Developer(s): Advanced Microcomputer Systems
Publisher: Philips Interactive Media
Dragon’s Lair is an interactive movie in which you “control” Dirk the Daring in his quest to rescue the Princess Daphne from the, well, dragon’s lair. It might be the first interactive movie, in fact, having launched in arcades in 1983. When you’re looking at Donkey Kong on your left and a full-on animated film that you can (kind of) control on your right, it’s bound to make an impression. Despite being barely a video game, it’s reached enough of a legendary status that 37 years later people are still talking about it, even possibly making a live-action movie.
The CD-i version is the only one I’ve played, so let’s talk about it. It consists of a couple dozen distinct scenes, played in random order except for the first one (entering the castle) and the last one (the dragon’s lair). In theory this gives players a chance to see nearly all the scenes even if they’re not great at the game, and in practice this makes the game very difficult to actually get better at.
Each scene requires you to either press up, down, left, right, or the sword button at certain moments in the film. If you press the right button at the right time, the film continues, and if you don’t, Dirk dies. You start with three lives and there are no continues, though you earn an extra life every four scenes or so. Generally there is no on-screen indication of what to press or when, so it’s a matter of guesswork and trial-and-error. Sometimes the screen will flash in a certain spot giving a hint as to what direction to push, but most of the time it doesn’t, and sometimes something will flash that will kill you if you move towards it, in what I guess they thought was a fun trick.
Alternately, you could use a guide, but because you can only pause in-between scenes, and they’re in random order, you still have to memorize all of the inputs for every scene to make any progress. If you’re trying to find a guide, I’ll tell you the CD-i port most closely resembles the original arcade game, though they did alter the inputs for some scenes in ways that are unique to this version. The mudmen level, for example, is almost entirely different: Sword, Left, Up, Right, Up, Up, Up. Imagine how long that took to figure out, especially when you’re not sure if you hit the wrong input or hit the correct input at the wrong time (or hit the correct input at the correct time and it still didn’t work for some mysterious reason).
There is something compelling about Dragon Lair, I suppose. I mean I played it for several hours over a couple weeks before deciding my life would be better if I never played it again. I know all the inputs for every stage except the final one because I never made it to the final one. Even on rooms I have completely and totally down, sometimes I’ll still die, and I don’t know why. You can’t truly get better at a video game that doesn’t provide you any feedback indicating what you’re doing wrong. If you’re curious about Dragon’s Lair, just watch it on YouTube while holding a controller that isn’t plugged into anything and pushing random buttons.
Graphics – 7
The animation mostly looks good but it’s very jerky in spots and often looks like it’s playing in fast-forward
Sound – 6
Between each scene you have to see your score, and as each letter and number fills the screen it makes an annoying clank sound
Gameplay – 3
It’s like trying to play Guitar Hero without a note chart
Value – 7
I mean I did spend hours on it and every playthrough was different, even if a successful run would probably only take 15 minutes or less
Reviewer’s Tilt – 5
I can’t get with a game where I enter the same button commands in the same scene at the same time every time and in at least 25% of my attempts I die anyway
Final Score – 5.1