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A Tale of Two
Dragon's Lairs

Ah, yes - the Eighties.  This issue’s theme conjures up so much for me, personally - it made me browse through memories of junior high and high school, and the horrific photos I’m now trying desperately to lose of my “Madonna” phase - I think I still have my big “cross” earrings and dozens of black rubber bracelets!  I remember spending my afternoons with friends at the mall, buying 45’s (“Mommy, what are those big black CDs for?”) and, on occasion, being treated to a few hours at the local arcade.  Oh, sure, we had our video game systems at home, but there was something almost sinful in the excitement generated when my parents agreed to take us to spend a few dollars playing games at The Arcade.  It felt like some sort of meeting place for a secret society - an arcade SO cool it was at the mall, but could only be entered from the outside - I wish I could remember the name - “Aladdin’s Castle”, or some other such exotic title. 

Quarter after quarter pumped into these machines, alternating between playing the games ourselves and cheering our friends on, hanging over their shoulders to watch them as they annihilated those annoying ghosts or shot down those missiles, thereby saving the world - or so it seemed for those few minutes.  My parents never understood the attraction - I think they tried, but to them, the games were over so quickly, the demands for quarters never ceasing (“Please, mom, just ONE more!”), therefore a repeat visit was hardly ever in the cards for quite a while.  I think that in this respect, my kids are pretty lucky - yes, they have to fight mom and dad for video game time here at home, but it’s a shared passion - and to this day, the visit to the arcade generates as much excitement for us as it does for them, so their visits are a bit more frequent, and last a LOT longer than mine ever did.

Flashback to one visit in the early eighties - a group of kids standing around a bright and shiny new machine.  The excitement was palpable, it sucked us over and we melded with that group, standing on tiptoes to see what was behind all this - and got our first glimpse of the latest video game, Dragon’s Lair.  It was simply astounding - a video game that actually WAS “a video“, a cartoon under your direct control, how cool was THAT.  The temptation to play was overwhelming, as evidenced by the line of people that always seemed to be waiting for their turn to play.  It was a cruel game, though, tempting us to sacrifice both our limited arcade time and our seemingly meager collection of quarters, as we waited for our turn to spend TWICE what other games cost - a shocking .50 - only to die in a matter of moments - or at least that’s what always happened to me.  See, Dragon’s Lair was all about reflexes.  You didn’t control the character so much as you made snap decisions at predetermined moments in the game.  The basic storyline, for those who don’t know, was that you were Dirk the Daring, a bumbling so-called knight, and you had to rescue the beautiful, and therefore OBVIOUSLY scantily clad, Princess Daphne, who was captured by an evil wizard and a rather grumpy dragon.  You’d watch scenes of Dirk running through the castle, and then get to a point where a portion of the screen flashed, at which point the pressure was on.  Do you jiggle the joystick up, down, left or right?  Do you hit the attack button now?  Yes, I’ll grudgingly admit that hand/eye coordination has never been a strongpoint for me, so maybe this wasn’t the game I should have focused on, but I wanted - no I NEEDED - proof that valiant knights still braved dire situations for their damsels.  Problem was, my mom quickly dubbed this game as “a waste of time and money”, so sadly I never got the proof I sought.

Fast forward a decade or so, and I had my own apartment, my own PC, and lo and behold, my own copy of Dragon’s Lair, which limped along on my sad little 386.  The graphics were definitely NOT in the same league, after all, the graphics cards of the early 90s could not compete with the crisp laser-disk delivered graphics of the arcade machine, but who cared, it was Dragon’s Lair!  I had a second chance!  Guess what - I never made it past the entrance to the castle.  I’d run, the blocks would flash, I’d try to direct Dirk in the manner which he deserved... and every time he’d fall through, meeting yet another grisly death at my hands.  I almost began to feel guilty, and eventually the game joined several others at the bottom of a box - now that I think about it, I probably still have it in my basement somewhere.  Dragon’s Lair became a fond memory for me, as I never bought any of the other incarnations - I do remember seeing the Game Boy Color version on the shelves at one time, and trying to share my excitement with my kids, but they were never captured by it.

Two years or so passes between that trip to the toy store where the kids were more interested in Pokemon than Dirk, and we’re browsing the video game selections, and there it is again, peeking out at us from behind a variety of fighting, racing and sports games – Dragon’s Lair 3D for the GameCube.  By this time, the good folks here at DP had already decided on the 80’s as the next theme, so the frugal (a.k.a. CHEAP) side of me - you know, the one that says “We don’t NEED another game right now!” - was quickly overridden by the hidden kid inside me who STILL wants to see the end of this game - and guess what!  This time I had an EXCUSE!  “But wait!  I NEED this game, to do *ahem* research for my next column!”.  We snapped it up, completely surprised by the price - at least $10 cheaper than any of the other new games out.  To be honest, I worried that this did not bode well for the quality of the game - only crappy games are cheap, right? 

I’m here to say that my worries were unfounded.  Dragon’s Lair 3D - Return to the Lair is truly a pleasure to play and to watch.  Because many of the members of the original design team were part of this new version, the story premise is the same, however it’s been revamped a bit to make it longer.  The environment and the characters have gone completely 3D, other than the opening scene, which is presented in the original 2D animation, a new movie hand animated by Don Bluth.  The graphics are still the beautiful animation we’ve come to expect, with the popular cel shading technique adding a more modern touch to the overall atmosphere of the game.  The movement of the characters is incredibly fluid - Dirk has 150 animated sequences, which flow seamlessly, adding to the overall feeling of playing a cartoon.  The full control of Dirk is the biggest and most noticeable change - every move is determined by the player, in a somewhat complex set of controls, allowing Dirk to walk, run, somersault, scale ladders, swing from ropes, view things in first person view, use a variety of weapons and magic, and, of course, die several different sorts of ghastly but humorous deaths (or is that just when *I* play?).  It does take a while to get used to the controls - I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve forgotten to put my sword away, only to jump and fall because Dirk wouldn’t grab the rope I NEEDED him to grab, his hands too busy holding on to the stupid sword!   Combat is not the only focus of the game, however - there are a great deal of puzzles to challenge the mind, combined with my all time favorite (oh wait, you can’t hear the sarcasm here, can you...), lots of jumping.  I hate jumping.  How is it possible that my lack of grace can translate into how I play video games?  Ah well...moving controls are easy and acceptable, and the voice acting is fun and very close to the original.  The game has several extras as well, including support for Dolby (tm) Surround Sound, widescreen ratio, video clips showing the history of the game and interviews with the creators, as well as original music pieces. 

But the best part of this game, other than the fact you get unlimited lives for a one-time payment of $29.95 as opposed to three for .50 a piece?  It has to be the way it is 100%, no questions asked, absolutely, positively GUARANTEED to make me giggle when Dirk walks into a wall and bumps his head.  Ah, physical can’t beat it.


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