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Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp

A movie? A game? A gamevie?

The original Dragon’s Lair was a laser disc game and had the kind of charm that could reel people in who didn’t know the first thing about a video game. Largely responsible for this was Don Bluth, an ex-Disney artist known for such classics as The Sword in the Stone and The Land Before Time among others. Having left Disney due to a growing displeasure with their output at the time, he whiled away his hours doing magnificent sketches for the cartoon/game hybrid and molding it into something that was sure to make an impact on the gaming scene when it hit.

The idea was that players would actually be in control of the movie itself. Instead of simply watching, they’d follow the brave knight along as he tried to rescue the princess, making crucial decisions at key moments to avoid falling victim to various aggressors and booby-traps in the dragon’s lair. Drawing heavily from both entertainment mediums, the hope was to attract a larger audience and even carve out a niche in the industry. But while it enjoyed moderate success, major limitations in both fields held it back from creating any kind of revolution.

Thus not many could be bothered to care when the next wave of laser disc games was dumped onto shelves, and even the fantastical sequel to Dragon’s Lair ended up rotting under a heap of titles that promised not only more action but graphics that were already threatening to supersede it as well.

It also didn’t help that the second got dippier and dippier as it went along.

The idea was that after conquering the trials of the dragon Singe’s lair, Dirk the Daring went home with the princess Daphne and — although it’s not mentioned specifically — had a throng of children, who all lived happily along with Dirk, Daphne, and his, uhh, mother-in-law, in a cottage just across the way from what appears to be the castle you trudged through in the first Dragon’s Lair. But then along came a disgruntled wizard and snatched up Daphne, once again forcing Dirk to arms.

And this all happens just moments before the game begins, making your first encounter with Daphne’s mother-in-law particularly unpleasant. The viking-helmed woman ends up giving chase to you with a rolling pin for around ten scenes before you even get to your first checkpoint. From here, you’ll have to evade her(in addition to a spider and snake) through ten more scenes until the third checkpoint, which turns out to be home to yet another nasty. Thankfully, you end up landing on a time machine this time around and after another 15 or so scenes getting a one-way ticket out of that insanity–and into a different type of it.

Which pretty much sums up how the rest of the game will go. The scenes either seem to increase in number as you get warped to a new checkpoint, or just become trickier to react to. They definitely become dumber, though. Most painfully, one stage will have you going through an abridged section of Alice in Wonderland, dodging the Queen of Heart’s guards and riding on the back of several images of the Cheshire Cat, which could have worked but ends up seeming too hectic and out-of-place in the grand scheme. It feels more like filler, and as far as I know wasn’t in the original DLII, which would seem to confirm this.

There is also a take on Adam and Eve that’s too wishy-washy and borders on being redundant as you find yourself being wrapped up in the clutches of serpents for the oompteenth time. The stage following it kind of reinforces the bad things, too, with everything still seeming far too chaotic and overblown. But you have to kind of admire the hasty atmosphere they’ve created even if you still yearn for a level where Dirk isn’t being tugged on and chewed at by ten different things at once. It’d be nice if maybe there were an intermission of puzzle-solving or careful trap-dodging at some point.

I guess there’s not much one can do with the gameplay in one of these games. You’re asked for input as each scene occurs, and you have to press one of the directional keys(movement) or the X button(sword) within the time allotted or else you die. A few scenes have more than one solution and there are also some optional treasures you can scoop up, but the gist of it winds up being an exercise in memorization. When you forget what to do or get distracted, you have to start over. This means a lot of the animation’s limelight is overshadowed by the intense concentration required. Using the watch option from the main menu can remedy this, but it’s a major spoiler and is best reserved until after you’ve conquered the game, when you can enjoy the whole deal free of exasperating load-times and cut-off dialogue.

Beating the game is no easy task, though. It’s easy to get into a huff after a few deaths and eventually your mind will get to the point where it doesn’t care enough to remember the correct movement sequence to get through segments you’ve already repeated 20 times over. In these cases, it’s hard to press on through DLII, and a break will seem the only solution, but as this is a DVD there’s no method of saving your progress,. Although there are ways of losing it. Pressing square will kick you back to the main menu and getting lost in the DVD controls box could accidentally find you hovering over the stop button which will also force a restart. Leaving the room ends up being riskier than actually playing through levels, as someone or something(lock up those cats and dogs!) could step on the control and ruin your progress up to that point.

Amusingly, for all the criticism I’ve thrusted in the past at visual-centric next-generation games, I now find myself scooping up titles that are really nothing more than glorified action movies. And even though it was disappointing, I think it was worth trying just because it was a sequel to the arcade classic(being sub-$6 didn’t hurt, either) Dirk is the kind of guy who’s been sculpted intelligently(though he doesn’t possess much intelligence himself) and that you could definitely see having you in tears were he in some more well thought-out and humorous situations rather than a silly, multi-act chase scene. For that reason, the original Dragon’s Lair brings out much more of his humorous side than its sequel, but if you’ve already been there and done that it couldn’t hurt to dig this one out of the bargain bin.

4 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2004.

Gentle persuasion

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