Allow me to preface this by saying that I am still not sold on the Kinect. The tech behind it is awesome and I think it has many amazing possible applications, but the games available for it so far have been silly and gimmicky. The year and a half since its release, I have begrudgingly tried nearly every game available for it and aside from maybe the hour of joy Star War Kinect brought me, I haven’t been able to stomach any titles for more than a few moments. Then I was presented with Dragon’s Lair for Kinect to try out. (In my best old timer voice) Now I’ll have you know I grew up in a time when arcades were in every shopping mall and soda from vending machines only cost 25 cents! I was there in person to lay my hands on the quarter sucking cabinet . So I stepped up to reviewing this Don Bluth classic with nostalgia-laden trepidation.
In Dragon’s Lair, the noble knight, Dirk the Daring, must rescue Princess Daphne from the Dragon Singe. As Dirk, you must clear a series of rooms filled with fatal traps and quirky monsters, all beautifully hand animated. Face dark knights that shoot electricity through the floor, tangle with giant snakes that would otherwise squeeze you like overripe fruit, and avoid fire pits, falling floors, skeletal creatures, toxic ooze, and swarms of bats. In 1983 when this game hit arcades, it was hands down the most visually stunning game anyone had ever seen. Up until that time, everything had always been pixelated sprites. Granted this limited the gameplay and interface since the user could only hit a sword button, or a joystick in one of four directions at the correct time to follow a sequence of scripted scenes.
It’s all much harder than it sounds though. An on-screen guide will flash for milliseconds, telling you what button to hit. You need to have the reflexes of a cat. No! What’s quicker than a cat? A mongoose! You need to be mongoose fast. Seriously, if you want a challenge, shutting yourself in a coffin filled with agitated bees and trying not to get stung would be less difficult. You will die… a lot. The only thing that keeps you from developing controller thrower syndrome is the humor that is infused within every animation and sound effect. As frustrating as dying over and over is, it never stops being funny.
The game offers two basic modes of play, either with the Kinect or with a controller. The Kinect mode is definitely more forgiving, offering three levels of difficulty. One where you don’t even die if you miss a move, you just get less points. There’s also a two player alternating setting, which they call co-op, but it’s not really co-op the way the term is used now. You and a friend take turns completing obstacles, switching out every few rooms. Controller mode has two difficulty settings, but also lets you choose between arcade or home style play. In home mode when you die, you restart at the beginning of the room for a retry until you succeed. Memorizing the sequence after a dozen or so failed attempts is sometimes the only way to move on. In arcade mode, when you die you just move on to another random room, making it nigh impossible to memorize anything. If playing the game proves to be too frustrating they also added a mode where you can just watch the whole game. Free to sit back and enjoy the animation.
There are two achievements that will really make you either hate the game, or yourself for your misguided determination. One being 1983 Mode, a true test of skill, where you must complete the game with the move guide turned off. It’s hard enough with the guide on, but the on-screen arrows are really just training wheels. If you want the real experience, you’ll turn them off and play it the way we did in the arcade. The other is Flawless – beat the game with 5 lives. That means no continues. Yeah… I’m not getting this achievement.
When you boil it all down, there’s really not much to Dragon’s Lair; it’s a really short game and you don’t do much other than hit a direction. But it’s a fun experience and the humor and animation still hold up after all these years. I’m glad they didn’t try to modernize it other than adding Kinect mode. Although they did add a rendered 3D model of Dirk for the tutorials. I suppose they couldn’t exactly get Don Bluth to come and animate all that for them. Everything else remains unmolested however. It’s the animation, and goofy noises and faces that give it it’s charm. It would be like if George Lucas tried to revamp Star Wars….
If you have a Kinect, I honestly don’t see a reason not to get this game. If you don’t have one or planned on just using a controller, there’s other cheaper ways to play Dragon’s Lair. Maybe you’re a parent who grew up with Dragon’s Lair but you don’t really get a chance to play video games anymore. Share the same fun with your kids that you had. (Fun? Did I have fun or did I just enjoy the pretty cartoons?) Based on the amount of quarters I’ve spent on this game in the arcade versus how much you buy it for on the XBLA, the game is definitely worth it. A bargain actually.