While other arcade machines in the eighties were happy to entice players with their small pixel graphic characters and ‘blip blip’ sound effects, there was one that stood out as a visual treat. Dragon’s Lair was a masterpiece of animation tied to a simple choice-based game but held a huge attraction to gamers lucky enough to come across the machines.
Dragon’s Lair featured the art and animation of Don Bluth, creator of such classics as An American Tail and The Land Before Time. It featured Dirk the Daring, a knight on a quest to rescue the damsel from a castle where the evil villain has set many traps. It’s a tried and tested story, sure, but it works well here with a ton of humour and plenty of death scenes caused by mis-timed button presses. The sequel, Space Ace, took a different turn and set out with a new hero in a sci-fi based cartoon before coming back to Dirk’s adventures with Dragon’s Lair II rounding off the trilogy. All three cartoons are fairly short when simply watched on their own, about 10 minutes or so of animation, but playing them lengthens the time by providing different branches based on your choice of action.
Playing the games on Switch, it’s clear that the gameplay has progressed through the three games, with the first Dragon’s Lair being a very frustrating affair at times but also having the best storyline. All three games are the pre-cursor to the modern Quicktime event, used in games like God of War and even the recent Spider-man on PS4, but this was the first time the idea was shown off and it’s the only way that this sort of graphical showcase could have been matched to any sort of gameplay at the time.
Thankfully, this trilogy (first available on Wii, of which this is a port) gives the player a huge number of options to help alleviate the lightning fast reflexes needed to survive in all three games and this is where the collection comes into its own. From the simple act of providing extra lives and prompts to the next action required to choosing to continue the story even if you die, the trilogy gives players more ways to enjoy the animation and gameplay without resorting to frustration. For those who want to simply revel in Don Bluth’s animation, there’s even the option to sit back and watch the whole thing play out, with or without deaths included. Add to this the option to show the attract mode and some interesting interviews with the creators and It really is a complete package.
They maybe a little long in the tooth gameplay-wise, but the Dragon’s Lair games and Space Ace are still worth revisiting as they’re an important part of gaming history. At the very least, the animation and humour are still entertaining and this version allows you to experience them in so many different way.