Dragon's Lair

Lead on, adventurer. Your quest awaits!

Source // Syfy Games

That's not a game, that's a cartoon. Those were probably my words, or at least my thoughts when I first crossed paths with Dragon's Lair, an interactive animation of the adventures of Dirk the Daring on his quest to save Princess Daphne from an evil dragon.

I'm struggling to remember where exactly I picked Dragon's Lair up. My brain wants to say "You got it on a DVD with a bunch of other laserdisc games like this", but I can't be so sure. I think it was on a demo disc with a magazine, but why would they give away an entire game, or more, if it did indeed come with other interactive titles. Or have I just witnessed those other titles in various documentaries that touched on Dragon's Lair? I just can't recall.

I've played Dragon's Lair, that's the important thing, and I know why it's on this list...

Fun Times

As you can clearly see above (for free, in its entireity, on YouTube...), Dragon's Lair is simple to grasp, but good luck being able to get through it on your first few attempts. In modern parlance it is a game whose one and only mechanic is the much dreaded QTE - the quick time event - only it doesn't make it as alarmingly obvious as some titles make it today.

To get through the challenges, you've got to keep your eyes peeled for the very limited cues you get from your surroundings. A path might look obvious at first but be disastrous for you. If you were a kid faced with this in an arcade, you should have enjoyed the spectacle of everybody else playing this first in order to learn from their mistakes and make your money go further. On your own, this game could suck away your pocket money in no time at all as you work your way through the castle, slowly, step by step, room by room.

Rooms are encountered in a random order, so in order to succeed you need to remember how to get through each challenge, and have the reaction times to translate those memories into button presses before the animation in front of your eyes goes from progress to problematic.

But just look at it. You don't want to fail because it sucks to fail, but you do want to fail to see what ex-Disney animator Don Bluth has in store for Dirk's demise. Failing over and over may not be fun, especially on the same obstacles, but to see what's coming next, then panic trying to work out how to get past it... that kind of thing brings a smile to many faces.

Source // Wikipedia


It can be annoying though. I wasn't good enough to save Daphne (sorry), and some of the sections of the game that I didn't play look absolutely diabolical when it comes to trial and error. There's only so much failure you can take before quitting sometimes.

Dragon's Lair has been ported damn near everywhere though, with mixed results. It's one thing to get stuck on a part of a hand crafted, hand painted piece of animation, but quite another to get stuck on the same NES screen - the first of the game, even. I'll defer to some other angry gamer for that experience...

If you're going to frustrate someone, at least look pretty, I guess is what I'm saying there.

Games are often called out for padding their content with repeated sections which is unfortunately the case with Dragon's Lair too, with rooms flipped from left to right. But as a proof of concept if you will, what a start. Why did this kind of game never catch on?

Final Word

The interviews in the video above are well worth a watch, showing what the developers intended for Dragon's Lair and the entire future of the arcades, but you don't have to watch guys talking about their work and their visions. You do have to play Dragon's Lair though. That's not up for debate.

You'll only last a short amount of time, but it'll be a short amount of a style of game you won't see on this list for a long long time, if ever again. They don't make games like they used to, not like this at least. Maybe it's the cost of animation, or the limitations in the gameplay. Then again, South Park: The Stick of Truth managed to mix animation and gameplay...

If we don't see any animated game revivals, then you might as well be familiar with the best. But not the NES version.

Fun Facts

Animating Dragon's Lair without reference models meant that animators working on Princess Daphne's poses needed inspiration. They found it in Playboy magazines. As you do.

Dragon's Lair, developed by Advanced Microcomputer Systems, first released in 1983.
Version played: DVD, unknown year, via memories.
Version watched: DVD, unknown year.