Dragon’s Lair (XBLA) Review

The original Dragon’s Lair game was released nearly 30 years ago in 1983, where it proceeded to consume massive numbers of quarters in arcades everywhere. Despite the fact that the game has since popped up on numerous systems, I’d never had the opportunity to give it a whirl. So does the XBLA reissue of Dragon’s Lair live up to its dynasty? Read on to find out.

Dragon’s Lair ‘tells’ the story of ‘Dirk the Daring’ as he infiltrates a monster and trap filled castle to rescue a princess. I say it ‘tells’ a story because there is literally no introduction. Nothing is explained to the player. This may have been acceptable and expected in 1983; however, after 30 years this game could have benefited from some significant updates or perhaps even some massive enhancements that could have made the game more compelling to play.

As it stands, Dragon’s Lair is an entire game made up of quick time events – where players must press buttons at timed intervals. Thus, there is very little direct interaction with the game. By timing button presses, players simply trigger predetermined sequences. In today’s gaming world – full of realism and interactivity – Dragon’s Lair simply doesn’t hold up from a gameplay standpoint. For one thing, the on screen prompts are really tough to see as they often blend into the background. This resulted in many lost lives, simply because I did not see the prompt. Trial and error is also a big part of the game. There is often very little time to actually do what the game asks, and repetition to learn a particular area is often necessary. The problem with this is that the game simply isn’t all that fun. Never did I feel motivated to get to the next area, or wonder what that might bring.

The developers made one addition to the game for its XBLA debut: They added Kinect support. Unfortunately, this feature is poorly conceived and is frustrating to use in practice. The Kinect sensor is not sensitive or consistent enough for a game like this requiring precise timing. For example, one of the actions you perform most often is swinging Dirk’s sword around. Frequently, even if you complete the action while the prompt is on screen, the Kinect’s slight input/output delay is enough to result in your death. Other times the game mistakes sword-swinging for arm-raising (one of the other main actions), also resulting in lost lives.

The presentation of Dragon’s Lair largely shows the age of the source material. The menus have been updated to modern HD standards, but the game itself is clearly 30 years old. The characters and environments are all pre-animated in classic North American style, aesthetically looking like an older Disney movie. Some of the monsters and situations encountered in the game are really creative, but I found myself largely ignoring the graphics and instead constantly scanning the screen for prompts. If you pay attention to them, the graphics are colorful but aren’t particularly noteworthy, especially on the HD displays of today. Things generally appear rather grainy, particularly in darker scenes.

The sound is also indicative of the game’s 1980’s origin.  The sound effects are cartoon style and playful, but you’ll swear up and down that you’ve heard most of the effects in numerous other places. The swinging swords, slamming doors, and pitter patter of feet all do their task reasonably well, but again fail to live up to modern standards. I fully understand the nostalgia factor this game has, but a complete overhaul would likely be much more entertaining to play. For example: why not transform the game into a 2D platformer and use the existing animation as cutscenes?

What really blows my mind is the $10 (800 point) price of admission. When games like Braid and Beyond Good and Evil HD occupy the same price point, I would expect to get a little more than nostalgia for my points. In short, Dragon’s Lair is very difficult to recommend for anything other than nostalgia. The gameplay has not aged well, and the Kinect integration is gimmicky at best. Do yourself a favour and pass this one up for one of the other excellent games XBLA has to offer.


The Good


The Bad