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Dragon's Lair 3D Review

Ben_Silverman By:
GENRE Adventure 
T Contains Mild Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Dragon fire bad!

The longest journey begins with a single step, and for me, that step was called Dragon's Lair.

Back in 1983, I got my first 'job' in video games at the Captain Video arcade in Los Angeles thanks to the release of this laser disc monster. Like any dorky 9 year-old, I spent most of time and my parent's money at Captain Video. I also had a penchant for brown nosing, which paid off in spades when the staff at Captain Video 'hired' me to play Dragon's Lair.

See, the game cost 50 cents, which was double the going rate. Plus, it had a big video monitor affixed to the top so that all the other geeks could laugh at you when you died. And you died a lot in Dragon's Lair. Crowds gathered around the machine, but no one played it.

That's where I came in. Given unlimited quarters by the staff, I'd pop a few credits and play, usually dying a few scenes before the last level where you fought Singe the Dragon. People would watch the moves and eventually screw up the courage to try it themselves. I was a rube, a shill, a 9-year old game whore, and I loved it.

I also grew to love Dragon's Lair, as did most gamers at the time. Its fantastic look and success spawned a series of laser disc games (such as the copycat Space Ace, the ruthlessly difficult Cliffhanger, and the rare but beloved Thayer's Quest), but soon enough the limited gameplay of this genre led to its demise. No replay value for a game that only takes an hour to beat is sort of a big design flaw.

So now some 20 years after its original release, Dragon's Lair finally gets the update it's been craving with the aptly-titled Dragon's Lair 3D. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the past two decades according to the developers, and the revamped gameplay is simply stale in a brand new way.

You reprise your role as the brave, bumbling knight, Dirk the Daring. It seems that once again stupid Princess Daphne has been captured and trapped in a glass bubble, and it's up to you to save her. I guess the knight job doesn't pay well, since you're the only guy around doing anything to fight evil.

Past Dragon's Lair games (there was a Dragon's Lair II, you know) were playable movies; the gameplay was comprised of a series of Timing Elements. You didn't directly control Dirk so much as just guide him along by pressing different directions right when they lit up on screen. It boiled down to learning the patterns and timing - nail that and you've beaten the game.

Well, all that's changed. As noted in its title, the world of Dragon's Lair has been transformed from a semi-interactive cartoon to a playable cartoon universe. You take control of Dirk from a third-person perspective and roam about a big evil castle in search of your precious princess while fighting off hordes of goofy enemies.

In other words, it's turned into a very standard platform action game. Dirk still relies very heavily on his sword, though he hasn't learned any combos or anything aside from a 'press and hold' power up move. You just swing the sword back and forth and whack enemies over and over until they disappear.

The only new weapon is a crossbow, which can be equipped with three arrow types. Considering that he's been in the knight business for some 20 years, you'd figure he would have learned how to use an axe or a spear or something, but no such luck.

As you play through the game, you'll find a few new abilities to help you pass certain obstacles. The most useful lets you glide after jumping, while another protects you from basic fire. There's also one that turns your mana (which is drained when using special abilities) into health, and one that lets you find hidden doors.

But even these minor upgrades don't change the bulk of the gameplay, which is dominated by 1.) Button mashing your way through some enemies; 2.) Solving a simple puzzle to find a blue/green/gold key; and 3.) Endless amounts of irritating platform jumping.

Yep, just what gamers wanted: jumping on moving platforms as Dirk the Daring! Sheesh. It's redundant and annoying. One level is even called 'Platform Madness' as if this was a good, fun thing.

Though it tries to play itself off as a big change from the original game, Dragon's Lair 3D tends to play just like its granddaddy. Much of the game is trial and error and learning patterns. You might try the same sequence a dozen times before learning that you need to jump here, then duck and roll, then kill that enemy, then jump twice to safety. It's just not very interesting.

But for old-school fans, it can be a kick running through a 3D version of memorable scenes from the original games. You'll fight the Robot Knight on the electrocution floor. You'll evade a giant 8-ball while running down a hallway. You'll take on magical flying weapons in a smithy, swing from burning ropes and even have it out with the big nasty Singe again. I'm a little disappointed they didn't include the metal horse racing sequence as it would have been great here, but overall the levels will please fans.

And at least this time you don't have to worry about losing lives, since you have an unlimited supply of continues. Sometimes you'll respawn at randomly set checkpoints, but often you'll have to string together a series of maddening jumps and leaps. Fall into the black abyss and you have to start over. This design was fine ten years ago, but we're almost into 2003...couldn't they have come up with anything more creative?

The nonstop jumping isn't helped by the somewhat loose control. Dirk can hang on edges of platforms, but the hit detection isn't the best and you'll sometimes fall when you shouldn't have. There's also a targeting option for enemies, which is somewhat useless since the basic AI is as threatening as a ham sandwich. You'll kill everything just fine.

However, they look cool, since the graphic overhaul works nicely. The cartoony animations are terrific, and the world is very bright and colorful. But we've seen lots of toon graphics over the past several years in games like Wacky Races and Sly Cooper, and though Dragon's Lair 3D does it well, it's not nearly as wildly impressive as it was two decades ago.

One of the problems here is that the game barely employs any actual cartoon FMV to flesh out the plot. You get a short introduction animation, and then nothing aside from a few in-game animation sequences until you beat the game. For a game that started out as a full-fledged Don Bluth cartoon, I really hoped for more.

The audio is equally mixed. The soundtrack and vocal cues are nice, but Daphne's B-movie princess voice is absolutely grating. Aside from some grunts and shrieks, Dirk is a mute.

Like the original, Dragon's Lair 3D also has a brevity problem. You can beat this game in a weekend, and there's not much else there to keep you interested. They threw in a few self-aggrandizing movies glorifying the game's history, but they're more like ads for the game and the developers than anything else.

To be honest, I had a decent time with Dragon's Lair 3D, but not because it's a good game. It isn't. It adheres to dated, formulaic gameplay far too much and is over quickly. But I grew up on this game, and if you did too, you will likely have some fun with this as a rental. Just don't spend any more than a few quarters on it - you've wasted enough already.

C- Revolution report card
  • Hey, cool! Dragon's Lair!
  • A trip down Memory Lane
  • It looks pretty cool
  • But it plays pretty blah
  • No replay value
  • It's time for a new quest
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