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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Dragon's Lair
(Digital Leisure for Blu-Ray/Playstation 3)

By Michael Palisano

The 1983 arcade classic Dragon's Lair has been released several times in different versions, but the game has undergone an extensive upgrade and has been released in high definition for Blu-Ray disc. The restored and cleaned film looks stunning with the cleanest, sharpest image yet. This version is faithful to the arcade game, including the classic arcade beeps for movement and the scoring system. Unfortunately, there are a few minor technical issues that mar the release, but they aren't significant enough to affect the overall experience. Look inside as we return to this legendary adventure and find out why it's never looked or played better.

Since its release in 1983, Dragon's Lair has become one of the legendary classic games that have held appeal over the years. Even now, a quarter of a century later, the game remains as fun and challenging as it ever has. Much of the credit for this lies with animator Don Bluth and his team, who created some timeless characters with leading man Dirk the Daring, a cool cast of supporting characters, such as the lizard king, his damsel in distress Daphne and finally the infamous final battle with the dragon himself. The original arcade release was an incredibly innovative and forward looking title that revolutionized games. These days, its simple movement and sword controls probably seem a bit limiting, but the animation and storyline have held up well enough to remain compelling and exciting. Since that time, there have been many attempts to bring the game home, though some were hampered by the technology available at the time. Some of the earliest versions on Coleco's Adam and the Amiga fell far short in trying to recapture the feel of the arcade version. In the ensuing years, with the advent of digital media such as Laserdiscs, CD-Rom, the experience has gotten closer to the original arcade game. Most of the editions have done an acceptable job, with the recent DVD iterations the closest translations yet.

None of them have truly captured the vibrant look and feel of the original film until now. Digital Leisure has released what should be the definitive version of the game and have completely remastered in high-definition for Blu-Ray players (including the Playstation 3) for the first time. What makes this so release special is that this edition of Dragon's Lair has been transferred directly from the original film with a completely restored and cleaned appearance. There's also been a frame-by-frame restoration done, which helps to make the image even cleaner by removing a lot of the 'dirt' that accumulated on its original print. The result is probably the sharpest, most vibrant appearance of the game yet. The colors are much more vivid with better separation allowing the game's classic animation to come fully into view for the first. Much of the details that were lost in the original transfers are now quite visible and gives the game a sharper and more focused appearance. Dragon's Lair also features the game in full 1080p, with a letterboxed appearance that allows the image quality to truly shine on the screen. Going even further, the game's soundtrack has also been remixed and now features 5.1 surround sound that makes things even better looking. This creates what is probably the best-looking and stunning version of the game yet seen in any platform, exceeding even the original arcade cabinets, which had only standard television quality monitors. This high-definition approach allows players to bask in the game's brilliant design and high-quality animation which remains as appealing and enjoyable as ever.

While the game itself has never looked better, this high-definition approach also applies to the game's bonus features, which are very nicely implemented. Dragon's Lair includes an extensive section where three of the game's original creators, Don Bluth, Gary Goldman and, Rick Dyer discuss the game's creation, behind-the-scenes information and the game's enduring impact among players and animators alike. These are new interviews and were filmed in high-definition, what's even better about this are the cool new commentary sections. Instead of merely hearing them talk while the film plays, they appear in a window above the screen so you can watch them simultaneously with the game. In addition, players can view a short film that shows the evolution of the game from its original Laserdisc to the current version, which gives you an immediate sense of how much of an improvement this version is. There are also trailers for several upcoming high-definition remasters and several other extras. This makes for an impressive package overall that's highly polished and quite interesting. From a gameplay standpoint, there are several variations that you can change at the options screen where you can set the difficulty, number of lives, scoring and turn the original arcade sounds and move guide on or off. This allows you to play the game as either a pure arcade game or a less demanding interactive movie.

As for the game itself, it plays exactly as you remember it, though this version has improved access time which makes the controls more responsive and intuitive than before. The basic play mechanics are fairly simple and most scenes have flashing cues and beeps that tell you when to move. Most of the actions are fairly straightforward and easy to figure out, though some scenes are definitely harder to beat than others. Dragon's Lair requires a great deal of memorization in order to beat, but it's relatively simple by today's standards and shouldn't give you too many problems. You can choose to play in either Arcade mode, which limits your number of lives and implements a scoring system, or play in the much easier Home version with unlimited lives. Either way, Dragon's Lair remains an enjoyable game and should give players an immediate rush of nostalgia. Considering the limitations of the original game, you can forgive some of the staccato gameplay, but there are some other, more significant problems and glitches that seemed to have fallen through the cracks. We tested Dragon's Lair on a Playstation 3 and there are some fairly significant problems with the secondary menus, which drop the backgrounds and leave just a black screen with text, which makes things seem less polished than they should be. Another problem we encountered was a lack of sound, which occurred sporadically. This could be resolved by rebooting the game, but it was still annoying. These glitches are annoying and should have been easy to fix, but they aren't enough to really detract what is otherwise an exceptional and robust translation.

Despite these technical issues, Dragon's Lair on Blu-Ray is easily the best looking and smoothest playing version of the game released for the home to date. The image-quality is exceptional and in many regards, exceeds even the original game in terms of visual richness, detail, depth and sharpness. While some of the scenes feel a bit disconnected, the game's faster access time makes for an even more enjoyable game. Modern players will probably be a little put off by its somewhat limited play mechanics, but older gamers who are willing to overlook a few problems will probably enjoy this return trip to the legendary Dragon's Lair.

Grade: B

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