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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


 

 

   

 

 

 


Dragonís Lair has returned in fully rendered 3D with a new installment for the Xbox that features numerous enhancements. Instead of making players wait for pre-rendered sequences, the game now takes place in real-time, allowing for greater freedom of movement. Dragonís Lair 3D retains the original gameís feel but uses a spectacular cel-shading technique to great effect. Dirk himself can perform new moves and use cool weapons as he tries to save Princess Daphne. Join us as we find out why this reborn should appeal to more than nostalgic gamers.

Released in 1983, Dragonís Lair set the world on fire with its revolutionary Laserdisc technology that made players feel that they were interacting with an actual cartoon. With itís winning mix of action and comedy, the series proved remarkably durable and has been re-issued several times in the intervening years. After a long absence, the legendary and somewhat clumsy Dirk the Daring has returned on the Xbox timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the original game. This isnít another reissue but is instead an entirely new adventure. This allows players a much greater degree of freedom while retaining the much of the classic gameís feel. Fans of the original games will be happy to find that many familiar enemies, such as the dragon Singe and the wizard Mardoc have returned. Once again, they have captured princess Daphne and itís up to Dirk to save her this time.

During his quest, heíll encounter many enemies such as the Bat King and the army of Giddy Goons from the original game plus brand-new foes. In addition, heíll have to avoid traps and solve puzzles. There are more than 250 rooms in the castle and each one is loaded with unique puzzles, traps and secrets that players can find. Luckily, Dirk has his trusty sword by his side and he can use several new attacks in addition to standard moves. He can earn upgrades to the sword allowing him to perform some special moves such as a Whirlwind attack that are awesome. Players can also use the auto-targeting system that helps him fight multiple enemies. In addition to his sword, he can also use new weapons such as shooting arrows and a crossbow. These are easy to use and fit in well with the gameplay. There are several types of arrows available to him, including flaming ones but these are limited so Dirk needs to be careful when he uses them. You need to select these weapons from your inventory screen in order to use them, but their performance is cool. As he moves through the castle, heíll also find various items such as keys, treasure plus health and Mana power-ups that will help him defeat the evil wizard. Mana is a special item that he uses to power up his special weapons and moves and he can use it to increase his health. In some areas he can collect Dragon Essences, he needs these to progress to the next level, and each Essence will also give him a new ability, such as being able to fly, new attacks or resistance to heat. This added depth makes the new gameplay a little deeper and adds significantly to the replay value. 

The biggest change from the classic title is the increased freedom of movement that gives you total control of Dirk, allowing you to perform many of his classic moves such as vine swinging, crouching, rolling around and jumping in real-time. There are also new moves that allow him to climb ladders, sneak around and block attacks that enhance his abilities. This is quite a change from the move-memorization method used in the original games. Many tasks such as climbing ladders and opening doors can be performed by pressing the action button. This simplifies the controls greatly and allows you to focus on the action. For the most part, the interface is transparent, with an excellent Inventory system thatís easy to use and understand. The camera system is excellent, allowing you to view the action from many viewpoints by moving the right analog stick.  Dirkís responsive movements make traversing the rooms easy enough. You can move him in any direction, even diagonally, or go into a fixed mode where the direction is set, but you can still rotate the camera that allows you to look ahead without falling into lava or some other trap. Aiming Dirkís weapons is easy enough and only requires you to press the fire button and you can also use the auto-target that helps when Dirk faces multiple enemies at the same time. Unfortunately, there are some major areas where the control implementation is less than perfect. Itís annoying that you have to manually unsheathe your sword and jumping is problematic at some points, but this can be compensated for by anticipating what lies ahead and using the camera extensively to avoid traps. This is a challenging title and a long quest and it does get a bit tedious during extended sessions. Fortunately, players can save their progress from any point in the game by selecting the save option in the Inventory screen.

Dragonís Lair 3Dís visuals are quite impressive from beginning to end with cel-shaded graphics taking the original characters and environments into a fully rendered world without losing their essence. This is probably due in large part because many of the original drawings have been scanned into 3D. Additionally, the new areas stay faithful to the original design and feel of the classic game. Itís really cool to see these classic characters moving around in full polygon mode and the animation is silky smooth. The rooms and levels are quite beautiful retaining the hand-drawn feel, colors and design that made the original game so special. Fans of the original will also be happy to know that many familiar locations and entire sequences that are faithfully recreated for the game, giving it a nostalgic kick. The soundtrack is also more elaborate and the epic score gives Dragonís Lair 3D a cinematic sound that increases the excitement of the gameplay. Most of the original voice actors have returned as well, and its great to hear them once again reprise their roles. Dragonís Lair 3Dís excellent production values create smooth playing and looking game throughout. The approach is slick and up-to-date with cool environments that take full advantage of todayís technology, giving it a nice blend of current technology and classic character.

As an extra bonus, the Xbox edition of Dragonís Lair 3D features a few short movies that detail the impact of the original game and the creation of the new game as well. These shorts are informative and entertaining; giving you an appreciation of how much work has gone into the new version. These behind-the-scenes episodes put a bow on an already appealing package. Gamers with high-end set-ups will also be happy to know that the Xbox edition supports high-definition TVís with a special Widescreen mode and Dolby 5.1 surround sound. Dragonís Lair 3Dís visuals look fantastic and the cel-shaded graphics allow the game to stay consistent with the original game. Thereís loads of enemies to face but the game has an excellent balance of action and puzzle solving. The puzzles are quite clever and should keep players busy for quite some time. Unfortunately, the controls arenít as smooth as they could be which means some areas are more frustrating than they should be. However, most players should be able to compensate for these problems after awhile. While its not perfect, this is a solid update. Dragonís Lair 3D is entertaining and well worth your time, especially if you liked the original. While nostalgic fans of the series will love this update, the beautifully designed graphics, smooth animation, and solid gameplay means younger gamers are likely to enjoy it as well.

 




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