Digital Leisure Dragon's Lair HD

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Digital Leisure Dragon's Lair HD
  • Digital Leisure Dragon's Lair HD
  • Digital Leisure Dragon's Lair HD
  • Digital Leisure Dragon's Lair HD

Pros

  • Incredible remastered and restored visuals, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, Excellent special features,

Cons

  • Cropped to fit 16:9 with no option to watch uncropped version, Appeal limited to fans, Basic controls.

Bottom Line

Dragon's Lair has never looked or sounded as good as it does on HD DVD. If you are a fan you should definitely check it out, but if you've never played it before, you may not enjoy it as a gaming experience.

Would you buy this?

If you're a child of the eighties, there is very little chance that you haven't heard of Dragon's Lair. A hit sensation at the video arcades in 1983, it was the most popular laser disc based arcade game ever made. Now, after 54 different reincarnations, the definitive version has made its way into homes. Dragon's Lair HD is available at 1080p resolution on HD DVD and Blu- Ray disc. It features a brand new restored transfer from the original film master (rather than the laser disc) and 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. The game is played using the remote control of your HD player (or the controller of your Xbox 360 or PS3) and functions exactly as it did way back in '83.

To understand why Dragon's Lair holds a special place in people's hearts, you need only look at the time in which it existed. It was a time when the Atari 2600 was hugely popular in homes and the Commodore 64 was the next big thing on the market. It was a time when video games like Pac-Man, Galaga, Donkey Kong and Missile Command were being played in arcades around the world. At a time when a video game was a collection of blocky graphics, Dragon's Lair was mind-blowing.

It was unique in that it utilised actual animation, just like a Disney film. In fact, the animators accredited to this game are former Disney animators Don Bluth, Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy. Forming the company "Don Bluth Productions", they went on to create incredible and memorable animated features such as The Land Before Time, An American Tail, Anastasia and Titan AE (to name a few).

Using animation, stored on Laser Disc, the player would guess which direction the main character needed to move or when he needed to swing his sword to avoid being killed. A prompt would appear on screen, at which time, the player would choose a direction or hit the sword button. As such, the control was rather limited and as a game, it is very simplistic. However, this didn't stop it from becoming a massive hit. The structure of the game was such that you had to die repeatedly to learn the correct way to finish a puzzle. With only 5 lives per credit, this meant that kids were pumping coins into the machine to find out what came next.

The story revolves around a "dashing" knight named Dirk the Daring. He ventures to the castle of a dark wizard who has captured the beautiful Princess Daphne. The plot is rather trite by today's gaming standards, but these were the early days of gaming and, at the time, it was a widely used plot device. Even Super Mario Brothers, released in 1985, has basically the same plot. Dirk's journey into the castle is not an easy one. The Wizard has created all manner of obstacles to stop our hero and beasts to stand in his way. It is your job to get him through those puzzles until he reaches the dungeon where "Singe the Dragon" awaits. On a side note, the dragon is never actually referred to by name in the game. The name "Singe" was given to the dragon in 1984 when the game was made into a short-lived cartoon series. In this series, Dirk's horse was also given the name "Bertram" and was voiced by Peter Cullen, the voice of the original "Optimus Prime".

In all honesty, unless you are a fan, you may not find owning Dragon's Lair HD to be a particularly rewarding experience. Gaming has become far more sophisticated since 1983 and as such, it may not be all that much fun to play for newcomers. The game is rather short and while Dirk only has five lives, there are unlimited continues. With a little persistence and a good memory, it can be finished rather easily through trial and error. On the other hand, this is part of the fun as making mistakes in Dragon's Lair has always been one of the best parts of the game due to the multitude of creative and hilarious ways that Dirk can die.

We tested the HD DVD version of the game and were blown away by just how good it looks. Since the visuals were taken from the original film masters, they look infinitely better than the laser disc version or any since for that matter. However, since the original was not in widescreen, the top and bottom of the screen have been cropped to fit modern HD panels. This isn't noticeable unless you do a side-by-side comparison with the original but it is an unfortunate comprise that had to be made.

While the original mono sound track wasn't exactly brimming with complexity, the 5.1 Dolby Digital track is still a welcome addition. It adds depth to the game and brings it to life, triggering memories of an arguably wasted youth. The controls are tight and the game plays exactly as it should, especially if you are using an Xbox 360 or PS3 controller.

In addition to the actual game, there is also an array of special features for the nostalgia crowd to sink their teeth into. The first feature allows you to watch the game from start to finish, without having to play it. This can also be viewed with picture-in-picture commentary by animators Don Bluth and Gary Goldman who are joined by Rick Dyer, founder of RDI Video Systems (the company that created the game). There is also a separate feature which has interviews with the same three. For fans of the game, they offer terrific insight into the making of Dragon's Lair and the process and challenges of making such a beloved piece of video game history.

The features also include comparative footage of the different versions over the years and a number of scene by scene comparisons of the game, before and after restoration. Finally, we are treated to trailers for other RDI and Bluth collaborations such as Space Ace and Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp as a promise of things to come on HD DVD.

This is the best Dragon's Lair has ever looked or sounded. The High Definition restoration is incredible and the will no doubt make any fan of Dragon's Lair geek out over it. If you are a fan, you should definitely pick up a copy but if you have never played it, you might not understand what all the fuss is about.

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