Considering that the Xbox 360 has been around for over six years, it's a little surprising that we haven't seen a port of the 1983 classic Dragon's Lair until now. Not only is it one of only three games accorded permanent exhibition status at the Smithsonian Institution (along with Pac-Man and Pong), but it has also managed to worm its way onto everything from the Commodore 64 and NES to the iPhone in the intervening 29 years. Most of these were uninspired rehashes that brought almost nothing new to the experience, but this latest incarnation's leaderboards and Kinect support at least mark a step toward variety. Unfortunately, that's still not enough to make it worth your time.
Get used to seeing this shot. A lot.
Dragon's Lair was a colossal hit back in the days when visuals in video games were first evolving from wads of pixels to recognizable and iconic sprites such as Mario. Its appeal lay in its novelty. Harnessing the talents of celebrated animator Don Bluth, Dragon's Lair marked an ambitious attempt to jump over 10 years into the future, chucking the standard digital conventions of the day and being based entirely on animation.
At the time, it worked. In an age when Mario still wasn't "super," arcade goers could laugh at the antics of the goofy knight named Dirk the Daring on his quest to rescue the sultry Princess Daphne from the clutches of the dragon Singe. Instead of deaths that just knocked the hero offscreen, you saw poor Dirk subjected to snake strangulations and rib-cracking impacts. And instead of saving some generic princess, you won the hand of Princess Daphne, whose Playboy-inspired model turns heads as easily now as it did back then.
Even so, its animated focus demands simple gameplay even by the standards of its era. Indeed, little more than an interactive movie at heart, it's best understood in modern terms as the direct ancestor of the quick-time events (or QTEs) sprinkled throughout countless modern action games. Then as now, the entire game revolves around knowing when to press one of the four directions on a D-pad to move Dirk out of the way of danger, and using a button to slash your sword. Miss one of the lightning-fast prompts, and you find that death comes easy and often in Singe's domain. Unfortunately, such a setup means that success relies far more on memorization than true skill. The resulting trail and error is even more disappointing upon the realization that some of Dragon's Lair's 29 scenes repeat throughout Dirk's brief journey.
This sequence is anything but better with Kinect.