The Groundhog Day of Video Games

Dragon’s Lair is considered by many to be one of the most important early arcade games. Only one of three games to be featured permanently in the Smithsonian along with Pong and Pac-Man, Dragon’s Lair marked a lot of firsts for the gaming world back in 1983. It marked the first time anything but a sprite was used as the main character in a game, courtesy of the game’s creator, former Disney animator Don Bluth. It was the first arcade game to cost 50 cents instead of just a quarter. And it was the advent of the quicktime event.

The entire basis of the game was to guide Dirk the Daring through a random assortment of rooms where he would have to dodge using the four points of a d-pad or attack with his sword and press them at the proper time. If successful enough times (or after enough quarters), Dirk would rescue the very lovely Princess Daphne from the dastardly dragon, Singe and they’d live happily ever after.

Flash forward nearly three decades later and the game has been ported literally dozens of times and has been on nearly every system imaginable. So it was destined I suppose that this arcade classic was to make its way to the Xbox 360. In the hopes of giving this relic a little bounce to its step though, the game has also been made compatible for the Kinect, marking another first for Dragon’s Lair as it is the first downloadable XBLA game where you can play the entire thing through either via the Kinect or a controller like in the old days.

But, after playing through the game with both control methods, I can say with total confidence that as historic as Dragon’s Lair may be, it does not stand the test of time. The original Don Bluth animation is still stunning, but there are various glitches abound that were never smoothed out due to the game’s format. It is also alarmingly simple and should not take you more than 30 minutes to work your way through on even the hardest difficulty levels now that you have to pay $10 up front instead of worrying about feeding quarters into a machine.

The game still holds some of its charm with the princess constantly calling for you to save her and the humorous ways Dirk can die if not quick enough with your button presses, but nostalgia can only do so much. And if you want to give kids a history lesson in games, there are surely better ways. The Kinect controls are also, as usual, absolutely unnecessary and if you really want to get the best experience from this game, you have to use the controller all the way. Jumping left, right, forward, and back to dodge doesn’t immerse you as much as I’m sure the additions were intended to.

All in all, Dragon’s Lair was a significant note in gaming history back in 1983. But now, in 2012, it just can’t stand up to the games that we are used to seeing today and I don’t see it being worth $10 just to have a history lesson on your Xbox 360. Nostalgia can only do so much folks and at in the end, it isn’t enough to make Dragon’s Lair really worthwhile.

SUMMARY:  There is a lot of historical gravitas that Dragon’s Lair carries, but with over five dozen ports since its 1983 arcade launch, the game lacks punch, especially on modern consoles. There may be a nostalgia factor here for some, and it might be a good history lesson for others, but the game really doesn’t stand the test of time.

  • THE GOOD: Few games carry as much historical weight
  • THE BAD: Short, simple, and lacks modern appeal
  • THE UGLY:  Definitely not Princess Daphne! Hellloooooo princess!

SCORE: 3.0

Dragon’s Lair is available on Nintendo 3DS, PSN (PS3), PS Vita, PC, iOS, and XBLA (Xbox 360). Primary version reviewed was for XBLA (Xbox 360).