Dragon's Lair iPhone Review
I had the good fortune of growing up during the arcade culture's heyday. And no, I'm not referring to the early nineties when fighting games ruled, munching competitors' quarters at an alarming rate; nope, I'm talking a decade earlier, when Donkey Kong was still king and Pac-Man had just turned his crown over to his red-lipsticked better half. One of my fondest memories as a preteen—usually weighted down by a pocket full of tokens—was when Dragon's Lair arrived on the scene. Other games had more substance and ultimately made a greater impact, but Don Bluth's laser disc-powered hit had style to spare. Its beautiful animation and ornate cabinets drew quarter-clutching crowds in droves. Many arcades had several of the machines lined up together to meet demand, and most even positioned extra monitors atop the cabinets so onlookers could watch Dirk the Daring slay Singe the Dragon and rescue Princess Daphne. Quite simply, Dragon's Lair was an arcade rockstar in 1983.
I spent countless hours back in the day, both playing the game and watching others play. I never rescued the fair maiden in an arcade, but I finally won the affections of the voluptuous Daphne—her ample assets were not lost on my twelve-year old self—on many of the home versions that later brought the arcade experience to the living room. My passion went beyond the original game though; over the years I collected several versions of it, including the action/adventure reboot that flopped on last-gen's consoles, and I still proudly display the awesome action figures that came out a few years back.
Save for 2007's Blu-ray release, Dragon's Lair's been absent from the gaming scene as of late. Thankfully though, Dirk always rides out of the shadows of Singe's castles when a new gaming platform gains popularity, and the iPhone was just the thing to get him back atop his iron horse. The recently released, bargain-priced (just $4.99) App is one of the hands-down best versions of the nostalgia-conjuring hit, and one that would have fried my early teenage brain as swiftly as the Black Knight's lightening-spewing sword.
As with their impressive iPhone port of Space Ace from earlier this year, Digital Leisure has brought Dragon's Lair to Apple's gaming gadget with the care of a passionate fan, rather than a money-hungering developer. For starters, the game looks fantastic; the visuals have been cleaned up and given an extra touch of crispness, allowing Dirk's adventures to pop off the slick display with amazing clarity. The audio has been produced with similar care, perfectly recreating all the music and sound effects you recall from the original. From the rousing heroic score to the squeal of a Giddy Goon, this one pleases the ears as much as the eyes. It's truly amazing, 25 years later, to see this cartoon adventure spring to life on this tiny device.
The title also controls like a dream on the iPhone's touch screen. A virtual sword button and directional pad, which can be selected in three different sizes depending on how much you want them covering the screen, are super responsive and easy to navigate. Additionally, you can turn on assists that light up the buttons when actions must be performed. Anyone who played the arcade original will remember its unforgiving nature; timing had to be frustratingly precise, and reacting too soon or too late resulted in Dirk's death. While that level of maddening difficulty has been faithfully recreated—for better or worse—these assists go a long way in guiding you through Singe's hazard-filled castle. An infinite life option also ensures you 'll finally feel the warm embrace of your kidnapped beloved. In fact, those who never had the quarters or patience to get through the game will finally be able to complete it with minimal effort here.
Of course, purists looking for a little punishment can still play the game as it was originally intended; assists can be turned off, and lives can be limited to just three. As an old school gamer, I was determined to play this way until several unsuccessful swings over the flaming pit had me crying uncle. In addition to welcome difficulty adjustments, Dragon's Lair includes “Home” and “Arcade” modes. The latter plays just like the quarter-siphoning classic, where the former includes the various tweaks that were added to the home versions over the years. These include some extra scenes as well as a gameplay path that doesn't change until you've completed the task at hand--the arcade version shuffles the challenges, offering you a new one each time you fail.
While I would have liked to see some of the extras, such as the developer documentary, that were included on the Blu-ray release, there's no denying this latest port's appeal. On top of its enhanced presentation and fantastic feature list, it allows gamers to take this groundbreaking classic with them anywhere. Who would've thought, back in 1983, that we'd one day be escaping the Lizard King's throne room and fending off the Mudmen on a palm-size device, while lying in bed.