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Dragon's Lair - DSiWare Review

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Dragon's Lair

DSiWare | Digital Leisure | 1 Player | Out Now | 800 Nintendo Points
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12th January 2010; By KnucklesSonic8

Take a trip back to 1983 when Dragon's Lair, one of the most recognized laserdisc games, first appeared in arcades in the United States. Although the game itself wasn't terribly complex, it was a marvel from a technical aspect, rising above the limitations that had impeded many arcade games before it. Featuring impressive animations from Don Bluth, Dragon's Lair went on to gain millions of sales as well as a cult following that still exists to this day. The game's legacy also led to many re-releases on a variety of mediums, including gaming consoles and DVD players. Returning to present day, Digital Leisure has now brought it into the hands of DSi owners everywhere for only 800 Nintendo Points. Rest assured that whether you've played this game in arcades years ago, or even if you're curious to try the game for the first time, Dragon's Lair is still a great arcade game that has translated well into handheld form.

    You assume the role of Dirk the Daring, a bumbling, sword-wielding hero who journeys to a wizard's castle in the hope of rescuing a damsel in distress. Going from room to room, players will be faced with a number of challenging opponents and puzzles. The gameplay is composed entirely of FMV sequences whereby players are tested for their timing and reflexes in relation to the action that occurs during each segment. If players time things correctly, they'll be able to accumulate points as they continue the video, and eventually move onto the next castle room. Once a mistake is made either with incorrect button presses or off-timing, a clip of a death scene will show, causing Dirk to lose a life. Although death itself isn't something to laugh about, some of the clips can actually be pretty humorous alongside the game's weird-looking enemies, making the game that much more enjoyable.

    Many years ago, Dragon's Lair was thought to be a very unique game because of it's memorable visuals and motivating gameplay. Even nowadays, many would still see it as a unique, albeit simple, game, since there's no straight-up platforming to be found. Despite the fact that the game also had a very simple control scheme, it's still pretty playable, even in this day and age.

Dragon's Lair really is one of the best examples of the time-tested formula of trial and error. Players will receive visual or audio cues from time to time that will direct them as to what should be done next, such as a flash of light. You'll have to act quickly since the game does have a timing window that's enforced with each of the events that take place during gameplay. When playing for the first time, there's a strong sense of suspense and surprise in not knowing what to expect next, but after many deaths and with a little bit of persistence, players will be able to learn the secrets to each challenge presented within the game. This solidifies an experience that's not only very replayable but also one that's rewarding.

    The game features a variety of rooms containing an assortment of puzzles and dangerous enemies that will test your speed and accuracy. In some cases, you'll only be required to make movements at the right time, and other times you'll have to use your sword to defend yourself against enemy attacks. Players will find themselves having to escape a pit of snakes, swim through an underground river, and get through other creepy-looking environments. The castle is just full of challenges for the player to get through, and whilst this can seem very intimidating upon first glance, with repeated plays you'll make great progress in no time! 

The new DSiWare release has multiple options that allow players to customize gameplay the way they'd like. There are two different ways to play Dragon's Lair. 'Arcade Mode' is the normal way of playing that's true to the original arcade experience. Even if players lose on a stage, they'll be teleported to a completely different room, rather than being able to try again. 'Home Mode' is a new mode previously unseen in the arcade version where players will have to try repeatedly to clear a room correctly before being allowed to move on. Standard options are available as well, such as being able to adjust volume settings, and even setting gameplay to the top or bottom screen as desired. You can also adjust the difficulty setting to make timing windows even more strict, or set the number of lives to make the gameplay easier or more challenging as desired. 

    There's no doubt that Dragon's Lair definitely has a strong arcade feel to it, from its menu layouts to its visuals. At the time, when the game was released in arcades, the animated visuals were considered to be very impressive. In order to fit all of the content into a DSiWare release, Digital Leisure had to compress data to ensure that the game still ran at a steady clip without foregoing any of the original content. At times, the compression quality does show but it's nothing terrible by any means, so there's no need to worry about this detracting from the gameplay experience at all. 

    Thanks to the portability of the handheld, players can play Dragon's Lair in short bursts whenever they feel like playing, creating convenience that other re-releases lack. The journey of mastering each room will take quite some time for someone who has never played the game before. Not to mention the fact that the game is very high-score based and as such, the gameplay motivates the player to keep pressing forward. Even when you do learn all of the secrets of each room, there's always the final challenge of saving Daphne from the evil dragon that one can strive towards. In addition, gameplay settings can be altered to make the game even more tricky, including the difficult task of clearing the game with only three lives. In short, there's a lot to be had from this arcade experience and it's definitely something that players will feel inclined to come back to and even share with friends.

    To re-release Dragon's Lair on the DSiWare platform was a good decision on the part of the developers. The game works really well on the handheld for an arcade experience and it's something that many will enjoy, even if you've never tried the game prior to this. Having now released this title on DSiWare, it'll be interesting to see if the developers decide to bring other laserdisc games to the service. When you consider how successful this project was, one can only hope that similar titles such as Space Ace will see a release on the service as well. For the time being though, there's absolutely nothing that pulls me back from recommending Dragon's Lair to DSi owners!

26/30 - Very Good

Gameplay 9/10 - Many rooms to master, timing windows test one's reflexes, creepy enemies, easy to grasp but difficult to master
Presentation 8/10 - Good visuals, some evidences of compression but nothing drastic, authentic arcade sound effects
Enjoyment 4/5 - Even if you have some minor frustrations, the game is still very rewarding, quite challenging, motivates you to keep playing
Extra Content 5/5 - Will last you quite a while, additional options to customize gameplay, motivating high-score system, two modes of play

Equivalent to a score of 87% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Dragon's Lair
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Review by KnucklesSonic8

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