Dragon’s Lair – PC
Publisher: Digital Leisure Inc.
Developer: Digital Leisure Inc.
Release Date: May 17, 2013
Genre: Arcade
Reviewed by Mark Smith

Review Score: 2 of 5

I’ve been playing Dragon’s Lair since 1983 and it seems that I have been reviewing it just as long. This is my sixth (or maybe seventh) time reviewing Dragon’s Lair on just as many systems, which makes it surprisingly hard to keep coming up with fresh material. Ironically, the first time I ever played Dragon’s Lair outside the arcade was on PC when a much stripped down version of the game was shipping for PC on 5.25” floppies. Since then I’ve played and reviewed the game on nearly every console, not to mention Blu-ray, HD-DVD, and most recently, for the iPad. Dirk the Daring truly is gaming’s most immortal hero.

I was admittedly intrigued when I heard Dragon’s Lair was coming to Steam. After all, what could Digital Leisure possibly have done to best their 2006 effort, Dragon’s Lair HD? But since this was a Steam Greenlight pick there must be an avid fan base of 40-something gamers out there who want to relive their misspent youth, and for only $10 and a gigabyte of HDD space you can follow Dirk’s laserdisc adventures on your modestly equipped PC. For younger gamers however, the gameplay in Dragon’s Lair might be laughably primitive.

Dragon’s Lair was a breath of fresh air back in 1983. While most people were playing Defender, Galaga, Q-Bert, etc, here comes this game with amazing graphics from Disney animator, Don Bluth (Land Before Time, American Tail, Titan A.E.). The nature of the game was memorization. With only five possible actions; up, down, left, right, and swing the sword; this was the genesis of the modern day QTE. Even though the game prompted your next action with flashes of light overlaid on the colorful background art, these visual cues only allowed for about one second of error and you could never win by reflexes alone. Timing was critical, and if you got too confident and started pressing the joystick or button too soon you would also die. Only after several dozen (or was it hundreds) of tokens did you finally master the timing and find your “zone”. Then you were unstoppable…you were “Dirk the Daring”.

The gameplay is just as simple (and boring) today as it was in 1983, but you can’t help but love the interactive cinema aspect of the experience. You control Dirk, the hero, through dozens of animated action scenes. At critical points in the action you are given a small window of opportunity to interact with the game by moving or hitting the action key. For some inexplicable reason the game currently doesn’t support a gamepad – although developers promise this is coming in a summer update. The bad news for me is that I play all my PC games on my HDTV using a wireless setup and the lag is such that I was going through 10-15 lives just to get through the first few scenes – keep in mind I used to be able to play the entire game on a single life. Only after connecting a wired keyboard to my living room PC was I able to finally play the game with any success.

This version of the game is based on the original arcade release with action scenes being randomized each time you start a new game, so you never know which one is coming next, and many scenes are also duplicated with a mirror image, thus doubling the game’s length. If you manage to make it through all the various challenges you will reach the Dragon’s Lair and the gorgeous (at least until she speaks) Princess Daphne. You then get to take part in one of the most creative animated battle scenes in 80’s video game history.

The power of the PC helps to eliminate previous issues like awkward pauses in the gameplay or clipped scenes and transitions, and creates a much more fluid cinematic experience. Since the goal of the game is no longer about burning through stacks of tokens, Dragon’s Lair now offers unlimited continues, so you can easily beat the game in one sitting without having to start from the beginning after you die. This version of Dragon’s Lair does offer Easy and Hard skill modes as well as letting you choose between Home and Arcade modes. You can also toggle visual and audio prompts for the game.

When I reviewed the 2006 version of Dragon’s Lair I still only had a 720p HDTV, but since then I have moved to 1080p which has become my minimum standard for all of my gaming and movie watching. This latest Steam version of the game is based on the 720p remastered footage, which does have issues if you are upscaling on a 1080p TV. I’m not sure why the game isn’t using 1080p assets – perhaps size and download issues were a concern. Regardless, this isn’t the best Dirk has looked. Technical issues aside, Don Bluth is a masterful animator and you can really tell that a lot of time and care went into the creation of this game. The colors are rich and vibrant and the characters are delightful. Even the scarier creatures have a humorous side that makes this game great for kids of all ages.

The sounds and music are movie quality and presented in a 5.1 surround mix for those with the home theater to enjoy it. I was amazed that the audio engineers could go back to the original sound masters and separate all the effects and truly immerse you in this game. The booming voice of the narrator gets you pumped up during the Attract video. Dirk doesn’t say much other than a few girlish shrieks during some encounters, and the shrill seductive voice of the princess is one you won’t soon forget.

None of the fun extras like commentary or behind-the-scenes documentaries from the Blu-ray have been included. Instead, your only extras allow you to watch the Attract video the arcades used to summon you over to the machine, or you can just sit back and watch the computer play the game for you. Dragon’s Lair has been released so many times on so many formats that almost anyone who plays video games probably has at least one copy lying around somewhere. Unless you are a huge Dragon’s Lair fan who just wants the convenience of having this game in their digital Steam library I can think of…oh…a few dozen other games out there…newer games, that you can spend $10 on.

As much as I love Dragon’s Lair, this was an unnecessary release. With no gamepad support, 720p graphics, and nothing extra to bring to the table, you’re better off getting the iOS version for half the price. I’m not sure what motivated the Steam Greenlight community to vote this into existence, but I fear Space Ace won’t be long to follow.