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Dragon's Lair 3D Review

publisher: Ubisoft
developer: Dragonstone Software
genre: Action Adventure

PII-300, 64MB RAM, 700MB HDD, 16MB 3D accelerator
ESRB rating: T

release date: Nov 17, 02
» All About Dragon's Lair 3D on ActionTrip

In the beginning, they were ordinary 2D characters...

Back in 1983, Dragon's Lair was one of the first games to institute the concept of interactive cartoons. During the period when video games had very rigid and square-ish graphics, Dragon's Liar immerged as the very first full-animation laser disc video game. It caused a major turbulence in the gaming industry; which was no surprise since there were many great names behind the project - Don Bluth, Rick Dyer, Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy, Chris Stone... For instance, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman are renowned for directing and producing several animated films such as, The Secret of Nimh, All Dogs Go to Heaven, etc. Their cartoons were acknowledged as outstanding animated achievements. As for Dragon's Lair, it's success was unmeasured and it slowly began to captivate gamers all over the world, and it wasn't long until it received a well-deserved sequel (Dragon's Lair 2: Timewarp). The talented team of artists and animators has gathered once more to transform the whole Dragon's Lair world from 2D cartoon heaven, to an up-to-date 3D action-adventure.

The story is rather simple and cute. Once again players you are placed in the shoes of Dirk the Daring, who encounters the evil magician Mordoc. Mordoc has kidnapped Dirk's beautiful princess Daphne (hot, hot, hot!). This Mordoc dude also has a few powerful allies, which will help him stop Dirk's valiant attempt to rescue his beloved Daphne. One particularly nasty enemy will be Mordoc's colossal dragon Singe, who was assigned to guard the princess and turn Dirk into a tasty dragon-food. Slip on your knight-boots, grab your sword, and fly to the rescue!

One of the first things I remember about previous Dragon's Lair games is the incredibly annoying and almost idiotic gameplay system. Also, when the first PC reincarnations of the game started to appear, I was somewhat disappointed to see such a brilliantly animated interactive movie and yet with so little gameplay depth (i.e. none at all). The whole idea in these games was for players to watch a cartoon and interact simply by pushing a few num keys in certain order. Usually this was very hard to do, since the cartoon moves pretty darn fast. Your task was to hit the right combination of keys in two split seconds. However, visually, the game was unbeatable - a colorful high-quality animated movie on you very own PC screen.

2D Becomes 3D

What was the idea here? Basically, to give players a chance to experience Dirk's journeys in a full 3D environment. The transformation from a 2D animated masterpiece to a modern 3D action-adventure, turned out to be the step in the right direction. Even after four long years of designing and programming, the game still has the potential to measure up to today's graphics standards. But, we'll leave the visuals aside for the present.

The transition to 3D removed all the gameplay boundaries, for which the previous games were criticized. So now you have a 2D/3D character that has the freedom to jump, crouch, swing, climb, and do almost anything the player wants him to do. We have to stress though, that we encountered a somewhat confusing set of keyboard commands. Although these controls are easy to get into, they usually present a problem in certain arcadish sequences and puzzle areas. What happens is that the camera will automatically shift to a fixed viewpoint; at this point your mouse becomes useless and you're required to switch to the arrow keys as quickly as possible. When you do this you're liable to go through a short, but very irksome, period of adjustment. Still, once you've made your way through several different puzzles, you'll soon become accustomed to the controls, so there shouldn't be any need for changing the keyboard configurations.

While Dirk passes through fiery dungeons, huge labyrinths, and sewers, there will be many obstacles to avoid and a lot of puzzles to solve. The good thing is that Dirk can use a vast number of moves and strategies to circumvent any perplexing areas he finds himself in. Completing some sections will bestow your character with special essences - elements that grant him various skills and abilities. One of the first items Dirk receives is a rather useful pair of Dragon Wings. With these attached under his arms pits, Dirk can fly over chasms, lava-rivers, and acid lakes. Of course, flapping your elegant wings tends to drain your mana ever so slightly, so you gotta be cautious how you use them. The same thing will happen when you exercise the rest of your essences - Dragon Spirit, Dragon Eye, and Dragon Scale. The Dragon Eye, for instance, represents another novel moment in the gameplay. While venturing through the levels, sometimes the human eye won't be able to spot hidden passages; just switch to the Dragon-Eye view and presto... the walls will become semi-transparent, revealing just the sections you need to see in order to proceed.

