Review – Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray Disc

Back in my younger years, which I peg at over 25 years ago, I worked part-time at a computer store located right next to an arcade (Fun N’ Games in Framingham, Massachusetts), and as the manager was the father of a friend, I used to get advanced access to new arcade games as they came out. The job ended but I still enjoyed occasional gaming privileges during my college years when I came back to the area to visit my folks. One of the most frustrating games I remember from that day and age was something called Dragon’s Lair.

Dragon’s Lair was effectively an interactive cartoon, where at particular (and frequent) points you needed to use a joy stick and indicate which direction the protagonist – Dirk the Daring – should go in order to avoid impending doom. You typically could choose one of four (or less directions) for Dirk to “move” at these decision points.

Dirk about to die

Doom is pretty much what always befell my attempts to play through the game. I lost a lot of money (gaming privileges meant early access, not free play, alas) on Dragon’s Lair. I have always blamed my poor performance on the lag in response of the joystick – not an unreasonable excuse considering that Dragon’s Lair was based on a laser disc and the joystick controlled a decision tree, and it would take finite amount of time for the disc head to get to wherever the next scene needed to come from, be it a death scene like the one above, or a rare (in my case) continuation of the game. Mind you, it’s quite possible the lag was human lag, i.e. mine, but I’d never admit that in public.

I never finished Dragon’s Lair, but did always consider it a standout at a time when arcade graphics were blocky, and even the PC games at the time that I developed were not particularly attractive (although there was less game play lag). Dragon’s Lair featured cel-based animation by famed animator Don Bluth, digitized to laser disc. Big visual difference to pixel-based gaming. At the time, and for years to come, Dragon’s Lair was the closest thing to wide spread “3D” gaming arcade game players experienced, even though the subject was actually flat (it was a cartoon, after all) and all motions and paths were fully predetermined – you could only choose which of those predetermined paths to follow.

Some years back, Dirk was repurposed for a couple of different and more dynamically interactive Dragon’s Lair games for various consoles – game play was moderately fun, although my then eight year old son enjoyed the games more than I did.

But Dragon’s Lair has returned to its optical video medium roots. A couple of months ago, I received a pre-release of Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray Disc. The kids and I played with it extensively – they greatly enjoyed the Dad-induced death scenes, while for me it brought back the humiliation of defeat. And this time, perhaps, it was human lag (at least to some extent) that was the cause of death as we played the game on our Sony PS3 on our 61” DLP 1080p screen. The game would have been well-nigh impossible to play with the PS3 controller, but using the optional Sony PS3 Blu-ray Remote control it worked out moderately well – except for my accidentally hitting “Stop” and having to start the game all over again, multiple times. Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray Disc will play on any Blu-ray Disc player which supports BD-J (which should be all of them).

It was entertaining while it lasted, but I found the non-linear play of Dragon’s Lair frustrating. Let me explain that. If you are really good at Dragon’s Lair and never fail, there will be some sense of linearity from one scene to another (or at least it will appear that way), but if you cause Dirk to die, as I am wont to do, then Dirk resurrects in some random location, making it seem like you’re jumping all over the place all the time. I’m told by the folks at Digital Leisure that the original arcade version worked like this too, which is perhaps something I blocked as a painful childhood memory.

The manual I received with the Blu-ray Disc version also made reference to a visual cue appearing on-screen at a time when a decision needed to be made, but that never happened during our game play, and I was later told this is for the HD-DVD version of the game (even though the manual was Blu-ray Disc specific). However it was a pre-release, so that may have now been corrected.

For anyone who was a big Dragon’s Lair fan, or just wants to play a video game on their non-game console Blu-ray Disc player, Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray Disc will definitely provide entertainment and nostalgia. I did go through a bit of nostalgia myself, but mostly about how easy it was for me to get Dirk the Daring killed during my gameplay (see image above for reference).

I personally found myself yearning for some fragging on Halo 2 or playing some current next-gen gaming titles with a more explorable world after a period of playing Dragon’s Lair. Perhaps I’ve become spoiled, but to me Dragon’s Lair seemed antiquated compared to modern console gaming. But perhaps new gamers will appreciate the novelty of this approach more than I.

I give Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray Disc a 5.5 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray Disc is available for $49.95.

Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray Disc