Publisher: Encore Software, Inc
Release Date: 12/23/2002
Dragon’s Lair 3D: Return to the Lair is based on the arcade smash hit of the same name, which was released almost 20 years ago to the arcade. The original game was an entirely original experience, I remember staring at it slack-jawed and quarter-less many times. The most impressive thing about the game was its use of the record-sized laserdiscs from which digital information could be read in the same style as CDs today. The developers used this then-unprecedented storage space to stuff a fully animated cartoon illustrated by Don Bluth onto the disc, by pushing the control stick in a different direction you could make the disc switch to a different track, giving you the illusion that you were actually controlling a cartoon. Sure it was simply a matter of memorization, and no two experiences were different (except when the game randomly mirrored the pre-set directional commands), but in 1983 you’d be lucky to play a game with vector-less graphics. Now, in 2003, laser disc technology is about impressive as betamax cassette recorders. That is why the developers opted to go with a fully rendered 3D universe for their remake of the original game. Unfortunately, to the dismay of nostalgic and balding gamers alike, the 21st century is not Dirk the Daring’s finest hour.
But it is his 2nd finest hour, maybe third if you include Dragon’s Lair 2: Time Warp – anyway, when you consider the horrible (S)NES games, Dragon’s Lair 3D is something of a godsend. No, wait, maybe this is his fourth or fifth finest hour, I forgot about the multiple Dragon’s Lair ports on the Sega CD, CD-I, 3DO, etc, -- ok ok, maybe Dragon’s Lair 3D isn’t that great. I wanted to like it, really. I’ve been looking forward to it for almost a year. Not for nothing, but I just assumed a controllable Dragon’s Lair would equate to an entertaining experience. Boy was I wrong.
Like the arcade game, you’ll be in control of the bumbling, dim-witted, sword-wielding Dirk the Daring who has taken it upon himself to save the chub-inducing damsel-in-distress Princess Daphne. Unlike the arcade though, you are in “full control” of the “Dirk” as he swings his sword, jumps over obstacles, and rolls under hazards. Unfortunately, the gameplay is so slow and unresponsive that the various platforming acrobatics often translate into a frustrating experience that is hindered by the equally-feral camera system. Disposing of baddies is simply a matter of repetitively mashing on the attack button while in close proximity to the enemy. Tighter gameplay and a smarter camera would have made all the difference in this one. As it stands, the gameplay is just not good enough to justify the precise requirements of the platforming tasks.
Fans of the arcade game will no doubt recognize a lot of the levels in Dragon’s Lair 3D, as they were created with the original game’s environments in mind, but the frog DNA that attempts to pull them all together in a cohesive manner is undoubtedly lacking. The scenarios you’ll find yourself in are laid out in a manner that is vaguely reminiscent of the arcade game but since you are in direct control of the action the developers had to come up with new ways to do the same thing, and the result isn’t nearly cool enough to make it a worthwhile experience. By the time you reach the middle stages of the game you’ll find yourself running around in circles trying to find the switch to activate or the item to pick up that will lead you to the next part of the level.
The aesthetics are undoubtedly “Dragon’s Lair”, and the developers did a great job in staying true to the original with the cel-shading style that they used. The opening animated sequence is particularly cool; it features art by Don Bluth and depicts Daphne being captured by an enormous dragon that nonchalantly flicks Dirk away like so much dust. The environments, as well as the enemies and various characters, are all cel-shaded in such a way that they look like moving cartoons – if only the gameplay was tight enough to compliment the visuals. The animation is adequate in terms of fluid movement and consistent frame rate, but Dirk himself is portrayed as a constantly stoic bore whose facial impressions remain the same whether he is standing around aloof or witnessing Daphne being man-handled by an evil floating demon hand-thingy.
In terms of aural presentation Dragon’s Lair is pretty forgettable. The music is Dragon’s Lair-y with somewhat slow sweeping orchestrations that change from level to level, but the sound effects are generic, and they don’t stand out in any particular way that would be worth mentioning here. The voice-acting, which comes mainly in the form of the squeaky-mouthed Daphne to whom I am primarily referring, feels like it was strained through the holes in a microphone head. Which is to say, it is unbearably annoying. Sure it sounds reminiscent of the arcade game, but there is a certain extent where replication is no longer a form of compliment, and this is definitely one of’em. To make matters worse Dirk sounds like a rabid monkey when he gets hurt -- it’s just wrong.
I’ve always harbored a certain affinity for Dragon’s Lair, but Dragon’s Lair 3D irrevocably dampers my nostalgia for the 20-year-old title. As far as platforming 3D games go DL3D is passable, but looking at the game from the perspective of how it compares to the original it fares a bit better. In other words, if you are looking to relive the good times of Lair’s past then this may be a game worth checking out, but if you could care less about Dirk and the horribly helpless Daphne then you might as well steer clear.