Dragon’s Lair review (XBLA)

It’s hard to believe that Don Bluth’s animated game classic Dragon’s Lair is almost 30 years old.  I remember being just a kid back in 1983 the first time I encountered the Cinematronics arcade game, guiding Dirk the Daring out of harm’s way while trying to rescue the gorgeous Princess Daphne from harm’s way.  After arriving on a number of other platforms, the game has finally arrived on Xbox Live Arcade.  And while the general port of the Dragon’s Lair holds up fairly well, the technical add-ons that have been thrown in weigh down the proceedings.

The gameplay remains the same as the ’83 arcade game.  Dirk the Daring storms a trap-filled castle as he fights through room by room, eventually getting to a showdown with the fire-breathing Singe the Dragon.  Through each room, he’ll have to move to the right areas, thanks to on-screen prompts and flashes.  Make the wrong move, and a humorous (yet painful) death animation follows.  You only have so many turns to beat the game with, but the unlimited continues are nice.  And if you feel like cheating, you can watch the whole game without needing to implement movements.

Digital Leisure has taken great care in restoring the game with this port.  The visuals are bright and colorful, looking just as good as the PS3 and Blu-Ray versions, and the audio is sharp, complete with audible grunts by Dirk the Daring (he simply doesn’t speak) and neat little musical cues.

As for gameplay, when you stick with the typical controls, the game works fine.  You’re able to hear when you implement right and wrong moves, due to audio cues that tell you when they’re accepted or not.  The controls are responsive, and if you need assistance figuring out where to go, you can turn on prompts that point arrows and sword buttons out clearly on the screen.

So where does Dragon’s Lair go wrong?  Well, it’s mostly with Digital Leisure’s attempts to make the game high-tech.  They added Kinect support to this port, enabling you to perform on-screen movements similar to Dirk’s in order to get him through the stages.  Unfortunately, the controls simply don’t work, as it’s too easy for movements to be misread.  We do like the option of getting your picture taken in certain areas, but considering you can’t progress forward that well, it’s useless.

What’s more, the team decided to throw in co-op support, with two players teaming up together to execute moves.  It’s an interesting idea, but due to the lackluster Kinect controls, it just never meshes.  You’re better off going solo.

Outside of gimmicky controls, Dragon’s Lair doesn’t have much replay value, aside from earning a few creative Achievements.  And that’s really about it.  You can play through the game again for a better score, or try to get through on one life, seeing your score light up online leaderboards, but that’s really about it.  Had the game been $5, it would’ve been a great nostalgic value, but it’s too overpriced right now at $10.

I love Dragon’s Lair, and fans that enjoy it as much as I do will want to give this a look, just to feel the nostalgia that comes with it.  But Digital Leisure should’ve left well enough alone without the technical doo-dads, or, better yet, released the original trilogy — with Dragon’s Lair II: Timewarp and Space Ace — as a $10 package.  As such, some may enjoy it, but ultimately Dirk wears out his welcome… and I never thought that would happen…