Generally, the gameplay doesn't seem to have any weak elements. The blokes at Dragonstone Software have shown that they are talented enough to create an addictive 3D game. Thanks to unique items (like the essences) and a few excellently employed weapons (such as the crossbow and sword), Dragon's Lair 3D maintains an addictive and action-packed atmosphere. Fair enough, it's not all perfect. Particular situations in the game seem too difficult, and players may take a lot of time to figure out what they're supposed to be doing. This will happen more than once throughout the game, so yeah, I guess the game does have a small degree of repetitiveness.

Your cartoon-like enemies were given a generally pleasing AI. Larger enemies, or bosses if you will, are going to be reacting promptly and intelligently to your moves. Other opponents (the ones you usually find lurking in hallways - small dragons, spiders, armored knights, etc.) won't be easy either. Oh yeah, some of them might fool you with their cute appearance, making you assume they won't be too much of a problem - all of a sudden, you'll notice your energy scale is significantly exhausted and you're barely keeping up with their strokes.

A Graceful Ballet of Visuals and Sounds

Technically, Dragon's Lair 3D rarely showed any faults or letdowns (maybe a few unexplainable bugs and crashes - but I stress that these were extremely rare). The development team of Dragon's Lair 3D had to take over 240 computer-generated rooms and numerous characters from the old 2D ambiance and place them in a completely interactive 3D world. Although the walls, floors, and ceilings may lack additional textures, the vibrant colors and smooth wacky-like animations create just the sort of amusing ambiance we expected. So I guess for the very first time, I'm going to overlook the somewhat scanty background, and just keep an open-mind. Anyway, instead of unnecessarily beefing up the environment with extra polys, which would just pointlessly start choking the frame-rate, the designing team presented an exceptional and very effective mix of 3D animation and 2D art. So, the trick was to make it as bright and vivid as possible - and that means making your usual dungeons and underground lairs luminous and multi-colored... A nice job.

Don Bluth and Gary Goldman's works were always accompanied by amazing soundtracks. Dragon's Lair 3D continues this delightful repute of excellent music making, thanks to a man named Christopher Stone, who previously worked on the original 1983 Dragon's Lair laser-disc game. This time, I think it's safe to say that the music is one of the best aspects of the game that gives it an extra flare (one of the tracks reminded me of the main music theme from Conan: Barbarian - really cool!). Other in-game sounds are first-class all the way; they go from freaky and most amusing cartoon-like noises, to cool explosion sounds... Another plus for the development team there.

The Bottom Line

I'm tellin' ya, at first I feared this would be nothing more than your usual 3D platform - jump, jump, as high as you can and collect 199 gold coins. Well, ultimately, it would be wrong to put this game straight into the mediocre-platform gaming sack. There are enough challenges and puzzles in the game to make you burn you brain cells and sore your trigger-finger. Sadly, we did encounter some difficulties along the way - players will sometimes have a hard time discerning what to do in the right moment (a rather annoying gameplay facet, which, as it turns out, still exists after 20 years). On the other hand, there's plenty of nifty gameplay elements to keep you on your toes.

Introducing a rare high-quality animation system and preserving a superb cartoon-like ambiance, Dragon's Lair 3D is surely on its way to the very top of 3D action-adventures.


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8.8   Very Good

Beautifully animated characters. The transition from 2D to 3D was more than successful. The sounds, the brilliant music... The inclusion of many useful items, make it more than a mediocre 3D platformer.

Definitely too difficult in certain areas. Players are sometimes left with no explanation as to what they should be doing in order to overcome bosses guessing after five hundred times frequently reduces the replay value you know...



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