Dragon's Lair is a video game that defined a gaming generation. If you remember playing it in arcades, you're old school. If you've never seen it before, you're definitely new school. Either way, what you think of Dragon's Lair is largely going to be matter of what you think of the concept. The whole game is basically one big Quick Time Event (QTE) wrapped around approximately 10-15 minutes of movie-quality animation. Having appeared on countless platforms over the years, the XBLA version of Dragon's Lair attempts to mix up things by adding an optional Kinect control scheme to the game.
Unfortunately for Dragon's Lair, the Kinect controls are less than impressive. The problem isn't the concept — as a game, Dragon's Lair is actually well suited for a Kinect makeover — but the implementation.
When using the Kinect to play Dragon's Lair, the game treats your body as a virtual joystick. For the four basic movements (up, down, left, right), this actually works pretty well. In order to trigger them with the Kinect, all you need to do is jump (or lean) in the proper direction when the arrow flashes on-screen. The game is even smart enough to ignore excess moves when you step back to the neutral center position. Sure, you still have to worry about timing, but that's all part of the original game.
Where the Kinect controls start to fall apart is with the arm movements. For some reason, Dragon's Lair seems to have difficulty properly registering arm movements with the Kinect controls. This isn't an issue with the sensor, as we've seen other games handle it well, so it has to be something specific to the game itself.
In order to increase variety, Dragon's Lair adds extra control options to the Kinect setup. Instead of a single sword button (like the standard setup), the Kinect controls have specific movements for swinging your sword, grabbing a rope or even catching falling chalices. On a conceptual level, this is great. On an execution level, it fails miserably. The sensor recognition was so bad that we kept failing during the tutorial.
Perhaps realizing the difficulty players would have with the Kinect controls, the developers added a no-fail Adventure mode, where it's impossible to die. Instead, the game scores you based on how accurately you match the timing indicators. Jump too early, and you'll see a yellow shadow follow Dirk. You'll also rack up fewer points. Move too late, and a red shadow indicates that you would have died in any other mode. A green shadow flashes if you do it right.
Adventure mode is a nifty option to play with, so it is odd to see it limited to the Kinect controls. After all, mastering Dragon's Lair with a traditional controller is no walk in the park. This sort of move would have been a good way for players to practice their timing — especially with the color-coded feedback. Another Kinect-only option is the co-op mode, though calling it co-op is a bit of a misnomer. You don't actually play together. Instead, two players take turns swapping out scenes and share a single score.
Thankfully, you're not forced to use the Kinect since the traditional control setup is still here. Playing with the controller is the same as always, though there didn't seem to be any noticeable difference in difficultly between easy and hard modes. Timing feels accurate throughout most of the game, with the exception of a single scene where Dirk has to run from an electrified cage and then onto a bridge over a lava geyser. That particular instance required an early move to pass.
Since Dragon's Lair was originally a controller-based game, we could probably overlook the issues with Kinect if they didn't also impact the menu UI. For some odd reason, the game pretty much assumes that if you have a Kinect hooked up, you always want to use it. This is frustrating, especially in a Kinect-optional game. If you have a Kinect hooked up and want to play with a controller, Dragon's Lair forces you to first sign in with the Kinect and go to the play menu before you can swap to a controller. Unlike other Kinect-optional titles, you can't just press a button on the controller and go. Doubly annoying is that it doesn't save your preference, always defaulting to the Kinect upon game start.
Another odd UI issue is the fact that the game has a roughly 20-second load time if you try to do anything right after starting it up. This happens no matter what you're trying to do, whether it's entering the options menu or just playing.
Visually, Dragon's Lair looks good, with the animated material appearing to be sourced from the same master as the previous PlayStation 3 version of the game. The main difference is that the animation appears to have had a pass through a digital noise reduction filter. Much of the grain present in the PlayStation 3 version is gone, at the cost of a slight reduction in sharpness. Because it's from the same source material, the animation is also a cropped 16:9 image. There is no option to play in the original 4:3 aspect ratio. It's not a huge deal, but purists will notice that bits of the image are missing.
Speaking of visuals, when playing with the Kinect, Dragon's Lair will take action shots during certain scenes. It's a cool idea, but much like the Kinect controls, it isn't implemented well. Photos can only be viewed in sets of three, they cannot be displayed full screen and they cannot be shared online. There's not even a themed overlay, so the end result is simply you looking a bit silly.
Extras-wise, Dragon's Lair is pretty bare bones. Aside from the aforementioned photo mode, you get some goodies for your avatar, the trailer for the game and the ability to watch all the animation without playing — just as if it were a cartoon. None of the behind-the-scenes interviews that were present on the DVD versions are here. Strangely enough, the watch mode has an error in it. The falling platform sequence shows a death at the end when it shouldn't.
When it comes to re-releases of classic games, the most important aspect is ensuring that the original experience is preserved. While Dragon's Lair gets it mostly right, the sloppy Kinect controls and odd issues with the UI make it feel rushed. At 800 MSP ($10 USD), it's not the most expensive purchase, but it's also not a definitive version of the game. There are better ports out there.
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