Dragon’s Lair

3.6 Overall Score
Fun: 2/10
Controls: 6/10
Nostagia: 7/10

Animation I Innovative In 1983

Repetitive I Frustrating I Bad Interface

Written by on May 18, 2012 in [, , , ]


I remember Dragon’s Lair fondly with the fog of early childhood working in its favor.

It was 1986 and I, a five year old wandering the gaming area of the local Showbiz Pizza, with my Uncle as he was lulled by the siren song of Don Bluth’s gorgeous animation.  He pulled me over to the Dragon’s Lair machine and he fed the machine quarters as he slowly made his way through Singe’s dungeon, dying often and spectacularly.

Like the many that had come before him, he was not able to finish the game.  The quarters were in limited supply, yet the dangers he faced were not.

It has been over twenty years since the since that day and I still hadn’t played Dragon’s Lair despite my desire to do so.

It seems to me that I wasn’t missing too much.

Dragon’s Lair is notable as being a pioneer in disk based media.  You don’t actually control your character, you have to follow on-screen instructions to get Dirk the Daring from one scenario to the next and the full motion video would show the next scene if you survived, or you died.

To put this in modern terms, the entire game plays like a quick time event.

Unfortunately the on-screen cues generally blend in with the animation making it difficult to see them in time to be able to press the corresponding button to make it to the next animation.  The only real strategy in being successful with this game is to memorize the commands and then time your presses correctly.  I cannot tell you how many deaths I had to endure just because I couldn’t see the directions.


What really appealed to me when the game was announced had to be the Kinect controls that allow you to perform certain actions to get you through the FMV segments.  Ironically, the thing that was supposed to make the game more appealing and enjoyable ended up destroying any kind of nostalgia that would have allowed the original game to get any kind of leniency.

When you first start up the game, I kind of expected the original “Attract” mode to come up.  Essentially this mode is the trailer that played when no one was playing the game to draw your attention and attract your quarters.  My most vivid memories of the game are from the incredible voice over that played over the video as it showed scenes from the game.

Instead, the game automatically boots up to a Kinect enabled menu.  This wouldn’t be too bad, except the game will automatically default to Kinect mode.  This was ok when I first booted up the game since I was going to play it with the motion controls first.  It was NOT ok when I started the game with a controller and it wouldn’t let me do anything until I got up from my comfy couch and made me go to the settings using gesture controls.

Gameplay wise, the game puts you through a tutorial to show you what gestures you are going to be using.  This is a welcome addition, but the execution was completely off the mark.

It was a little unsettling when the game put me into a stark white room that doesn’t even pretend to match the themes or designs of the rest of the game or its menus.  I felt like I was in The Matrix and expected Morpheus to be giving the tutorial in this setting.  Instead of Lawrence Fishburne , I get an ugly 3D cel-shaded Dirk.  His animation made him look like he was breathing heavier than he ever has in his life.  It was unpleasant, especially next to the fluid animation of the actual game.


When we get into the tutorial, the game will explain what gesture you need to do and when to do it.  At this point you get to try it.  This sounds rather straight forward and in line with everything else we have seen in the past with tutorials of this type, but it would get old fast.  If you do not succeed in the lesson that you are partaking in, it makes you sit through the entire explanation of the action again.  When I was having an issue figuring out the timing of the sword swipe, I had to sit through the irritatingly long explanation again a multitude of times.

Once you finally make it to the game, most of the gestures felt awkward to do and strangely paced.  It was almost like playing Dance Dance Revolution if the choreographer was the director of Troll 2.  The gestures correspond to what is happening on screen, but still seem almost random as you jump left, right, forward, etc.

Those of us who hate our friends can try the local co-op, which consists of playing normally until you die and then having your, presumably masochistic, friend jump in and continue.

Overall, I just find Dragon’s Lair more of a chore than a game.  It’s something you have to do to see some gorgeous animation from an animator with something to prove.  The XBLA release completely removes the need to play the game completely by including the video in its entirety.

While the option to just watch the animation is welcome, it only made me wish that Bluth could have made this as a fully realized feature.  There is missing bits of animation, scenes that set something up only to ignore it, and the voice work is weak.

I know this game holds a place in many hearts, so this might not be a popular opinion.  Nostalgia is great, and so is innovation, but is it worth a few moments of recognition and many LONG moments of tedious gameplay?

Not even close.

A copy of Dragon’s Lair was provided to The Married Gamers for review.  


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Author: Wallace Phelps View all posts by

2 Comments on "Dragon’s Lair"

  1. KingOfArcadia May 23, 2012 at 6:06 am - Reply

    Hey Wallace, so far as I know (and God knows I could be wrong) this game is a straight-up copy of the original laser-disc game. I would be surprised if there were any missing animations. As for the voice work, the original barely had any outside of Dirk’s grunts & Daphne’s few lines, so I find it hard to imagine they re-did it. The original also had a lot of scenes that would mislead you into making a wrong move; again I doubt they changed it.

    I loved the original back in the day, and I’m old enough to remember it quite well. I’d pick this up myself, but I know the game only has about 15-20 minutes of animation, and that makes it not worth the money sadly.

  2. Wallace Phelps May 23, 2012 at 7:12 am - Reply

    From what I understand, the entire game plays exactly like the arcade did only with Xbox button commands. As far as the stuff I noticed when watching it without playing, it honestly would be more accurate if I said “unfinished” instead of “missing” in hindsight. I’m sure all of the animation that was done is present, but it feels disjointed to the point that it isn’t enjoyable other than as a history of animation. There were times where the action jumped without a transition, and Dirk would do something that looked important (gather gold, examine a beaker; etc) and it is never mentioned again or even explained in the scene. Voicework was all Daphne, It was grating, lol. If it were $5, I probably would have reviewed it a little better, but not much. At $10? Yeah, I would never pick it up for that.

    Thanks for reading! Great to hear feedback!

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