Friday, April 23, 2010


Short Review -- Dragon's Lair

(This is a review I did for the Eegra "Reader Radness" forum, so that explains the different formatting. I'm moving it here for preservation because Eegra seems to be packing up.)

DONE BY: Digital Leisure
IT'S FOR: DSiWare or iPhone
YEAR: 2009

If you've never played a laserdisc game, here's how it works. A cartoon plays. Since the cartoon is all pre-drawn, you don't have complete control over your character, but you can push directions and buttons to indicate what you think the character should do. If you do the right thing at the right time, the cartoon continues. Otherwise, it stops short and shows you how the character dies.

It's a weird way to play a video game, but Dragon's Lair does it better than most examples of the genre, primarily because it tries to look and act more like a video game and less like a movie. Also, it's incredibly well-drawn, with a decidedly dark overtone that goes nicely with a main character who is terribly bumbling and silly. It has a vibe reminiscent of point-and-click adventure games -- particularly in the sense that the solution to some situations is more about trial and error -- but with a twitch-action element. And to some people, like me, this is a lot of fun.

And that's really all you can say about Dragon's Lair; you either love it or you hate it.

The real question is, if you do love it, then are the versions that were recently released for DSiWare and iPhone/iPod Touch any good?

Yeah, they're both good, but for different reasons.

The DSiWare version is better for arcade accuracy. By splitting things up between two screens, they can show you the score on one screen and the game on another, just like in the original arcade cabinet. Additionally, the "Attract Mode" trailer plays on one screen while you're navigating the menus. And finally, when you play the DSiWare version in "Arcade Mode", they've even gone so far as to edit the scenes to make them exactly match the way the original arcade unit worked. This is a ridiculously geeky sort of thing to do, and I've never seen a version of Dragon's Lair do this before -- it skips several seconds of non-gameplay cinema, exactly the way the original hardware did. They still let you play in "Home Mode", which includes the complete footage.

It sounds like a lot of little things, and it is, but part of the appeal of these retro games is how well they can emulate the original experience. The DSiWare version really makes it feel like you're carrying the original hardware in your pocket.

The iPhone version is mostly just better-looking. I mean, the DSiWare version is pretty all right. It uses the Mobi Clip codec, the same one that's used in most DS games for video compression, including the Professor Layton series and Mario Vs. Donkey Kong 2. But if you look closely, you'll see the compression artifacts. The iPhone version is crisp and clear and beautiful. The only real tradeoff is that there are some slight loading times between clips in the iPhone version, but really, Dragon's Lair fans are used to that sort of thing.

The iPhone version also uses a touchscreen controller interface, and you can set an option so that the correct direction blinks when you need to touch it. You know, just in case you need the whole game ruined for you. It's also slightly cheaper; in the US, it's $5 for the iPhone version compared to 800 points for the DSiWare version.

In the end, I prefer the DSiWare version, but either one will work fine if you want a pocket version of Dragon's Lair. Get it for the system you use more.

FINAL SCORE: 320,289


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