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Classic but Outdated 'Dragon's Lair' Belongs in a Museum

March 22, 2001|AARON CURTISS | aaron.curtiss@latimes.com

Anyone of a certain age remembers the classic arcade game "Dragon's Lair." But an 18-year-old video game has to have a reason to make a comeback. Mainly, it has to not only compete with modern games but also maintain some of its original charm.

Play updates to "Space Invaders" or "Asteroids." They rock even two decades later. "Dragon's Lair," on the other hand, has the putrid stink of death on it.

Although "Dragon's Lair" broke a few technical barriers in its day, it's definitely not the sort of game one wants to play in these days of full interactivity. In other words, it belongs in a museum--not on Game Boy Color.

For those who don't remember a time before the Reagan White House, "Dragon's Lair" once wowed gamers with graphics that looked better than most cartoons of the day. That's because "Dragon's Lair" really was little more than a glorified cartoon that cost a quarter to watch.

A laser disc fed the cartoon to the screen. As Dirk the Daring sought to rescue Fair Princess Daphne from the clutches of Singe the Evil Dragon, players basically watched Dirk go through the motions. Every now and then, players would have to either make Dirk do something--jump, move, slash--or watch as he died. The action had to be perfectly timed or the result was the same--death for Dirk.

The Game Boy Color version offers the same sort of play. But without the cool cartoons. So players watch as a tiny, pixelated Dirk gets into a pickle and then either hit the direction pad or the A button at precisely the right time to get him out. Or watch him die.

And that's it.

Now, there are a bunch of really awful, really boring titles out there for Game Boy and its successor, Game Boy Color. When a system survives for 12 years, it's bound to build up a collection of stinkers. But no game in recent memory stinks as bad as "Dragon's Lair."

In an age when players can control every action of a character and take divergent paths to the same destination in a game, "Dragon's Lair" just feels old and dated. Not nostalgic--old. It reminds those of us who remember "Pong" how far video gaming has come in such a relatively short time.

Rather than simply regurgitate a game from the days when "Diff'rent Strokes" was cool, designers could have given "Dragon's Lair" a new look for a new generation--enabling players to more fully control Dirk and his exploits. Instead, they took the easy way out. The result: junk.

For those who remember "Dragon's Lair," it's worse on Game Boy Color. For those who don't, it wasn't any great shakes to begin with.

'Blade of Darkness'

Games that let you pummel an enemy with his own severed limb start out with a lot going for them. But in the case of "Blade of Darkness," a perfectly average PC slasher, the advantage disappears faster than the aforementioned body parts.

The story follows the standard tale of a magic sword being the only hope to save a world from the forces of evil. Players guide one of four characters--the noble barbarian, the proud dwarf, the upstanding soldier or the foxy archer--on a quest for the Sword of Ianna.

This means navigating characters through the de rigueur labyrinth of caves and castles, lopping off the arms and heads of those who stand in the way. As fun as all that sounds, "Blade of Darkness" ultimately is more work than it's worth.

Sure, the combat is grisly and fast. But designers should have spent as much time fretting over inconsequential details such as, oh, character control as they did over how much damage a swinging femur would do.

Just getting from place to place is a chore, and characters never seem to go where they should. At key moments, for instance, my character inexplicably lost the ability to turn. Uh, that's a problem.

With a full set of menus giving easy access to weaponry and other items, "Blade of Darkness" does many things right. But its flaws are too deep to overlook, and they ultimately doom the game.

*

Aaron Curtiss is editor of Tech Times.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Skinny

"Dragon's Lair"

Genre: Animated adventure

Price: $25

Platform: Game Boy Color

Publisher: Capcom

ESRB* rating: Everyone

The good: Nice graphics

The bad: Uninspired control

Bottom line: Stick with the coin-op

*

"Blade of Darkness"

Genre: Slasher adventure

Price: $30

Platform: PC

System requirements: Pentium II 350 with 64 MB of RAM, 100 MB of available hard disk space and a graphics accelerator with 8 MB of video RAM

Publisher: Code Masters

ESRB rating: Mature

The good: Frenetic action

The bad: Sloppy control

Bottom line: Pass

* Entertainment Software Ratings Board

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