Dragon's Lair Trilogy
Wii | Digital Leisure / Destineer | 1 Player | Out Now (North America)
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote (sideways); Classic Controller
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30th December 2010; By KnucklesSonic8
The collection comes included with three different arcade titles: Dragon's Lair, Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp, and Space Ace. All three of them fall under a special bracket of coin-operated titles that make use of unique mechanics that are markedly different from other games of yesteryear. The gameplay system was first introduced by now-famous animator Don Bluth, which makes me wonder if it would be more appropriate to title this compilation as "Don Bluth Collection" or a matching equivalent. Nevertheless, first-time players will find that playing these three titles are unlike anything they've ever experienced before.
Each game feels more like a movie than a game, where an entire story unfolds as you pay keen attention to what is portrayed on the screen. At select intervals, you'll be required to input the right button that will allow you to continue with the story. Each game can be played either by holding the Wii Remote horizontally or by using the Classic Controller. You can move up, left, right or down using the D-Pad, and press the 2 Button to swing your sword or, fire your weapon, in the case of Space Ace. Pressing the correct button with sufficient timing will cause a brief "beep" to play, giving you the thumbs up. However, if you don't, the animation will cut to a brief sequence that will show the negative consequences for your inattentiveness. Especially in the case of Dragon's Lair, in spite of their deadly nature, they can be very humorous in a guilty pleasure kind of way.
With this in mind, you're probably wondering, "How do you know when to react and what button to press?" Well, it would be appropriate to first acknowledge that although the three games make use of a similar "gameplay" structure, they do contain notable differences. In Dragon's Lair, for instance, the player is required to figure out what button to press using visual clues and the occasional flash of light. However in the other two games, nearly all your moves will be preceded by a flash of light, indicating where you need to go or what you need to do next. To make the game less intimidating, Digital Leisure has implemented a special feature known as the Move Guide. When this option is active, either a sword or an arrow icon will show on the screen right before your input is required. Reflexes are still involved of course, but these icons can be very helpful for those who may not have the patience to figure things out on their own.
What other differences exist amongst the three games? To answer that, let's consider each game on an individual basis. Dragon's Lair stars Dirk the Daring, a bumbling hero who bravely enters a castle filled with treacherous enemies traps in hopes of saving Princess Daphne. Each scene is split up into different areas within and around the castle. You can play the game on two different settings: Home and Arcade. In the true-to-form Arcade version, losing a life in an area will usually send you to a different setting, forcing you to try that level again later on. In the Home version, a death will force you to retry a room over and over again until you clear the level.
Dragon's Lair is all about trial and error, and reacting quickly on demand. Although there are some cases where you may see a flash of light or a sign showing you what to do, in many instances you'll need to figure things out for yourself. In one area, for example, a large skeleton hand will reach out to grab you, prompting you to swing your sword with the 2 Button. But if you're playing for the first time, you may not necessarily figure this out instantly; in fact, you may think you need to move out of the way. So this is where trial and error comes into play. To add even more to the confusion, almost all areas also have a second version where the controls are reversed. But after playing a room over and over again, the list of moves become so ingrained in your brain that it becomes hard to forget.
Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp continues the storyline of the original game with Daphne getting kidnapped once again. This time, Dirk travels through time to save his love interest from the evil Mordroc using a time machine. Along the way, he'll become involved with the characters from Alice in Wonderland, and even have a crazy run-in with Beethoven and his vicious pet cat. Dragon's Lair II differs from its predecessor in two ways: structure and gameplay. In terms of structure, the game is split up into an animated story, where each new scene serves as a checkpoint. This means that if you make one error while playing through the Beethoven sequence, you'll have to start from the very beginning of the scene. This can become very frustrating as you get further into the game where things get tough.
Dragon's Lair II also has more clear directives on what the player must do to progress thanks to flashing indicators. These bright lights appear either on your sword or in a nearby area directing your movements. From time to time, the game will also use this feature to draw your attention to golden treasures that are only seen for a brief moment. When playing under the Original setting, these must be collected in order to reach the final level, and if you miss any of them along the way, you'll be forced to go back at the conclusion of the second-to-last sequence. Under the Director's Cut setting, though, these are not required, plus you get to see an alternate ending.
