossible to make out the stirring theme during the battle with Singe, and the added rear speaker effects feel tacked on. Added bass does enhance the experience slightly, though it’s odd that purists don’t have the option to watch/play this in original mono on HD DVD.

Features are slightly limited, especially when compared to the 20th Anniversary DVD. None of the older news reports done on the game taking hold of the arcades are included, and it’s a true loss. The same goes for some older interviews with Don Bluth discussing the creation.

Instead, new footage (all of it in HD) lets the creators reminisce about the game. Dyer, Bluth, and Gary Goldman discuss the feature at length in both a separate interview session and a fun-to-watch video commentary. Additional extras include a startling split-screen comparison between this HD version and other editions of Dragon’s Lair. The original laser disc is a disaster by today’s standards, and it’s remarkable how far video has come.

As a game, Dragon’s Lair fails miserably. It’s a mess, and roughly 10 years later, the industry would be slammed as similar games would follow using real actors signaling the beginning of the dreaded full-motion video era. Dragon’s Lair has survived though, both for the obvious care taken during its creation in terms of animation and of course nostalgia. It’s fun to sit back and watch it straight through (in around 20 minutes) for animation fans.


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Last updated: Monday, August 20, 2007 09:12 PM