Putting the drag in dragon.
A long time ago, in the year 1983, Ronald Regan ruled America with a Gipper-like tenacity, the Prince of Pop and his unplasticized nose ruled the air waves, and Dragon’s Lair dominated the arcade like a mighty quarter-guzzling god. In a world of pixelated 8-bit action, the game broke new ground as the first arcade title to feature fully animated characters, with a single play costing an unheard of 50 cents (or roughly 0.00035 Microsoft Points in today’s Xbox LIVE-based economy).
Created by legendary animator Don Bluth (the brains behind classics like The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time and An American Tail) the game was essentially a series of quick time events embedded within some slick animation. Players took on the role of Dirk the Daring, a would-be-hero on a quest to rescue a scantily clad princess from an evil dragon. Delving deep into a deadly dungeon maze, Dirk must dodges traps and battle enemies, with the action consisting of flashing icons that indicate which direction to move the joystick and when to hit a large sword button. As a fusion of video games and animation, the game struck a chord with the arcade crowd, bilking countless kids out of their hard-earned Reganomic allowances.
In the 30 years since Dragon’s Lair was released, it’s spawned a short-lived animated television series, a variety of sequels, and been ported to a number of consoles and platforms, including most recently an iOS version. Which is why it’s no surprise that it’s finally ended up on the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, only the most nostalgic of gamers looking to recapture the Chuck E. Cheese-filled glory of their youth will find the new console version even remotely entertaining.
The revamped Xbox 360 version of Dragon’s Lair does, however, have one thing that manages to elevate it above its 80s progenitor: full Kinect support, which, in this case, consists of making a series of spastic gestures at your TV in the hopes that something happens. Fortunately, the Xbox controller offers the better option, both for purists and those who want to avoid a rage-fuelled brain aneurism at the sloppy Kinect interface.
It plays exactly the same as the original, presenting a series of rapid-fire quick time events. Honestly it’s not that intriguing of a concept, with not nearly enough meat to propel an entire game. It’s the kind of remedial reflex test that most gamers mastered years ago with Resident Evil and God of War, and what was once an expensive slog in arcades is now laughably easy. Sure, you’ll die multiple times along the way, but you’ll also probably be able to blow through the game in about 30 minutes (which raises some questions about the 800 MS Point price tag, which equals out to ten dollars). The game does try to add a two-player co-op where you swap the controller back and forth for a shared total score, but like the gameplay itself, it’s largely forgettable.
To Dragon’s Lair’s credit, the original Bluth animations are still lavishly detailed and bursting with quirky, tongue-in-cheek charm, from Dirk kicking the bucket in a variety of hilarious ways, to the busty and somewhat porny damsel in distress (a Disney Princess she ain’t). It’s sad to say it, but I’d almost rather have simply watched the animated film and skipped playing the game.
Dragon’s Lair may have ruled arcades during the 80s, but in the harsh and unforgiving glare of modern gaming, its nothing but a shallow relic. Like the Iran-Contra scandal and David Lee Roth’s solo career, it’s best experienced as a chunk of nostalgia through the comfort of a Wikipedia page.
Adam Volk is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in such publications as Film Junk, The National Post and the New York Review of Science Fiction. He is also the co-creator of the webcomic “Human/Nature”. For more of his witty blatherings, follow him on Twitter.