IGN Review of Dragon's Lair Trilogy
I have to get this out of the way: there were only two Dragon's Lair games in the arcade, so right there the game starts out on the wrong foot with anyone who might've been a fan of the classic laserdisc games. If you were a frequenter of arcades in 1983, there's a fantastic chance that the draw of laserdisc-driven animation was enough to get your 50 cents at least once.
But other than the flawed name – and possibly the dated, simplistic gameplay – Dragon's Lair Trilogy is a fine collection of three noteworthy arcade games. It is hard to get excited for yet another port of Dragon's Lair, Dragon's Lair II and Space Ace, but at the very least the Wii conversions are spot-on recreations with fantastic video quality and control that stays true to the originals.
You can thank SEGA's Shenmue for coining the term "Quick Time Events," the idea of incorporating specific button inputs to control pre-determined action sequences in video games. God of War embraces Quick Time Events, as do the latest Resident Evil designs. But it all started with Dragon's Lair: hit the joystick or tap the action button at appropriate points in the animation to continue the scene. Fail to hit the trigger on time and you get the death animation.
What was really attractive about these games was the cinema-quality animation and soundtrack produced and directed by veteran animator Don Bluth. Even today his style rivals the top 2D animation in theaters and on television, adding a bit of timelessness to the "dated" gameplay. It certainly helped draw attention away from the current generation of games that depended on "sprites" for graphics and "bleeps and bloops" for sound effects.
The three games in Dragon's Lair Trilogy are organized in alphabetical order, not in the order they were released, so if you're not up on the history of these three games this isn't a good way to understand how each were handled in context. The actual order – Dragon's Lair, Space Ace, Dragon's Lair II – shows the progression of the game designs and the comfort levels of the designers and the technology of the time. Dragon's Lair was very straightforward: only one right choice, and no branches in the progression beyond a right or wrong decision. Space Ace – a brilliant and funny retro-style space epic – introduced alternate choices in the action: you can decide to power up your character from wimpy child to musclebound hero temporarily, but that was a purely optional choice.
Dragon's Lair II, the most technically advanced but least coveted critically, was an unfortunate victim of the video game crash: the direct sequel to Dragon's Lair – complete with tons of in-jokes to the classic -- was completed in the mid-80s but sat on a shelf for nearly half a decade due to low interest in the arcade scene. It finally saw a release in the early 90s, and showed off its much more frenetic pace with far more controller actions and optional choices than even Space Ace.
The Wii versions feature the remastered footage Digital Leisure cleaned up for the DVD and Blu-Ray versions. It's now converted to 480p widescreen on the Nintendo console, and the footage still looks stunning. Destineer spiced up the presentation with a slick front end that shows the three arcade machines, adding a bit of context to the package. Once a game's selected you can tweak the difficulty and add things like on-screen indicators that help first timers along in the action. There's even a leaderboard to store a huge list of high scores for each of the three games. The only thing missing is the extra behind the scenes footage produced for the DVDs – this is just a three game package, not a director's cut package.
The Dragon's Lair-style gameplay doesn't exactly hold up to today's standards but the footage in all three designs still stands as some of the best animation of the 1980s. That right there is worth the price of the budget premium. It also helps that the Wii versions play spot on like their arcade counterparts with the Wii remote held in classic orientation, something that's admittedly not hard to believe but it's still worth noting.
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