Dragon's Lair (DSiWare)

Game Review

Dragon's Lair Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Corbie Dillard

Dragon slaying for people on the go!

In 1983, former Disney animator Don Bluth decided to create a video game using his stunning animation talents. Instead of the regular sprite-based games normally found in arcades, Dragon's Lair created a vivid world through some of the best animation of the time. Of course in order to store all of this animation, Laserdisc technology had to be used. While this made for some stunning visuals, it greatly limited what could be done with the actual gameplay system. There was no moving freely around levels or controlling every movement of your character. Instead a series of specific directional and button inputs were used to loosely guide your daring knight Dirk through level after animated level in his quest to save his lovely Princess Daphne. The game would go on to become a huge hit - even getting to the stage where some arcade operators started installing additional screens so people could watch games in progress - but the technology the game made use of never really took off the way some had hoped due to its high production cost and lack of playability.

Over the years this arcade game has become a much-beloved classic and has spawned ports on more game consoles than can be counted. Some versions have been close to the arcade original, whereas others have fallen well short in various ways. Now Digital Leisure has ported the classic arcade title to the DSiWare service and while some corners were inevitably cut in keeping the game to a manageable downloadable file size, it's actually a fairly solid version and one fans of the classic coin-op should find appealing.

Dragon's Lair features one of those unique play control systems that most people either love or hate. Those who've never played the game before need to know right up front what they're getting into. You don't command your character like you do in most games where you have almost total control of their movements and actions. Instead the game requires you to input specific directions on the D-pad or press the action button at certain times during each level.

You're normally given a bit of a hint as to what command to input in various spots with certain flashes of light or things that pop up during a level. For the most part, the game takes very little gaming skill and relies more on your memorizing the exact inputs and timing for each of the game's many levels. Your ultimate goal is to traverse each of the game's levels in order to reach the dragon's lair where you must slay the beast and rescue Princess Daphne from his clutches.

This DSiWare version features two game modes - Arcade and Home. Arcade mode tosses the levels at you completely randomly just like the arcade classic did. That means that when you die on a level, you don't replay the level until you get it right, instead the game takes you to a completely different room to tackle. This makes it difficult to figure out and memorize the specific commands, which is one of the reasons the arcade game managed to steal so many quarters from players trying to beat the game.

Home mode still presents random levels, but dying on a level allows you to keep attempting the level until you get it right and progress on to the next one. There are also two difficulty settings to choose from - Easy and Hard. About the only difference between the two difficulty settings is the timing window with which you have to make the correct command inputs. Hard generally requires the timing to be very close to perfect, whereas Easy gives a bit more leeway as to the exact moment that you must tap in the correct input commands.

The play control in the various home ports of the arcade game over the years has been streaky at best. Some have managed to accurately capture the timing and feel of the arcade version of the game, whereas others have been complete shambles that featured everything from annoying pauses to slight delays in the input commands that made playing the game next to impossible. Thankfully the guys at Digital Leisure managed to get the control scheme and timing down quite well and the result is one of the most playable versions of the game outside of the original arcade release. Even the tones made when commands are input correctly and incorrectly are intact and make playing the game quite fun, but still as challenging as ever.

Visually the arcade original was stunning, to say the least. While the DSiWare release is very well done considering the file size limitations of the DSiWare service, there is some loss in visual quality due to the video compression needed to fit the entire game into the downloadable file size. That means that the animation isn't as smooth as you might like and the video can be a bit blurry and grainy at times, but it's really a small complaint and one that's certainly not the fault of the developers who were somehow able to miraculously fit this entire game into this DSiWare release. It's really a small price to pay for having such a playable version of the game that can be taken with you on the go.

Much like the video, the audio in the game also comes with a few limitations. While most of the arcade title's audio is intact and quite well rendered, the compressions can make the music and sound effects a bit muffled and metallic-sounding at times. Once again, considering all that had to be squeezed into this rather compact DSiWare release, it's actually impressive what the developers were able to cram in and the audio is certainly adequate for the type of game this is. If this had been a retail release, it would be much easier to complain, rather than having to grade the game as a downloadable title that ends up being fairly impressive considering the limitations heaped upon it.


Dragon's Lair was a game well ahead of its time during its original release, but there's still something magical about the game, even by today's lofty video gaming standards. Sure the gameplay is very one-dimensional and the frame rate is choppy due to the compression of the video, but the play control itself is nearly arcade perfect. You might find more polished versions of the game out there, but if you've ever wanted to take this arcade classic with you on the go, this is the version you need. Just make sure you know how the game plays and what it can and can't do, because those looking for a more traditional play control system might be disappointed with the overly simplistic play control scheme the game makes use of.

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User Comments (31)



RyuZebian said:

I haven't played the game, but since my chances of finding one of the arcade machines are slim to null, I guess this might be my best chance! BTW, how long does it take to play through the entire game (1 try per level)?



