When Dragons Lair first released to the arcades in 1983 it was unlike anything has seen in a game before. Not only was it all hand drawn as opposed to sprite based, but it was ran off laserdisc and it was actually the first arcade game to charge 50 cents instead of the standard quarter. Dragons Lair holds a special place in many gamers hearts, myself included, as I couldnt even try and tell you how many hours Ive spent with Dirk trying to (and eventually succeeding) save Princess Daphne from the dragon Singe.
Dragons Lair made gaming history in many ways, not only for the reasons listed above, but it was drawn by former legendary Disney animator Don Bluth, which breathed life into the art style and animation. Its easily one of the more important arcade games for numerous reasons and was truly the invention of the mechanic today we like to call the quicktime event. Because of Dragons Lairs success there were others in the genre that were all reactionary based such as Space Ace and my personal favorite of the genre, Braindead 13.
Next year marks the 30th anniversary of the game and its easily one of the most ported games in history. There are very few gaming systems that dont have a version of Dragons Lair available to it in some form, though my favorite was my Sega CD version when I was a kid. Now in the digital age, here we are again with another port of the classic on XBLA. Luckily youll only have to buy it once and not spend a pocket full of quarters like I did in the local arcades just to learn how to beat a single room.
You control Dirk the Daring in his noble quest to save the Princess Daphne from the evil dragon Singe who has captured her. From the moment you pass through the castles front gate, youll have bats, bugs, knights, wizards, and countless traps to avoid if you want to be successful in your quest. As you get closer to saving Daphne, each rooms traps become more perilous and dangerous, so you need to learn how to avoid obstacles and slay your enemies.
Dragons Lair was so unique; not only in the artistic sense, but in how you played the game as well. While quicktime events are commonplace in gaming these days, there really wasnt anything like this in the arcade scene back in the early 80s. Your only controls were the four directions on the joystick and a button for your sword. The challenge came in learning when you had to move, which direction, and when to attack properly. If you failed to input the correct selection, you saw Dirk die, many many times over. With enough time and practice (and quarters), you could learn the proper input commands and easily defeat Singe without any problems, but it took much time (and money) to get to that point. Again, it may not seem like a big deal today, but back then, a game that was solely reactionary based on quicktime events was brand new and never done before.
So whats been done for the XBLA version that should tempt you to rebuying it for the twelfth time like myself? Not only is there a bunch of bonuses included which Ill get into later, but the game has been fitted for Kinect support as well. Yes, you can still use the controller if you wish, but the Kinect support is really the new feature that is being showcased in this version. Just as youd expect, when you want Dirk to move left, you leap to the left. The same goes for other directions, and to use your sword, you swipe your arm up and then down as if you were using a sword. The Kinect controls work but its really a novelty, and some of the rooms are quite difficult as you need to leap from side to side quite quickly to pass it properly. The Kinect will also take those awkward looking photos when youre mid jump or sword swipe so that you can laugh with your friends, unfortunately the Kinect controls simply feel completely unnecessary. Definitely try the game with it once if you have Kinect, but the better experience is with the controller on the couch by far; just try not to get weirded out when an odd looking 3D model of Dirk is trying to teach you the Kinect controls before playing.
While theres nothing quite like the charm of seeing Dirk and all his animations, sadly Dragons Lair doesnt hold up against the test of time very well. Yes the game has aged, but its still got all the minor bugs in it that bugged me over twenty years ago included. Dragons Lair retains its charm, and its in no way a bad game, but unnecessary Kinect controls make it a hard sell to someone like myself whos already bought the game a dozen times for multiple platforms. The bonus avatar items, online leaderboards, and even an option where you can watch the game essentially play itself so that you can enjoy the animation is much appreciated, nostalgia can only carry you so far. For the 800 Microsoft Points, its a tough sell unless youre a rabid fan, a Kinect enthusiast, or havent played the game in over a decade and want to relive what arcade gaming was like almost thirty years ago.