The Game: As valiant but clumsy knight Dirk the Daring, you’re on a hazardous quest to rescue Princess Daphne from a huge, hungry dragon. There are all kinds of dangers on the way, including Giddy Goons, the Black Knight, the Smithee, the Lizard King, and all kinds of other evil critters and contraptions. (Starcom, 1983)
Memories: Dragon’s Lair was the first laserdisc game to hit the arcades, an early field that included Starcom’s Space Ace and other manufacturers’ Cliff Hanger, among only a handful of others. The Sega laser game Astron Belt was actually in development earlier than Dragon’s Lair, but it languished in the video game equivalent of Hollywood’s “development hell,” meaning that it didn’t arrive until it was an also-ran.
The idea behind these games were pretty much the same as the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, except with video and audio. If you moved your joystick in the right direction or hit the action button at the right time, you moved on to the next challenge. If not, Dirk the Daring perishes horribly and is then re-animated (if you’ll forgive the pun).
There really was very, very little actual choice in the game at all. Very little was under the player’s control.
Sound barely seems to have been a consideration with Dragon’s Lair; there was almost no music, aside from some very cheesy synth-trumpet calls, and almost no speech. Princess Daphne did the most talking, in a squeaky little supermodel voice; Dirk mostly grunted and screamed, occasionally sounding for all the world like a Muppet having an orgasm.
The brainchild of ex-Disney animator Don Bluth, whose very distinctive animation also graced the later Space Ace, Dragon’s Lair was criticized even in its heyday as a game that amounted to little more than an animal behavior experiment. If the player learned to do the right thing at the right time, they’d get to see the entire cartoon through to the end. If not…insert another 50 cents. And that’s a valid criticism. But having watched my beloved spend hours trying to plow through various seemingly impossible levels of the Xena: Warrior Princess game for the Playstation, having to find just the right combination of moves and going to the right places in the right order, I ask myself…have we come a long way since Dragon’s Lair…or have we regressed back into that style of game?
Dragon’s Lair got a huge amount of publicity, and as such became one of the few early 80s games to get its own merchandise. A Dragon’s Lair cartoon survived for about one season, and – some 20 years later – action figures. A Dragon’s Lair II game was also created, though it’s incredibly obscure (and, frankly, not as much fun).
Perhaps the greatest spinoff from Dragon’s Lair is that, at long last, it can now be played at home. Digital Leisure has remastered the game footage and released it – in playable form, no less! – on DVD. The Dragon’s Lair DVD substitutes the arrow keys, usually used for menu screens, for the joystick, and the “select” (or, depending on the manufacturer, “enter” button for the game’s all-purpose action button. Make no mistake, though; response time is just as sluggish as it was with the original arcade game, and so is the lag time so the player can seek for the correct clip to correspond to your actions.