Don Bluth’s Dragon’s Lair Trilogy is, perhaps, a fixture in early narrative-driven video games. Bluth, a popular animator and director of such animated films like All Dogs Go to Heaven, created the original arcade hit Dragon’s Lair back in 1983. At the time, it was a rarity seeing the likes of an animated film that players were able to control — to a degree.
However, the story is simplistically one for the era and feels quite archaic in the realm of modern video games. Dirk, a noble knight, must rescue his love-interest Princess Daphne — typical storybook stuff. What was so revolutionary about this game then is that it was the equivalent of today’s modern story-driven QTE (quick-time events) games. While sprawling dialogue options and the element of choice didn’t exist at this time, ensuring that Dirk evaded danger with the timed press of the right buttons rolled the cinematic story forward. In those days, a game simply containing a story was rare.
Once upon a time…
There’s not much more that can be said about this trilogy that hasn’t been said by the numerous re-releases the games have enjoyed on countless platforms over the years. Forget the numerous traditional gaming platforms like consoles and PC; people can even snag the original Dragon’s Lair for iOS or Android devices. A Blu-ray version was even released!
At this stage, Dragon’s Lair should simply be recognized as an icon to any gamer young or old. Dragon’s Lair II throws a time-traveling twist on the whole affair as Dirk must journey through moments in history such as the Garden of Eden or Beethoven in order to rescue Daphne. Some eras are, maybe, not so historical like the Alice in Wonderland setting. But in this crazy cartoony ride, who really cares about continuity? The third game in this trilogy, Space Ace (chronologically the second), follows a similar trajectory with a space adventurer setting out to retrieve his girlfriend from aliens who kidnapped her. It’s another Don Bluth creation that fits the mold of its spiritual Dragon’s Lair siblings.
The beauty in its age
To sit down and play these games on a modern console like Nintendo Switch, players must be seeking to simply enjoy the character that went into early 1980s animation and the unique arcade spin the games took with the built-in narrative. While Dragon’s Lair is a classic, it’s also dated. And the real factor that defines this game’s enjoyment level for you will be how much you appreciate the era it came from. There’s nothing complex about the gameplay functions as it was designed for a retro-arcade cabinet. Players must simply press the buttons highlighted by the game to complete specific actions while avoiding peril.
Speaking of dated elements, games tended to be more difficult in the early days of the industry. While the control scheme may seem simple, having the reflexes to be quick enough is really the key to success. Some scenes are quicker and more intense than others. At times, I felt like I had not even a half-second window to press a specified button. I might be exaggerating a little, but it seemed that at some points a designated button will highlight with a flicker. And before I knew it, Dirk would be meeting his end.
I know how frustrating this game was at the arcade decades ago as players would have to pop a quarter every three lives to keep going. It wasn’t until I played the original Dragon’s Lair on my iPad a few years ago that I was able to reach areas of the castle that I had never seen before. Thankfully, in the re-releases such as this Switch edition players can continue as many times as they need without this arcade limitation. Trust me — you’ll need that benefit, too.
It’s hard to simply review a game from a bygone era in a modern setting. Comparing it to modern standards doesn’t seem entirely fair. But I can say this: Dragon’s Lair on the Nintendo Switch made me feel like a kid again. The animation is an art form all on its own that has been preserved through the decades-long legacy of Dragon’s Lair. And alongside Space Ace, the trilogy presents fantastical worlds with mythical dangers that would sync up with the imagination of any young boy or girl. Despite the dated, simple, yet sometimes challenging gameplay, the drive to see Dirk’s and Ace’s adventures through is what makes these games great.
A review code was provided by the publisher.