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Dragon’s Lair

Dragon’s Lair is often heralded as an icon in gaming. Rightfully so. As one of the few laserdisc games that has stood the test of time, Don Bluth’s colorful full-motion animations defined the format and found a cozy home in the arcades of 1983. The game was a breakaway success, attracting millions of dollars in quarters. In spite of its limited gameplay, Dragon’s Lair was far ahead of its time; it wasn’t until around the time of the PlayStation that console gaming caught up to the graphical quality of this classic adventure, and apart from another Don Bluth laserdisc game, Space Ace, the concept remains unrivaled.

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If you’re still in the dark, Dragon’s Lair is set in medieval times, and follows a clichéd plot concerning a damsel in distress held captive by a monstrous Dragon whom players must defeat. Players reprise the role of the “valiant knight”, Dirk the Daring, a protagonist with the likable character traits of an unlikely hero. Princess Daphne also happens to be one of the foxiest, most feminine video game characters of all time. She’s not afraid to show a little skin, and was one of the first sexually suggestive female characters. It’s simple stuff, and would come off as sophomoric if utilized in modern games (Dragon’s Lair 3D), but it works well for Dragon‘s Lair.

Introducing Dirk the Daring to a whole new generation of gamers whom have likely never seen a Dragon’s Lair arcade cabinet seems like a strange idea. I’m not entirely sure an iPhone rendition of the arcade classic is going to be a welcome experience for old school gamers whom are familiar with the source content, either. On the iPhone, four directional commands are mapped to the right side of the touch screen, with a single action button to the left. It’s just not the same experience as playing the game with the original joystick with an action button located on either side. The only real problem is that the iPhone’s not quite responsive enough to base timing sensitive games on its touch screen.

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Apart from the occasionally inaccurate controls, Dragon’s Lair purists may also feel put off by the inclusion of options for infinite lives or even guided movement. In tandem, these factors create a more accessible experience for new players, while removing much of the thrill that comes with successfully navigating the rooms of the castle without this guidance. Knowing exactly what to press, and when, reveals the incredibly linear nature of a game in which there’s typically only one correct button to tap.

The game’s presentation value is abnormally high for the iPhone. With intelligently designed menus and several options for where the buttons can be mapped onto the touch screen, players will also find two ways to play the game: home or arcade mode. The arcade mode is a near perfect translation of the way the game was played in arcades, where players are pushed forward and forced to repeat scenes until they’ve mastered them, whereas the home version includes numerous scenes which were never played in the arcade original, such as the instantly recognizable drawbridge scene, just before Dirk enters the castle.

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If for no other reason than to own a high quality portable restoration of Don Bluth’s classic, Dragon’s Lair is well worth the $4.99 purchase. Up until this point, the Game Boy Color Dragon’s Lair has been considered the best mobile version of the arcade game (it’s actually very good), but thankfully, the game has now been released on more relevant hardware which can handle the large assortment of colors and the classic audio cues which are faithfully restored in the game. I’d advise anyone interested in Dragon’s Lair to download the iPhone version. When compared side-by-side to the compressed visuals of the Nintendo DSi download, the difference is vast.

Making better use of the hardware than most iPhone games, Dragon’s Lair takes advantage of the platform’s video capabilities, making the game a far better value than other handheld alternatives. The game’s excellent presentation values serve to punctuate an already great remake. For fans of the laserdisc original, Dragon’s Lair comes highly recommended.

Review based on version 11.19.09

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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