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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/11/99

Dragon's Lair (DVD Video)
1983 (1998) - Don Bluth (Digital Leisure)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Game Rating: B+
Sure, this isn't Doom or Duke Nukem. The game play is pretty simple. But as a teenager, I really enjoyed playing the original Dragon's Lair at the corner arcade. Compared to Pac-Man and Asteroids, it was something different and cool. And this DVD captures the original game play quite well.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B-/B
The full frame animation looks great, with just some slight edging and occasional analog videotape artifacts. The audio is crisp and clear, but not in surround sound. Some interesting extras are included.

Overall Rating: B+
How can you go wrong? I mean, it isn't brain surgery, but it's surprising how much fun you'll have with this DVD. And if you pumped lots of quarters into the original arcade classic, this disc is a real treat. Plus, until Disney get's busy with animation on DVD, it's a rare disc you can share with your kids.

Specs and Features

varying play time, unrated, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, ability to play game or simply watch all game animations, previews of upcoming game titles (Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp, Space Ace and A Fork in the Tale), video news clips from the 1980s on the development of the original arcade game, program-themed menu screens, languages: English (DD 2.0)


Fans of the 1980s arcade classic will have a blast with this new DVD version of Dragon's Lair from Digital Leasure. Designed for use with your DVD player (note that separate DVD-ROM and CD-ROM versions are also available), this disc beautifully captures the feel and play of the original.

I remember vividly the first time I ever saw this game in the arcades, as a teenager. At the time, like most kids my age, I was addicted to Pac-Man, Joust, Galaxian, and just about every other video game I can remember. This was very early in the history of video games in general. So my friends and I felt privileged to have now-primitive Atari 2600 game systems at home, and blow our entire weekly allowance at the corner arcade. Of course, this was back when arcade games still cost $.25 a play. If you were good, you could buy a Big Gulp of soda, AND play games for hours, for just a couple of bucks. Those were the days (wistful sigh)...

The along came Dragon's Lair, which (if I recall correctly) was the first game to cost $.50 a play - a princely sum in those days. My friends and I were all aghast at the price, and refused to waste our time on it. But the machine taunted you from the corner, with it's looped intro animation: "Dragon's Lair! The fantasy adventure where you become a valiant knight on a quest to rescue the fair Princess from the clutches of an evil dragon!" The game was just so different than anything else - you were actually playing a part in an animated film (or so it seemed)! No sooner had we dropped our first quarters into it, we were hooked. Featuring the animation talents of Don Bluth, who later created The Land Before Time, and more recently Anastasia, the game was a runaway arcade hit.

So now, all these years later, Digital Leasure brings us an opportunity to recapture the experience of the original game, via the magic of DVD. And I have to say that they've done an impressive job of it.

The disc play works like this: all of the animation is stored in separate segments, or "scenes", on the disc. After the introduction, the game starts with Dirk the Daring (your character) walking across a drawbridge, into an old castle. Suddenly the bridge collapses, and Dirk falls through, barely hanging on to the edge. Then a nasty tentacle monster reaches up out of the moat below, threatening to kill Dirk. This is where you come in. At specific moments during the game, you must use your DVD player remote to guide Dirk's actions. You'll know you need to make a move, because a small diamond symbol will appear in the lower-right corner of the screen. You have 5 possible moves: up, down, left, right or Enter (which makes Dirk use his sword). In this case, when the diamond appears, you simply hit Enter. Dirk escapes the monster, climbs back up onto the drawbridge, and enters the castle. Then the disc plays the next scene. But here's the catch - you have only a very short time to make the correct move, and sometimes you must make several moves per scene to guide Dirk to safety.

Sound tricky? Well it certainly takes some getting used to. But once you're comfortable with the game play, it's tremendously engrossing. A nice aspect of the DVD version, is that you can pause the playback during a scene - something we couldn't do back in the arcades. This gives you a moment to think about the moves you need to make. There are many different scenes in the game, and as you play, you'll notice occasional scenes repeated, but this time "mirrored", so that many of the moves must be done opposite (left becomes right, etc...). You have six lives per game, and the DVD version allows you to continue the next game from where you left off in the last (something that meant shelling out more quarters back in the 80s). And for those of you who are stuck on a particular scene, a complete list of moves for the game is available on the Digital Leasure web site. Keep in mind that the scenes are not necessarily in the same order on this list as they'll appear in the game (the game selects the order of some scenes at random). But this should help.

I've only played this game on the Sony 7700 and the Pioneer 414. The game worked flawlessly on both. The speed and smoothness of game play may vary slightly from player to player, depending on how fast it accesses different areas of the disc. And this disc DOES NOT work on two brands of Toshiba player - the 2107 and 3107 (see Digital Leasure FAQ on this DVD). This is apparently due to the way that these machines handle real-time input from the remote control, with overlay graphics being displayed. You'll eventually get to a point in the game where you can't enter the needed move. Toshiba is reportedly aware of this problem. All other Toshiba models should work just fine. That said, I can attest to the fact that it seems to work pretty well. I've had no problems playing.

As far as video quality, the animation looks terrific, in its original full frame aspect ratio. There is a bit of edging and there are occasional analog tape artifacts (a tape hit or two, which appears as a brief horizontal line in the picture), but all in all it looks great. The color is excellent. As for audio, I would have loved if this had been remixed for full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. As it is, the audio is Dolby Digital, but it's 2.0 stereo only - no surround effects are used. I know the original wasn't in surround sound, so not a huge complaint, but it would have been cool.

A booklet is included with the disc, which explains all of the controls, how the game is played, and describes all of the scenes in the game. This disc also features more than 15 minutes of 1980's news video stories, which show how the game was developed, and features interviews with Don Bluth, Rick Dyer, and others involved in the game's creation. It's kind of fun to watch. Keep in mind that this is old videotape - it's not up to DVD quality. The disc also allows you to watch preview "trailers" for three other DVD game titles Digital Leasure has in the works, including the arcade sequel to Dragon's Lair. Finally, you can choose to watch all of the game's animated scenes back to back, without having to play the game. This is kind of fun, as it takes some time to get all the way to the end by yourself. It's a bit of a cheat, but it's still cool.

Bottom line

It would be tough not to have fun with this DVD. The game play is decent, and the animation is suitable for all ages (although smaller kids may have trouble handling the remote). It takes some time to work through the game, even when you know all the moves by heart, so there's lots of entertainment value here. Dragon's Lair has found new life as one of the first truly interactive games for DVD. And I must confess, I'm having a blast with it.

Bill Hunt
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