If you're going to remaster Bambi and Dumbo, why not Dirk the Daring? The animated hero of 1983's arcade smash Dragon's Lair was created by ex-Disney animator Don Bluth, and over the years, he's gotten a bit fuzzy. (Dirk has, anyway; we can't speak for Don.) So, it's back to the vaults for a year of restoration from the original Technicolor negative, and the result is the extremely pretty, mega-nostalgic Dragon's Lair HD.
Dragon's Lair was the first arcade game that let you play a cartoon; its hand-drawn scenes played off a laserdisc hidden within the cabinet. Leading Dirk the Daring on his quest to save Princess Daphne from the enormous dragon was a matter of trial and error. If your joystick moves and sword strikes matched the predetermined pattern, you'd survive and see the entire 20-minute adventure play out in 15-second chunks. More often, you'd be out 50 cents in roughly as many seconds.
Showing every bit of its 1983 heritage, the "make the right choice or you're dead" gameplay is still frustratingly hard. Many times you'll enter a room with no clue what to do and die almost instantly as a monster attacks without warning or a pathway crumbles beneath your feet. It's simply not fun unless you know exactly what to do as soon as you find yourself in each specific scene. If the original arcade timing is too tough, there's an Easy mode, but you're still likely to wonder what you were supposed to do to defeat the Lizard King or exactly which way to leap when the stone floor disintegrated.
But while the gameplay still feels moldy, Dragon's Lair HD's animation is anything but. Fans familiar with the arcade original and the previous home releases will be floored to see the restored colors; it's never looked better or brighter. Since the original game was drawn for standard arcade monitors, the 4:3 ratio is the most historically accurate (albeit much larger at 1440x1080), but you'll also find versions formatted for 5:4 (modern flatscreen) and 16:9 (widescreen) monitors. The 1920x1080 widescreen version actually chops off the top and bottom of the original picture, but you can run any of the three resolutions in a window for old-school accuracy.
Dragon's Lair HD requires no-installation - just pop the DVD in the drive and it automatically plays. You can copy the files to your hard drive for a small boost in loading times if you like, but it's not necessary for the casual nostalgic gamer. The soundtrack has been remastered in 5.1 surround, too, assuming your PC has the hardware. Hell, why interact when you can simply click Watch and let the remastered cartoon play out as a movie? You'll curse less.
Dragon's Lair HD was created with serious love - this is a worthy restoration project. It's killer as nostalgia, somewhat crap as a game, and the surprising $50 price will put it out of the minds of all but the most passionate collectors. It hurts to give it a low score, but modern gamers won't find it fun and nostalgic ones might be spooked by the price. But for anybody who wants revenge for all the quarters they lost back in the day and is willing to memorize Dirk's many movements, Dragon's Lair HD is the prettiest possible way to do it.