Love it or hate it, Dragon's Lair is one of those indelible games that planted its flag in the gaming industry and became a landmark title simply because of how far it raised the bar back in the day. When Dragon's Lair first debuted in 1983, it fixated arcade players and raked in the quarters due to the high-quality animation and insanely high difficulty level. A classic part of American culture, Dragon's Lair even managed to earn itself a spot in the Smithsonian. Now, Dirk the Daring has made his way to the PlayStation 3.
Produced by Don Bluth, a former Disney animator, Dragon's Lair looks as good as it does because the game doesn't feature standard video game visuals. Instead, it was created as traditional animation (just like a movie or cartoon) and then recorded to LaserDisc. The arcade machine used a computer to control the playback. If the player pressed the joystick at the right time, the computer would play the next scene, and the player would move on. If the player messed up, the computer would direct the LaserDisc player to show a death animation. Some would argue that Dragon's Lair was the granddaddy of the Quick Time Event (QTE).
Because of the game's inherent simplicity, it has been ported to just about every system imaginable. Versions of Dragon's Lair have been on the PC, the Sega CD, CD-i, Atari Jaguar, Nintendo DS, Wii, DVD, Blu-ray and more. While some of them have looked better than others and they all got the basic gameplay down, few attempts were truly arcade perfect. Part of this has to do with the scenes used for the game (many home versions have additional sequences that were not shown in the arcade), but some of the inaccuracies also come from the medium. For example, the DVD versions look good, but most DVD players introduce a noticeable delay when seeking from one scene to another.
For the PlayStation 3 version of Dragon's Lair, the controls appear to be spot-on. Using the DualShock 3, even the most narrow timing windows can be hit. Some sequences still take quite a bit of practice to master; however, once you know what you're doing, it all comes down to precision. When Dirk bites the big one here, it's always because you as a player messed up, not because the game didn't get it right.
Both the home and arcade move sets are present here, with the home version including the extra scenes. The most noticeable one (and the one that most players remember) happens right at the start of the game, where Dirk falls through the drawbridge. If you ever played this scene, you played it on a home version — it never appeared in the arcade version of Dragon's Lair. You also have the ability to set the difficulty as well as the number of lives. Can't make it through on a limited set? Go infinite and practice the game to your heart's content.
Visually, Dragon's Lair on the PS3 looks stunning, as it uses the same master as the Blu-ray transfer. There is a noticeable bit of grain present, but otherwise, the video quality is excellent. Colors are sharp and crisp, and backgrounds are clearly defined.
Unfortunately for the purists out there, Dragon's Lair on the PS3 does not display in the original aspect ratio. Unlike last fall's Wii release, which had both the original and cropped versions of the game present, the PS3 version of Dragon's Lair only contains the cropped 16:9 transfer. Because the original game video was 4:3, this means that part of the top and bottom was removed in order to fit the 16:9 aspect ratio.
To the game's credit, this doesn't impact gameplay, as the key action bits are always on-screen, but it's still a notable absence. Oddly, you can choose to play with an "arcade" overlay that simulates a 4:3 screen, but even that doesn't display a true picture. Instead, it crops the sides of the already-cropped 16:9 image.
In terms of extras, the PS3 version of Dragon's Lair is also very light. Prior home video releases have contained commentary tracks as well as interviews. None of that is present. The one big extra here is the automated playthrough. In case you don't feel like taking control of Dirk, you can just watch all of the animation as if it were a cartoon. Because the scenes in Dragon's Lair were somewhat random (as compared to both Space Ace and Dragon's Lair II which had specific plots), there isn't a whole lot to the adventure, but it is a nice option to have. You can also save your game at any point and then return to it later.
At $10 on the PSN store, Dragon's Lair is at the high end of the "impulse buy" scale. Purists will probably prefer the Wii version, but if you just want to experience an arcade classic (or want to watch the game you were never able to beat back in the day), then this is a nifty way to do it. It's also a lot easier than a visit to the Smithsonian. Just don't expect incredibly deep gameplay, and you won't be disappointed.
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