Twenty years ago, the gaming industry was a completely different place. Games like Pac-man and Galaga were considered high tech, and the best games available had horribly low resolution and minimal game play. Suddenly someone realized the newly available laser disks could be set to respond to a joystick, and the concept for Dragon’s Lair was born. The original Dragon’s Lair featured extremely high quality sequences of animated action and a digital soundtrack, and was an instant attention getter in any arcade. The game featured an anti-hero named Dirk the Daring whose sole desire was to find and rescue the beautiful Princess Daphne from an Evil Dragon named Singe. This would have been an impressive feat for any hero, but Dirk was an abnormally bumbling, clumsy, and lucky fool. There’s also a good chance he was mildly retarded. However, the quirky nature of the main character combined with the technological leap of the game’s graphics made this game an instant classic. The thing is, not only was the game beautiful to look at, it was also incredibly creative and addictive. Each level featured a completely unique mini-boss to face and puzzling obstacles to conquer. Now, the original creator of the game, Don Blueth, has translated the realm of Dragon’s Lair to a fully 3D world. Fans and newcomers alike are again doing double takes at the look of the game, but how does the rest of the game stack up? Read on to find out.
For those who aren’t familiar with the original series, the controls were much simpler than today’s games. You had a four direction joystick and two buttons to choose from. By tapping the correct combinations of buttons at the correct time, you triggered an animation taking you to the next part of your adventure. If you answered incorrectly, you saw an animation featuring the death of Dirk. It was essentially equivalent to skipping to a certain track on a DVD. However, Dragon’s Lair 3D brings Dirk into a new dimension, as the game is in full 3D. The controls are your standard third person shooter style, and give you the freedom to move Dirk anywhere you want. While the new controls may disappoint fans of the original series hoping to see the return of the old control system, any true fan will quickly come to appreciate the work put into bringing Dirk to the world of 3D.
This game is tightly based on the storyline of the original games, and again revolves around Dirk’s quest to rescue Princess Daphne. The princess uses an enchanted amulet to communicate messages and tips to Dirk throughout the adventure. The levels are fairly straight forward and are more linear than they might appear at first. Although at times there are multiple routes to choose from, you will occasionally find yourself stuck at a dead end until a certain part of the quest is completed. The plotline and movement holds true to the original game and features many of the same challenges and enemies. Fans of the original will surely appreciate the falling disks, swinging ropes, and even a very familiar translation of Singe. There are also over a dozen new characters in the game; all designed by Don Blueth, each one maintaining the style and design of the original series.
The levels (as well as the game) are generally huge and consist of several smaller sections, each focusing on fighting your way through, figuring out puzzles, or managing to make it through what amount to small obstacle courses. At the end of major segments, you will need to defeat mini-bosses to move on. Each boss has his own weaknesses and true to the old style of gaming, each has a pattern of moving and attacking to be observed. Learning the patterns is the key to confidently defeating your enemies rather than slinging everything at them, hoping to get lucky. Often times you will find yourself utterly confused as to how to defeat a boss, leaving the game only to return a few moments later to try out a new theory. This is a reminder of how adventure games used to be and it will draw you back time after time until you ultimately beat the game. This is especially fun since in many of today’s games, it seems the challenge is not so much in figuring out how to make it through a level, but managing to pull it off.
After defeating a mini-boss, you will usually come across an element. Elements are items which grant the holder special abilities. They range from the Dragon’s Wing, which allows you to glide over long distances, to the Dragon’s Eye, which allows you to view hidden objects and pathways. Each element will eventually be essential to completing the game, but for the most part they are used to find hidden objects of make it through areas of the game more easily.
Along the way, you will also gain a crossbow and three different types of arrows. These are the key to defeating many of the later and more difficult enemies. Just as you feel you are mastering the sword and the essences you’ve collected, you will come across the crossbow and find that the game play has changed completely. You start with standard steel arrows and will eventually find fire and magic arrows. As the weapons get stronger, so do the enemies, with one enemy in particular being susceptible to magic arrows alone.
As a whole, the levels flow very well between each other, each balancing logic with fighting skills, and drawing on the weapons and essences acquired up to that point. All in all, although the new controls and game play are nothing like the original, they are a definite plus and they still borrow enough from the old school to satisfy both newcomers and fans alike.
As noted earlier, when the first Dragon’s Lair hit the arcades, it was light years beyond the competition. While Dragon’s Lair 3D doesn’t push the envelope of graphics as far the original did, it does present an incredibly outstanding look by combining full 3D environments with cell shaded characters.
For those who don’t know yet, cell shading is a technique which uses 3D models to produce 2D images. Anime movies such as Ghost in the Shell and Spirited Away have used the technique for years. Basically a filter traces certain edges of a 3D model, creates a 2D outline view of the model, and then shades in the areas - or cells. The result is a highly detailed and consistent character animation. In Dragon’s Lair 3D, it’s used to bring all of the classic characters to life in a 3D world, while still maintaining their original two dimensions. The results are absolutely amazing.
Time after time you will find yourself distracted by the detail of the characters, admiring just how much they look like hand drawn cartoons. With most cartoons (Loony Tunes and Disney classics especially), the backgrounds are less focused and detailed than the moving characters. The same is true of the game. The environmental textures are not cell shaded, but are less focused and stand out less than the characters. This actually results in a very authentic look. Even though the level textures look like standard 3D textures while the moving characters use the 2D cell shading, the game designers have managed to make the mixture look extremely pleasing and natural. There are currently no other PC games available using these techniques yet, which again makes Dragon’s Lair 3D stand out in a recently very crowded market.
A large part of Dirk’s personality has always come from his voice. Although he never actually speaks, his grunts and yelps are reminiscent of Disney’s Goofy and as just distinctive and expressive. Dragon’s Lair 3D again uses the original voice actor from the series to bring Dirk back to life. It is a very subtle, but effective way of adding familiarity and personality to the main character. The princess has also been given a voice, but unfortunately it is not as enjoyable as Dirk’s. It is so high pitched and squeaky that it really gets old fast. This is all part of the joke, but instead of being funny, it’s annoying, and that’s why this section didn’t rate higher.
The music, on the other hand, is extremely well done. There are over 90 minutes of music and it’s used very appropriately to help create an atmosphere for each level. The combination of the cell shaded graphics with the high quality of the soundtrack makes it feel like you are controlling and participating in an interactive cartoon, rather than just playing a game.
There are no multiplayer options available, but to be honest, any multiplayer mode would be totally out of character for this series. This kind of game is meant to be single player, and although a good single player game is rare these days, Dragon’s Lair 3D really doesn’t need a multiplayer mode.
Although a lot of the attention on this title has to do with the original games and the use of cell shading, it takes more than gimmicks and name recognition to make a good game. There are quite a few game characters and titles from the olden days unsuccessfully trying to make the conversion from 2D to 3D. Pac-Man, Frogger, and Spy Hunter quickly come to mind as especially disappointing. However, Dragon’s Lair’s use of cell shading makes a sort of compromise and yet somehow comes out stronger than many of today’s biggest 3D games. Although I usually try to review games objectively, I have to say that although there are flaws with the game, overall, this is a very good game and is easily one of my pesonal favorites, new or old.