Dragon’s Lair reaches the Xbox Live Arcade after being ported to every other system out there, including DVD and Blu-Ray. Does this one reign as the supreme version?
It’s somewhat of a difficult proposition to review a port of a game, especially one as cemented in the nostalgia of my youth and important enough in the industry to be featured at the Smithsonian Institution. Does one review the game itself, or the validity and worthiness of the port? Perhaps a little bit of both is prudent.
Dirk the Daring, the protagonist of Dragon’s Lair, is a figure in my childhood that ranks nearly up there with Mickey Mouse. I fondly remember pumping quarter after quarter into the arcade version and later owning it on a home console. Brilliantly animated by Don Bluth, an ex Disney employee, it was a wonder to behold back when everyone was used to seeing sprites fill their television. The concept is quarter stealing simplicity at its best: as Dirk you’ll make your way through a castle to rescue the curvy princess Daphne from the dragon Singe. While God of War may have made quick time events popular, Dragon’s Lair WAS a quick time event. The entire game is a test of your reflexes and you’ll be tasked with either pushing a direction to dodge danger or attack with your sword. If the premise sounds simple, that’s because it is. Still the challenge of making it to the end of the game used to be a hallmark of quick reflexes and wits for old-school gamers, and I was so proud when I beat it way back when.
In my opinion, Dragon’s Lair is a game that anyone who calls themselves a gamer should experience at least once. The problem with this specific iteration is there are equally enjoyable and more financially sound ways to enjoy the title. Really it comes down to a checklist of what’s included versus the other versions, which is much too numerous to list. So to start let’s take a look at what the Xbox 360 version brings to the table.
As far as feature list the Xbox release of Dragon’s Lair includes one major difference that you can’t find on any other version: Kinect support. The statement in itself is an instant divider and gives you a good idea of what to expect from the start. Many people can’t stand Kinect, so for them the feature is utterly throwaway. To others it’s fun to hop and leap and wave their hands around, so for them it might add value to the package. Luckily the game gives you the option to play the old fashioned way, with a controller, or to take a go with the Kinect sensor.
Since I have access to the Kinect sensor, I tried and beat both ways of playing. The same issues that plague many Kinect titles are prevalent here as well, which rest mostly with spotty detection. Dragon’s Lair is the kind of game where the precision of a controller is really needed, though the Kinect play style does make some exceptions. On the standard difficulty you have three chances to fail moves, where in the controller version you only have one mistake before death. Also the prompts stay longer so you have a greater amount of time to perform the gesture, but still I found myself dying more often than not because the Kinect just didn’t register my frantic movements. As a side note the gesture for a sword attack, raising and lowering your hand, felt completely awkward for a sword swing and not at all natural. I can’t understand why they didn’t go with a sideway slash with your hand, unless that would have been harder to program. Still I digress, the bottom line is that if you want the best experience here you’ll want to play with a controller, which unfortunately makes the one big addition to the 360 version mostly an unneeded add-on. Other than that other features found elsewhere are found here, a co-op mode, the ability to watch the animation through without playing the game and several difficulties to choose from.
The game itself still holds up graphically to most 2D animations out there nowadays and is truly a classic Disney-like style. You will see the footage showing its age on your HD TV, but not so much as the sound. Through most of the game the sound accompanying the footage is of low quality and you can truly tell this with an HDMI cable hooked up. It’s kind of a pity because I’ve seen the re-mastered versions of the Blu-Ray and this port does it no justice. As far as actual game mechanics go the game doesn’t work as well now as it did back then and is truly showing its age. If played on the highest difficulty level though, with the prompts turn off, it’s every bit as challenging and frustrating as the original.
Again I’d like to reiterate that I love the original Dragon’s Lair, it’s a fundamental piece of my childhood and a truly challenging experience. The problem is that the game has been ported to everything from PSN to formats not even gaming centric, such as DVD and Blu-Ray compilations. Those compilations feature extended directors cut, commentary and other features you would expect from such a package as well as additional games packaged together. If you’d rather play on a console and own a Wii, the recent port on that system includes not only Dragon’s Lair, but also Dragon’s Lair 2 and Space Ace (another adventure similar to Dragon’s Lair). There is even an iOS version if you want to go the cheapest route and even the Wii version you can find for ten to twenty dollars. All of this makes the latest iteration on XBLA extremely hard to recommend, especially at the steep asking price of 800 points ($10).
If you have no other feasible way to experience Dragon’s Lair or just love Kinect with all your heart then maybe there is something here for you. For anyone else that has another way to access this classic game this is waste of your money as you can likely find it cheaper, with more features, on practically any other platform.
For more information on how we review games check out our criteria here. A copy of this title was provided to The Paranoid Gamer by the publisher for review purposes. If you have any questions about this game the reviewer will be able to answer them in the comment section.