Publisher: Ubi Soft
Release Date: 12-Nov-2002
The original Dragon’s Lair took arcades by storm. Twenty years ago, the likes of “interactive movies” were unheard of. Games like Metal Gear Solid 2 or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time are often regarded as interactive movies, but a long time ago there was one arcade game, now available on DVD alongside other media, that some call the absolute first interactive movie. That game was Dragon’s Lair, where you made decisions for Dirk the Daring, who is on a journey to save the princess from the evil dragon. While there were nicely animated scenes, players of course couldn’t control Dirk in real time.
Now, twenty years later, we can. The original developers, as well as some talented new folk, were brought together to remake that classic title of so long ago. Did they succeed? Well, yes and no. Read on.
First off, let me say that Dirk’s animation is stunningly beautiful. He’s rendered in the fashion of cel-shading, creating a cartoonish look that works well. He looks great running, he looks great jumping, he looks great unsheathing and swinging his sword, he looks great doing just about anything. He moves incredibly smoothly, polished to perfection. If the developers got one thing right, it was this.
We’re led into a castle full of hundreds of rooms, each with challenges and puzzles, until we eventually get to the princess we feel obliged to rescue. Some of the rooms are pretty straightforward, some are quite easy and simple, others are clever and nice, and some are painstakingly unfun. Beware, you’ll be introduced to a lot of trial-and-error gameplay. Thankfully, we’re given unlimited lives.
An example of one of the unfun rooms goes something like this. Imagine a room with two ledges on either side, a large gap separating the two, which is filled up with floating platforms of three colors: red, blue, and green. All right, now we’re supposed to get across by jumping. But when we do, every platform of two colors falls, leaving one color. So all of the blue and green platforms might fall, and leave all red ones. Of course, they come back up a few seconds later, but thanks to a lack of any noticeable pattern or warning which colors are going to fall, you end up falling to your death A LOT. This is not quite my idea of a good time.
Dirk starts off armed with only a sword. It’s an interesting idea to have Dirk’s sword either sheathed or unsheathed; while sheathed, he can’t climb ladders, grab onto ropes, or grab onto ledges. While this idea is pretty cool, sometimes you find yourself frustrated by forgetting to put it away. Nevertheless, when unsheathed, I like how he can swing and run at the same time. Unfortunately, combat is less than interesting. There’s a half-assed rip-off of Zelda’s Z-Targeting system used here. But they couldn’t bother to do it right. First of all, the default controller configuration sets the Y button as the targeting button. It’s an odd place to put a useful button like that – why can’t it be assigned to a trigger? None of the other configurations are of much help. Adding to that annoyance is that fact that the lock-on sometimes fails to lock on. It can easily fail to notice an enemy or become separated after you are locked on. Enemy AI happens to be less than interesting, too. In the end, combat works, but it could have been much better.
In addition to his mighty blade, Dirk can also wield a crossbow. The bow can eventually fire a few different nifty kinds of arrows, which is pretty cool. Aiming the bow requires a bit of work, but it works out okay most of the time. Dirk can also find a few different items that’ll help him through his journey, like the Dragon’s Wing. This wing allows him to float in the air after jumping, gliding over to faraway platforms. This uses up a little of Dirk’s magic power, which can also be used to perform a spin attack of varying power via his sword. How incredibly un-Zelda-like, huh?
And speaking of control problems, why does Dirk run so bloody slow? You’d swear the guy might as well be crawling. Of course, by holding a trigger, you can make him run, but why not have him run by default? It just becomes an inconvenience, especially in hectic areas.
As I said before, Dirk’s animation is awesome. The other enemies are usually animated nicely and look fine as well, if not as polished as Dirk himself. In fact, the whole game looks pretty nice. Textures are fine, clipping never becomes a problem, et cetera. Sometimes, though, the environments feel a little generic or unpolished, which is unfortunate. Special effects are also lacking; aside from some nifty sparks created by slashing a wall, there’s very little to impress.
The sound is a different story. Sound effects are fine and realistic, but the voice acting can sometimes be headache inducing. Dirk doesn’t say much other than the occasional grunts and yelps, but the princess, who helps guide you through the game, sounds like an annoying mouse on crack. That’s the best description I can come up with. Her voice is very high, whiny, and would be nigh impossible to understand if it weren’t for subtitles. In the documentary included with the game, there’s a part devoted to voicing the game, but the voices end up being more annoying than impressive, despite the work involved.
If you’re a big Dragon’s Lair fan, I definitely recommend checking this out. Taking control of Dirk in real time is sure to please Dragon’s Lair fanatics. While combat is a little disappointing, and several of the rooms in the castle lack polish – or are just plain badly designed – there’s enough to here to satisfy a rent or possibly a purchase. Despite the unfun areas, I felt strangely compelled to continue on and get to the end of the game. Which, in the end, is enough to say that it is above average.
Score: 7.0 / 10