Ask people who frequented arcades in the '80s how they feel about Dragon's Lair, and their eyes will first mist with nostalgia and then turn fiery with rage. The game that invented the Quick Time Event (and used it with crushing ferocity) was both awe-inspiring and infuriating. Now the original title, alongside Dragon's Lair II and Space Ace, has been re-released on the Wii, and it's easy to see why we abandoned this format almost 30 years ago.
For those too young to remember, Dragon's Lair finds Dirk the Daring trying to save his love Princess Daphne from all manner of unspeakable evil. Unfortunately for Dirk, his love is often found deep in the heart of a trap-laden castle or, in the case of Dragon's Lair II, being rapidly transported across fantasy settings. The only way to reunite Dirk with his lost love is by avoiding the traps with catlike reflexes and split-second reaction times. Space Ace follows a similar track; you merely replace Dirk with a muscle-headed captain and Daphne with a vapid space bimbo, and you're all set.
In each game, the objective is to quickly input a single command when it flashes on-screen. Dirk may have to quickly hop left or right to avoid a trap, or swing his sword to bisect a nasty enemy. The action is fast and frantic, and within moments after starting up the adventure, you can feel your heart racing as you wait for the next prompt to appear. The reason you'll find yourself so stressed out is the fact that a single wrong move spells your death, and in a traditional game of Dragon's Lair, dying three times sends you all the way back to the beginning. If you think titles like Demon's Souls is unforgiving, just give this trilogy a try.
While the developers have made things slightly less sadistic by allowing players the option to enable unlimited lives, the underlying mechanics still aren't all that much fun these days. While the games were originally designed to be among the most devious of arcade quarter-munchers, they don't translate well to home consoles. Here we have the shambling corpse of a gaming convention that should have been left to rest in peace but is instead unearthed and forced to walk the earth once more. If Dirk had any real heroic tendencies, he'd kill off this franchise once and for all so we can retain our fond memories rather than being reminded that it was actually a grossly unfair, endlessly trying experience.
One aspect of the series that does survive the transition into the 21st century is the franchise's wonderful art direction and impressive visual flair. When Don Bluth put these titles on Laserdisc back in the '80s, they were some of the most striking games on the market. Due to the high-quality animation that remains true today, and Dragon's Lair manages to be one of the best-looking games on the Wii in spite of being the same age as the NES. Dragon's Lair II is actually the most impressive of the three, with Dirk's twisted trip to Wonderland and his ride on Beethoven's flying piano still standing as high points to this day. Perhaps the best feature available on the trilogy is the option to watch each game from beginning to end without having to focus on the super-taxing button-pressing; this lets players soak in the incredible animation.
Tragically, that's one of the few bonus features available, making this a truly bare-bones port. While you can watch the classic attract screens from the arcade that attempted to draw players to the cabinet or see the extended director's cut ending of Dragon's Lair II, there's really nothing else here. Those who own the DVDs got some cool "making of" content when the game was released on that medium, but the Wii's lack of DVD playback means that such features couldn't come along for the ride. If this were one of the only places to get Dragon's Lair, then it wouldn't be an issue, but with so many other choices, this compilation seems a bit unnecessary.
For what it's worth, we have to applaud Destineer for not shoehorning motion controls into a game that not only doesn't need them, but would also be utterly destroyed by them. While you may think that waving the Wii Remote in a direction would be the ideal way to play a game such as this, the rapid-fire commands would leave the Wii's humble motion tracking in the dust and lead to even more needless deaths than you'll endure by playing the games. It's not often that we praise games for not including what is often a standard feature, but in this case, someone clearly realized what a train wreck motion controls would be for the trilogy and wisely pumped the brakes.
In the end, there's just not enough incentive to pick up Dragon's Lair Trilogy unless you somehow haven't been able to get the games on another format and can, for whatever reason, only buy them on the Wii. The games survive the port relatively untouched, but that's more for the worse than it is for the better. Considering the fact that some people got annoyed by 30-second QTEs during the God of War games, how do you think they'll manage with 20 minutes of pushing a single button in a painfully small time window wherein failure will send them all the way back to the beginning of the game? The trilogy no longer resonates with gamers, and the lack of substantial bonus content provides practically no incentive to come back to each game after you've beaten it once. The next time Dirk falls into the acid or is eaten by the monster, maybe we shouldn't press on "Continue." Let's allow the counter to tick down to zero and this franchise to finally fade from the scene.
More articles about Dragon's Lair Trilogy