Because of the large amount of moves required to complete the game, a significant level of concentration and observation is involved. And unlike Dragon's Lair, even if you manage to memorize the entire game, it's nearly impossible not to lose a life at least once. And so, if you're one who gets distracted easily, you might find it a bit difficult to stay focused for the entire adventure. Although it's very challenging in nature, it's totally worth playing from beginning to end at least once. And in playing for the first time, most will find themselves addicted to the prospect of seeing how it all plays out, keeping you motivated despite the ensuing frustration.
The final game in the collection is Space Ace with a storyline that isn't even based on the Dragon's Lair games. The only thing tying this to the other games is the person responsible for these creations. Oddities aside, the game stars Ace who is out to save both his girlfriend and the planet Earth from Commander Borf. Watching the Attract video for this game, you learn that Ace was hit by Borf's Infanto-Ray, a special weapon that turns anyone into a baby. I guess with Ace being "so manly", the process takes longer for his body to adjust to. Yeah, it doesn't make much sense to me either.
Anyway, for the majority of the game, you'll play as Dexter, the younger, dorkier version of Ace. The words "Energize" will appear on the screen at certain points in the game, giving you an opportunity to transform to Ace. From there, the animation will split off into two different directions depending on whether you decide to transform or not. Either way, you'll arrive at the same ending, but just going through different means to get there.
From the very beginning, the player is exposed to cases upon cases of poor voice acting and dialogue. Space Ace is riddled with cheesy lines and other hilarities that portray the game as a low-budget endeavour despite the high-quality visuals. In so doing, it puts its age on public display - just one of many reasons why the game fails to measure up to expectations. Perhaps the only saving grace is its high level difficulty.
Space Ace has plenty of intense moments that make Dragon's Lair look laughably easy in comparison. Even on the Cadet difficulty setting, there's still a lot of involvement required from the player that will demand your undivided attention. Ultimately, though, it's not nearly as memorable as the other two games. Once you've gone through the whole thing, it's hard to justify playing through it again with the possible exception of showing friends for a brief laugh.
Expanding our point-of-view to the collection as a whole, there are some key features that are worth noting. In each game, you have access to what's called "Watch Mode", where you can see the entire animation of any one of the three games play out as if you made no mistakes. This can be particularly helpful for those who lack the confidence to keep going despite frequent mistakes in Dragon's Lair II, or for those who don't feel motivated enough to see Space Ace to the very end. High scores is a big motivating factor in this collection, especially in Dragon's Lair. Even after you beat each game, you can aim to clear the game using only 5 or even 3 lives. Whether you're challenging family and friends or even yourself, this creates substantial replay value in the long run.
The visuals are great in all three cases. Seeing these high-quality animations play out with just the right amount of brightness, clarity and texture is almost sensational, especially considering how old these games are. The main menu is presented in a pretty decent manner with each game being displayed on separate arcade machines. With the possible exception of Space Ace, it's impressive to see how well these arcade games have translated over to the home console.
Looking at all three games as a whole, does the gameplay system stand up? Well it's a clever concept to be sure, but some may find it a little on the shallow side. However, if you don't overthink it and just go with the flow, you'll likely find the originality to be a compelling feature. Back in the day, this system drew in crowds because it was so radically different from the competition. Nowadays, this case still rings true, but of course, not to the same extent. And so, if you've never experienced these games before, I highly recommend you pick this up. You simply must play both Dragon's Lair games for the technical marvel of it alone. If you've played even one of these before in their earliest forms, you'll be pleased to see that the developers have done a great job in bringing these games to the home console. Although other games like Pac-Man may be infinitely-appealing, these are still memorable classics in their own right. Sure they’ll drive you nuts, but they still deserve to be a part of your gaming portfolio.
26/30 - Very Good
Gameplay 9/10 - Structure is ahead of its time, trial and error won't be for everyone but it works well here, all about reflexes and memorization
Presentation 8/10 - The animations looks great in all cases, main interface presents the three games in a decent fashion, poor voice acting in Space Ace
Enjoyment 4/5 - Very unique, the latter two titles can be very frustrating, both addicting and challenging to play, Space Ace isn't very memorable
Extra Content 5/5 - Great value especially for first-timers, motivating replay value, alternate ending to Dragon's Lair II, customizable options, Move Guide
Equivalent to a score of 87% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)