Stuffgamer1 said:

Umm...your description of the controls reminds me of a crappy bonus feature game on a DVD. Not very appealing.



spicoli said:

I'd get this game just because of the princess daphne cut scenes...oh, and Don Bluth's animation is very, very awesome as well!



Sean_Aaron said:

The original game was really really lame; I couldn't believe it was US$0.50 back in the day for a credit given the lack of actual "game" in there. If it wasn't for Don Bluth's amazing animation no one would care about this today.

Nice review Corbie, fans should thank their lucky stars you were the reviewer!



madgear said:

I wouldn't be so harsh on this game - it's from 1983! I mean digital music wasn't even that common back then, never mind digital video. It might not be much of a game but it's a technical acheivement for the time and a peice of gaming history.

I mean it wasn't until the mid 90's that the technology to re-create this in the home was available. Any of you who were old enough to play arcade games in 1983 may have thought the price of the game was a lot to pay back then, but when you think these gamers were actually getting a glimpse of future technology it doesn't seem so harsh.



Hardy83 said:

I own it. It's still fun, but yeah the video compression is pretty bad. I'd say it's worth it if you don't have access to other versions, but the fault for the bad compression is Nintendo's because they set the size restrictions, and they set the moronic 20MB limit where every other digital medium is at least 100MB or no limit.



Jacob said:

To be honest, I thought it was disappointing at some points. The gameplay in whole was about 20 minutes, and after that, there's no real incentive to play to beat it again, unless you want a higher score. But there were much more high points as well, so I'd only recommend to fans of the series for sentimental quality, so it's worth the price.



OverlordMao said:

good enough. I'm just glad that I can finally play this game on the go.
It still looks like quite a challenge, and I love that.



Corbs said:

This game remains a guilty pleasure for me, still to this day. I loved it back in the day, and I got just as big a kick out of playing it for the review as ever.



TKOWL said:

Still amazes me how they could make a game look this good in 1983.



HipsterDashie said:

I don't know why, but I find myself drawn to FMV based games. It's how I got into Professor Layton!

Since I've played FMV games on the old Mega CD, I think I know how the gameplay goes with this. However, I was wondering - does the game give you prompts, oris it all guesswork?



Corbs said:

@ SoulSilver IV - It's a little of both. Some levels will toss you a bone, others make you figure it out through trial and error. It's generally common sense, but you gotta be quick and the timing has to be right. That's the fun of learning to beat the game.



WhiteDragon9928 said:

I just got this through dsiware and i have to say, from what i remember from my hundreds of hours spent (and quarters) at the arcade playing this game, this is a darn-near perfect translation of the arcade game itself. in fact, dare i say it: it IS the arcade game, right down to the "boop" sounds that indicate a correct move was made now i dont know much about this compression bit but i have to say i dont see where anything was lost. i own a copy of digital leisures ps2 version of this and i compared the dsi version with the ps2 version and actually, the dsi version seems to be better...probably just my imagination but it seems like it. i love it...its so fun and kinda surreal to have ppl gather around me to watch me play this, same as they did way back in 83 when ppl would gather to watch me play the arcade game. kudos to digital leisure...yall did a MARVELOUS job!!!



Pegasus said:

I'll stick to my iPod Touch version. It has excellent visual and audial fidelity and is three bucks cheaper to boot.



tripunktoj said:

Anyone there knows which is the nearest perfect translation of the arcade game on a Nintendo console? Is it this DSiWare release? I heard there is a DS retail release coming,

What I am asking for is the closest version to the original one, not the most playable, not the best graphically, but the closer to the original. Can anyone confirm the retail version?



barucci2000 said:

I download this but I don't really like it + the gameplay is too fast and short for me. Well...



Zezima said:

I'm confused on the overall concept of this game. Do you really control the character, or is the game like an old Movie? I probably won't be getting this application.



jdarrell said:

Re: Gameplay
There's only five input buttons: up, down, left, right, A

You have to guess and memorize when to use them to cause the correct scene to play next.

I liked it, but mainly because it reminded me of when I played the sequel in the arcade once.



J_K said:

I fairly well sucked at this as I rarely touched it in the arcade at 50 cents a shot. Years later I was one who amazingly ended up owning a Philips CDi and I got this and it's companion Space Ace on video cd for the system and played it a good bit. I figured out over half the maps or so on DL, but could barely get much beyond little space ship in the weird thin tunnels scene in the other and more or less gave up on it.

Fun fact, this did come out on the GBC, and I had a pair of friend working on games for Digital Eclipse at the time. They so talked me into the game on hype alone which isn't common. They removed 8 moves (mostly from the smithy) and scaled down the length of the death/rebirth scenes, downsampled the video to 2bit(4 color), but they did get the full laserdisc game on a 4MB GBC cart and I played it for a good long time (I will get it again, don't now.) I just am not sure if I should get this or the other as we know Nintendo's dumb policies of game ownership on downloads. :



sam322 said:

ya what the heck
it's like there's an invisible obstacle in front of the door

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