Review: Dragon’s Lair

Dragon’s Lair

ST Amiga Format Review

ST Format Review (July 1990)

Cheating

As you can see I’ve included both the early ST Amiga Format review and the later ST Format review so you can get a sense of the evolution of the magazine and how it reviewed games, and also because I’m kinda cheating by reviewing this because there was so little quality in this month’s mag – additionally the Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace games are very much a category to themselves, for better or worse. To make things a bit fairer here I’m including a screenshot to show the ST vs the Amiga. As you can hopefully see, the quality gap between the machines is pretty big, the ST’s limited palette requiring duller backgrounds. Clearly ST Amiga Format got to review a better-looking game, but the content was the same and I think ST Format’s review does a better job of discussing the game.

When comparing the reviews and their scores it’s worth noting that in ST Amiga Format reviews VERY rarely go under 70%. It’s got to be a real stinker to get that low. As ST Format finds its feet however review scores start becoming more realistic. If we look at what is probably the peak of ST Format, issue 17 in which 50 games are reviewed, 8 games get under 50%, 2 get something in the 50s, and 4 in the 60s. That’s just over a quarter of the reviews, and indicates a shift in policy over time.

My Review
So Dragon’s Lair comes on 4 disks on the ST compared to 6 on the Amiga, and costs £44.95 on both. In today’s money that’s roughly £113 ($137). That’s a hell of a lot of money, so expectations are high. Reading the two reviews you’d be forgiven for thinking they were entirely different games, and while there are definite graphical differences I’m not convinced they matter too much.

The game is a port of the arcade hit, which had been fairly successful due to its incredible graphics, though it seems people overlooked the flaws in the gameplay as a result. Releasing in the arcades way back in 1983 and using laserdisc technology (think early CD) it wowed crowds and undoubtedly made many people part with their quarters or 50ps or whatever they had to hand, before sending them away disappointed at the lack of game.

Gameplay is relatively simple in that you watch a cartoon sequence unfold and guess what joystick direction or fire button is pressed, and you have to time it perfectly. Failure to time it correctly results in a messy death. In some ways those death sequences are a large part of what people have enjoyed about the game, which is good as if you don’t die it takes 12 minutes to complete the whole thing. Yep, that’s 12 minutes for a game that costs £113 ($137) in today’s money. Not the best value for money.

Now while the graphics are impressive in some ways (even if the palette is reduced on the ST such that the castle walls for instance are a mere 3 colours) they aren’t especially smooth, though neither are those on the Amiga to be fair. Sound is sampled but used sparsely, it would have been impressive at the time no doubt.

The game is an undoubted technical marvel, but unfortunately it suffers from, as ST Format mention but their predecessors failed to, a complete lack of game underneath all the glamour. This game has somehow been incredibly successful, releasing on every god damn platform known to man, and yet it’s utter bilge. I mean it really is awful. I’m in no doubt that most people (and at that time it would have been mostly kids) bought it to show off to their mates how amazing their computer was (though how the hell they found £45 is anyone’s guess – my pocket money would never cover that and even in 1996 I was only making £2 an hour working in a supermarket) and perhaps for that purpose it’s worthwhile, but as a game it’s utterly worthless and without merit.

The game as a movie
save yourself the trouble of playing it, just watch this from the superior Amiga version instead.

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