Dragon's Lair 3D
Review by Old
Close to 20 years ago, I accompanied my two youngest sons to Aladdin's
Castle, the local mall arcade, in order to observe, and then frustratingly/fascinatingly
try, the latest and greatest arcade gameDragon's Lair.
After many quarters (the game brought in more than $3 million
its first two weeks!), I yielded to the reflexes and strategies
of youth. Dirk the Daring couldn't depend on me to rescue or slay
anything! Little did I suspect that now, in my dotage, I'd be playing,
enjoying, and even reviewing the latest incarnation of Dirk's exploitsDragon's
Lair 3D: Return to the Lair.
"You Can't Go Home Again" Thomas Wolfe
Or can you? During the last four years, at least four of the creative
geniuses behind the original arcade Lair have been attempting
to recreate the fun and magic of their 1983 masterpiecewhich
is one of only three video games to make it to the Smithsonian Institution.
Having created the first laser-disc coin-operated video game, Rick
Dyer (CEO), Don Bluth and Gary Goldman (directors/artists), and
Christopher Stone (composer) have brought their collective talents
and energies to the task of bringing the exploits of Dirk the Daring
to all major game systems, in glorious 3D. Their stated goal is
to create a blend of interactive movie-like entertainment, with
a rich musical score, all in a game one can control. With motion
blending, cel-shading graphic rendering, 16 different animations
for Dirk, 250 castle rooms instead of the original 40, new locations,
monsters, and challenges, and, most importantly, full control over
the actions of Dirk, Dyer, Bluth and company have brought honor
and even a sense of love to their original masterwork. Yes, one
can go home again, if one chooses to capture the spirit of the original
creation yet also brings a sense of freshness and newness to the
current production. Congratulations, Dragonstone Software (the team's
new company); your labor of love has succeeded not only in evoking
fond early memories of arcade playing, but also in providing current
pleasure as a change of pace in the often pompous and dreary world
of current RPG, RTS, and even adventure titles.
Personal disclaimer: Sounding very much like a fan with my enthusiastic
review, I need to say that I neither work for Dragonstone nor am
I writing out of some sense of gratitude because I received a free
reviewer's copy. I bought the game at Circuit City, just as you
might, and pen this admittedly positive appraisal with an objective
and critical eye.
"Well, Looks like You're Here for Awhile!" Princess
Following the abduction of Princess Daphne by the evil wizard Mordoc
and his trusty dragon Singe, our bumbling knight-hero, Dirk, races
to the castle to perform his mandatory rescue. Fortunately (although
one sometimes wonders, given her screechy, demanding voice), Daphne
has left behind an amulet that enables communication in the form
of hints along the way. The castle is vast, filled with traps, monsters,
250 roomsleading you through 15 levels of fighting, jumping,
puzzle-solving, trap-avoiding action on your way to Daphne, who
talks badly but looks like she just escaped from a Hugh Hefner party!
She even sings a new rap song in tribute"He's My Guy!"
It's a pleasure to find the PC version (Xbox also available now;
PS2 and Gamecube a bit later) designed with care and thoughtfulness,
taking into account not only the power of the PC, but also the multiplicity
of options available. My P4, nVidia3 system had no problems running
Lair at the glorious maximum setting of 1600x1200x32; yet
one can also play the game on a PII 300 with a 16 MB video card.
Not only are video and sound options plentiful in the menu, but
also mouse/keyboard combo can be configured to your liking, as can
a joystick. I found the mouse/keyboard best, using the mouse for
direction, left button for fighting, right button for forward movement,
arrows for other movement, and space bar for jump. This comfortable
setup worked smoothly 90% of the time.
"Run, Dirk, Run!" Daphne
Lair 3D is no Ghost Recon, nor does it intend to
be. Using a third-person, over-the-shoulder, 360-degree camera view
(first-person "look around" is available), we play as
the peculiar yet likeable Dirkfighting, rolling, jumping and
often running on his inexorable path to Daphne. Some thinking is
involved, mostly on how to avoid a pitfall, slay a difficult monster,
or enter a room without "dying." In that regard, Dirk
has unlimited lives, and you will be returned to the scene of your
demise when you meet your colorful death. Further, there is a quick
save, as well as regular saving anytime! Thank you, Dragonstone!
