In 1983, during the year Bonnie Tyler was belting out Total Eclipse of the Heart, the gaming industry was falling deep into recession. While it was more the home console market that was taking a beating thanks to over-saturation and a slew of poor quality products and ports, the arcade scene was also beginning to show some bruising. The industry was in desperate need for something new. Something groundbreaking to entice punters into exchanging their change for a digital fix. Dragon’s Lair was one of those answers, and by golly it was gorgeous.
Dragon’s Lair was a new type of arcade game. One that would push aside simple pixels and vectors in favor of a fully-animated adventure. The game would see the player execute simple directional inputs and a single attack command to decide the fate of the hapless, but brave, Dirk the Daring. He was a knight on a quest to save the playboy pin-up-inspired damsel in distress, Princess Daphne. It was one of the very first cabinets to utilize the laserdisc format and was so hungry for coins it chewed up two quarters at a time. Visually, the price for play would certainly have been tempting enough, but the difficulty was so high, you would have to be as wealthy as a Leprechaun to actually beat it.
Despite Shenmue creator Yu Suzuki being credited for the term “Quick Time Event” (QTE), it could be argued that Dragon’s Lair was the very first title to fully represent the gameplay mechanic to the masses. However, rather than have a button or directional input quickly flashing on screen to react to, Dragon’s Lair would require the player to react solely on environmental clues. Some of these are much easier to see than others, while the more formidable telltale signs would either set out to trick you or flat out force you to blindly guess the correct outcome.
Needless to say, Dragon’s Lair is incredibly cheap within its challenge. Not only do you have to choose the right action to proceed, but you also need frame-tight precision in timing to ensure old Dirk gets a little closer towards his royal squeeze. Thankfully, Dragon’s Lair Trilogy does have some options to allow the player a fighting chance. Lives, difficulty, alternate versions, and an on-screen command map provide at least some support to help the player see the adventure through. The collection even allows you to sit back and watch all three games play out without any interaction whatsoever. In any case, as helpful as it may be, relying on assistance does take away the soul of the experience. But on a brighter note, you will at least keep your sanity.
Bruce Lee once said: “Don’t think. FEEL. It’s like a finger pointing at the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all of the heavenly glory.” That is certainly the case with Dragon’s Lair Trilogy. While just staring at the on-screen visual commands to hit the right input will eventually help you on your way to success, you will most certainly miss out on some wonderful animation sewn-in across all three adventures. A fine example being Dragon’s Lair 2, which is absolutely stunning to look at even by today’s standards. The sequel also happens to fix decisional issues that the first game suffered with, by implementing a much better visual clue system set in place.
With that said, the sequel isn’t without its deviances. Knowing which input to press may be more forgiving this time around, but with its incredibly long checkpoints and brutal treasure hunting, there’s enough frustration to be found here to tempt a Teletubby into drowning a Nintendo Switch. Basically, if you’re not eagle-eyed enough to gather absolutely everything on the shopping list acquired to you, then you will be kicked right back to the beginning of the game just mere steps away from the final chapter. Considering how unfairly difficult these games are, an objection such as this can be absolutely soul destroying.
As for Space Ace – which saw a release just several months after the first Dragon’s Lair – you play as a scrawny hero, Dexter, who is out to save his own damsel in distress. The gameplay runs pretty much identical to the others with the exception of alternate pathways – thanks to Dexter’s ability to temporarily evolve into a more macho alter-ego known as Ace. The game was also led by Don Bluth, who was the chief animator of the Dragon Lair games and a Disney veteran. Space Ace definitely does up the ante when it comes to the fluidity of the animation process over the original Dragon’s Lair. The style is so timeless, yet so obviously contained within a period where cartoons were really beginning to spread their wings across the globe as a genuine artform outside of Walt Disney’s own legacy.
That being said, a collection like Dragon Lair Trilogy may not seem quite as revolutionary nowadays. But as you could imagine, or even may remember, that something like this would have the blown minds of those who would have seen something like this at their local bowling alley. Granted, by today’s standards Dragons Lair may even be considered as a pretty awful game in every angle outside its drop-dead gorgeous Disney-flavoured smut. However, Dragon’s Lair Trilogy is another important slice of gaming history and one that can now be added to the growing museum on the Nintendo Switch.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Digital Leisure