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Review: 'Dragon's Lair' returns on Blu-ray Disc

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
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"Dragon's Lair," the beloved laserdisc arcade game from the 1980s, has been kept alive on multiple platforms over the years, including versions for the Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox, PC, Mac and even the DVD player. And then there was the commemorative 20th Anniversary Special Edition and last year's "Dragon's Lair HD" for Windows.

So it's no surprise we now see yet another incarnation of this coin-operated classic -- this time on Blu-ray Disc, a high-definition format that is competing with HD DVD to become the successor to the DVD. Blu-ray Discs also work on the new Sony PlayStation 3 console.

The good news is the game has never looked and sounded so good, and the DVD-style bonus materials are a clever addition for fans of the game. But at $50, it's an expensive adventure that doesn't last very long.

The game

When "Dragon's Lair" debuted in arcades in 1983, the world's first laserdisc video game looked more like a Saturday morning cartoon than it did the typical quarter-eater at the time, such as "Ms. Pac-Man," "Galaga" or "Tron." Animated by former Disney animator Don Bluth ("The Land Before Time," "An American Tail") and designed by Rick Dyer and Gary Goldman, "Dragon's Lair" introduced players to Dirk, a daring but dopey knight out to rescue a princess from an evil dragon.

This proves no easy task as Dirk must navigate through traps in and around a huge castle, such as swinging over a lava-filled chasm; defeating ghosts, giant skeletons and huge snakes with a well-timed swing of the sword; or hopping from square to square on a chessboard-like tiled floor to evade electrocution and defeat a mysterious knight.

But unlike other video games, "Dragon's Lair" wasn't very interactive. Rather than give you the freedom to roam wherever you like, this game linked together animated sequences based on which direction you pushed the joystick. If you didn't push the joystick up at the right time, for example, you could be sucked through an abyss.

Or if you didn't slash your sword when you were supposed to, another humorous death animation would follow and you'd have to try again. Despite its lack of interaction, the humorous creatures and gorgeous visuals kept you glued to the screen to see what would happen next.

Now on Blu-ray

According to the game's publisher, Digital Leisure, this latest version on Blu-ray Disc has undergone a frame-by-frame digital restoration to remove dirt, scratches and cel deterioration from the original footage. Because Blu-ray Disc drives can display video in up to 1,080 lines of vertical resolution all at once, or 1080p, on compatible high-definition televisions, the game looks vibrant and clear, especially compared with past versions.

Even the bonus materials, including all-new interviews and other behind-the-scenes footage with creators Bluth, Goldman and Dyer, are in 1080p. You can even play the game with picture-in-picture commentary with the game makers.

The game was also remixed in 5.1 surround sound, so if you have the equipment, a different audio track can be heard from the various speakers in your home theater.

Controlling this Blu-ray version of the game is quite easy. Using the Blu-ray player's remote, simply press one of the four arrow keys to move in the desired direction, while the center Enter (or Select button) is used to swing the sword. The controls are similar on the PS3, but with the X button to swing Dirk's sword.

Among other options, you can choose to play the game with unlimited lives or with the standard five deaths before having to start the game again from the beginning.

"Dragon's Lair" on Blu-ray Disc is without question the finest reproduction of this beloved adventure, but it's a pricey pick at $50, not to mention the game can be completed in less than a half-hour if you know all the moves.

But nostalgic gamers who own a Blu-ray player should enjoy this disc and its supplemental material -- if you haven't already purchased any of the other home-based versions.

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"Dragon's Lair" stars Dirk, a daring but dopey knight out to rescue a princess from an evil dragon.
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