That's one of those PC potentials we're glad they placed in the
There's only one difficulty setting for Lair, which is fine,
since Daphne gives what amounts to a tutorial during the easier
early levels, with challenges not ramping up 'til a bit later in
Although control of Dirk is mostly accurate, there are times when
some complexity is required (a running roll) or pinpoint precision
is needed to reach a swinging rope, which can be frustrating. But
this is often the case with "platform jumpers," and part
of the fun is having the patience and doing the planning to finally
succeed after several trials. I never needed more than four attempts
to reach a goal.
Extinguish Singe's Flame!
Starting simply, armed with only his sword, Dirk will eventually
earn a crossbow, with magic and flame arrows available. Along the
way, he'll pick up keys, treasures, and health and mana potions.
Dragon essences will be found and needed. He'll have to watch out
for falling rocks and bookshelves, crumbling beams, electrified
and sliding floor tiles, moving platforms. Monsters to be encountered
include Cyclops Worm, Giddy Goons, Flying Books, and, of course,
the Dragon. Dirk will learn the potential of quite complicated fighting
moves, but I didn't often find these necessary. Evasion and feinting
(not fainting!) usually worked quite nicely.
Dyer, Bluth, and company have not only modified and brought back
some old areas from their original work, but also created much that
is new. Levels similar to the 1983 Lair include Swinging
Ropes of Fire, Castle Sewers, the Main Hall, Spiral Stairs, Bells
and Ropes, Rolling Balls, the Room of Fire, Robot Knight, the Lizard
King, and, of course, the Dragon's Lair itself. Since Lair 3D
is six times larger, there are many new room and level additions,
as well as new monsters.
As regards the newness of Lair 3D, Don Bluth has been personally
involved in all artwork, and it shows! I can't speak to the technicalities
of cel-shading, but, as intended by Dragonstone, you really feel
like you're playing and interacting with a cartoon. Bluth has commented
(interview on the CD) that he feels the "colors and effects
are far amplified beyond our original work," and I wholeheartedly
agree. The backgrounds sometimes suffer a bit in comparison, but
Dirk and the other characters are wonderfully depicted.
Finally, we have one of the highlights of the gamethe musical
score. Beginning with the tuning up of the 70-piece orchestra at
the outset, the soundtrack features over 90 minutes of original
work by Chris Stone. The themes range from mystical moments, to
creating a sense of danger, to pleasant interludes as Dirk bumbles
along his adventure.
Speech (deliberately grating) is fine from Daphne (Dirk only grunts
and exclaims), and ambient sounds are satisfactory, even a creaking
door when accessing the menu!
Put your quarters awaythe Lair is back!
Game reviewing is an interesting task. While playing and taking
notes, I deliberately won't look at other reviews, but I do browse
a bit after my rough draft is done, largely to make sure I've not
left out some important feature or characteristic of the game. To
my surprise, Lair 3D has received some negative press. I
think of myself as rather critical, sometimes cranky in general,
but some folks have really been picky about this terrific title.
It's like they approach it to find what's wrong, much as my wife
does with my wallpaper efforts, rather than look at the whole work.
"Don't examine that little mismatch in the upper left hand
corner of the ceiling, dear; rather, look at the glorious impact
of the colors and design as you enter the roomplease!"
So, too, with Lair 3D. Look at and praise all that's right;
don't nitpick the few problem areas. Dragon's Lair 3D is
a magnificent tribute to the 1983 coin-op Lair and a highly
entertaining game for today's players. It offers a simple, almost
relaxing format of fighting/jumping/adventuring set in a huge and
vividly colorful castle. Our hero, Dirk, can be controlled smoothly
and effectively, and the entire ambience, from music to level design
to creatures, is involving and, most of all, fun! What more can
one ask from a video game?
Note: The Xbox version apparently will be the first fully 1080i
high-definition video game.
Release Date: November 2002
Four Fat Chicks Links
PII 300 (PIII 800 recommended)
64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended)
16 MB video card
700 MB minimum install
Where to Find It
Links provided for informational purposes only.
FFC makes no warranty with regard to any transaction entered into
by any party(ies).