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Why I once loved it: For gamers who sprouted pubic hair long before polygons and cel-shading, Dragon’s Lair was the closest we could get to an “interactive” Disney movie. Around the same time as the seventeenth iteration of Pac-Man, arcades were almost on the verge of stagnation. You had a billion variations of Pong, but developers had yet to address that the schoolyard was wishing for everyday: A playable cartoon.
Enter Dragon’s Lair, a game designed by a former Disney animator, with top-notch sound design synched to theatrical caliber animation. At the time, it sure seemed interactive enough…
Above: More ways to die than there are to play
Why I now hate it: Made up of a series of digital sequences, there was only ONE right way to input FIVE commands and several billion other ways that would result in immediate death. There’s a tentacle! Whoops, did you hit right instead of left, regardless of how that was presented contextually? Game Over. For another 30 seconds, please insert another dollar, sucker!
It’s been ported onto more platforms than Tetris, and with every year, it reveals not only its age, but its utter lack of gameplay. It’s completely unfair and borderline theft once you realize how it was sold to kids like me in a Saturday morning shell we were powerless to resist. Plenty of games involve memorization, but that’s all Dragon’s Lair is. A blind man could beat the game, and no one who ever played it would be the least bit surprised.
Why I once loved them: More than one adolescent birthday of mine or my little brother’s was spent in our local arcades - like Aladdin’s Castle or Adventure Island - where our mom would treat us to any game for as long as it took to beat. Meaning we would spend what felt like hours and at least twenty bucks in quarters so we could see the finale to The Simpsons, X-Men or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade beat ‘em ups. Not only did these games put our home consoles to shame graphically, but we felt like badasses for blasting our way through the same games that we always lost at when we lacked infinite resources.
It was icing on the (birthday) cake that they often starred some of our favorite cartoon and movie characters. To finally stop Shredder or take down Doctor Doom after walking from the left to the right as far as we could gave us amazing satisfaction, along with warm fuzzy memories.
Why I now hate them: Many birthdays later, when my brother learned the dark arts of ROM hacks, we played some of those old games together on our family PC. Once you have unlimited continues and any stress is removed from beating the game on your last quarter, clarity comes to you. My bro and I saw that the games were boring, repetitive, insanely cheap and short. They were made to steal your money in as unfair a way as possible, but when you just press start to begin again with infinite credits, it’s a simple test of endurance.
I suppose a little part of my childhood died the day I learned the truth, and I shall never forgive the genre for that.
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