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New 'Dragon's Lair' disappoints

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

Dragon's Lair 3D has a damsel-in-distress storyline.
"Dragon's Lair 3D" has a damsel-in-distress storyline.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Marc Saltzman, a freelance technology journalist whose reviews also appear on the Gannett News Service.

(CNN) -- The only thing worse than a lousy video game is when it taints a well-respected, 20-year-old franchise.

Such is the case with the disappointing "Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair," Ubi Soft's anticipated follow-up to one of the most groundbreaking arcade games of its time.

But before we dive into this newly-released (or I should say, escaped) remake, a bit of history:

In 1983, "Dragon's Lair" was the world's first laserdisc coin-operated game to successfully blend animation and arcade game play into one machine.

The player assumed the role of Dirk the Daring, the king's bravest (but not always brightest) knight, out to rescue the kidnapped Daphne the Princess from the clutches of an evil wizard, Mordroc, and a dragon named Singe.

While fighting to reach the dragon's lair, Dirk had to run, jump and slash his sword through a number of "scenes" taking place in and outside a mammoth castle. It was "Game Over" for folks who pushed the joystick in the wrong direction or if the timing was off by a second or two.

On display at the Smithsonian

OK, so it wasn't too interactive -- but its originality, accessibility and Saturday morning cartoon visuals (penned by celebrated Hollywood animator Don Bluth and his team) helped the game gross more than $34 million its first year alone.

It's estimated that over 320 million people have played "Dragon's Lair." The game is one of only three video games on display at the Smithsonian, along with "Pac-Man" and "Pong."

Now fast-forward to 2003.

"Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair" (available for the Xbox, GameCube and PC) once again lets players assume the role of Dirk the Daring in the same damsel-in-distress storyline.

Hard to control Dirk

This time, however, Dirk has the freedom to move around the more than 40 locations (totaling about 250 rooms of the castle), though ironically, the game play is almost as linear as its predecessor (more on this later). Dirk also has a new arsenal of moves such as sneaking, climbing, rolling and crouching, and a new weapon: a crossbow.

Similar to games like "Tomb Raider," "Dragon's Lair 3D" is considered a "platformer" as the emphasis of this third-person perspective or "over-the-shoulder" title is on running and jumping, combat against bad guys and some simple puzzle solving.

Unfortunately, trying to control Dirk is a game in itself. And not a fun one.

First of all, Dirk walks slow. Very slow. So, inevitably, the player will opt to hold down the run button throughout most of the game. Next, jumping onto an object means Dirk must stand precisely in front of the wall or ledge before pressing the jump button; even when standing in this "sweet spot," it will inexplicably take a few tries before successfully completing the maneuver. Lastly, using Dirk's sword to fight the purple baboon-like "Giddy Goons" and other creatures in the game proves tedious as they're dumb and predictable.

Shoddy camera angles abound

"Dragon's Lair 3D" also suffers from shoddy camera angles. This becomes a serious problem when Dirk must time certain jumps. Sure, the player can take control of the camera by swiveling the right analog stick on the controller, but this takes a while to master as the camera control is unlike most other games.

Visually, the developers at Dragonstone Software ( obviously tried to match the classic 1983 game by using the now-popular "cel-shading" graphic technique, but "Dragon's Lair 3D" isn't nearly as attractive as its forerunner, not to mention the animation is stiff and choppy.

There are other problems -- including repetitive game play and Daphne's overly annoying voice -- but there's no need to drive the point home any further. "Dragon's Lair 3D" is not worth your time or money, and it's certainly a shame for fans of this once-groundbreaking series.

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