Title :Dragon's Lair 3D
Platforms :Nintendo GameCube, Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation 2, PC, Mac
Publisher :Ubisoft (Xbox, Mac, PC versions), Encore (all others)
ESRB Rating :Teen
Game Rating :7.9
Review by :Ken Gagne

The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

The original Dragon's Lair was released in 1983 by the people who created such films as "An American Tale" and "All Dogs Go to Heaven". As the first laser disc video game, it was akin to an interactive, animated movie, which gamers lined up around city blocks to play. Player input was minimal and occurred only in precisely-defined moments, but was an amazing sight to watch. 

The second decennial anniversary is better late than never to return to the lair in Dragon's Lair 3D, a new game published by Encore and UbiSoft for all three consoles, PC, and Mac. (GameCube version reviewed here) 

To produce this game, many elements of the original Dragon's Lair have been transplanted into a fully-interactive 3D environment, making this game more a retelling than a sequel. Players become the valiant, if clumsy, knight Dirk the Daring, on his quest to rescue the fair Princess Daphne from the clutches of the evil wizard Mordroc. Many familiar scenarios will be encountered, as well as some new surprises. 

This gameplay occurs in standard 3D platform action. As Dirk explores the labyrinthine castle, he'll leap from cliff to cliff, climb ladders, dodge demonized davenports, and swing wildly at grim reapers, bats, and suits of armor — comprising a unexpectedly average sequence of events. There are some classic and puzzling moments, such as where the floor drops from beneath Dirk's feet, or a spiked ceiling slowly threatens his health and height. A mundane fighting system and surplus of bottomless pits may deter some gamers, but infinite lives allow players to bang Dirk's head against a wall as often as they like. 

Fortunately, the average gameplay is demonstrated with above-average graphics. The environments themselves are surprisingly simple and sparsely detailed, but the characters use an increasingly popular graphics technique called cel-shading. This method trades the polygons of traditional graphics for animation-based sprites. Dirk and his colorful foes move with startling fluidity, giving the same animated life to this game that the original Dragon's Lair had twenty years ago. It's truly a sight to see. 

But the graphics are not flawless, for as with most platform games, Dragon's Lair 3D has a few camera issues. In the absence of enemies, the 'B' button centers the camera behind Dirk, but this shortcut disappears when foes abound — making it difficult to choose a safe direction in which to retreat. The manual controls are atypical: pushing the C-stick left moves it right, and vice versa. And while the 'Z' button switches to a first-person perspective that allows 360-degree viewing, returning to third-person finds Dirk has not moved his head or reoriented his body in the new direction. 

The soundtrack is epic in nature, and perfectly accommodates the heroism our dragon slayer purports. Dirk carries his hapless self with nary a word, instead offering grunts, cries, and hollers. Princess Daphne, though, pipes in with sometimes-helpful advice in the squeakiest, highest-pitched voice imaginable. 

If the lair we return to now was the same as it was twenty years ago, players would be shocked by the pedantic "Simon Says" gameplay. This 3D incarnation does not break the degree of ground its predecessor set, but reconstitutes its familiar environment and art style with a new gameplay. It's not a daring stab at a new genre, but an animated take on an old one, and worth exploring. 

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This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 20-Jan-03