June 16, 2012

When Dirk the Daring Met Kinect

Filed under: Editorial Rants — Tags: , , , , , , — Jason Westhaver @ 2:34 pm

Dragons Lair Xbox LIVE Arcade Kinect
Since first releasing in 1983, Dragon’s Lair has seen a ridiculous number of ports and adaptations, for everything from the MSX2 to the PlayStation Network. But few, if any, of those releases have attempted to update the experience beyond visual restoration. In the last five years alone, we’ve seen no less than thirteen ports featuring the same mechanics, the same HD video transfer and the same QTE-styled hints.

While these present improvements over the original arcade LaserDisc, they do little to make the game appeal to modern players, and even less to excite fans for new releases. For a while it seemed like Digital Leisure had done all they could to squeeze money out of the property, but then they did something surprising – they added Kinect support.

Dragon's Lair Xbox LIVE Arcade Kinect
For the few people reading this post that haven’t already been beaten over the head with the game, here’s a quick summary.

Dragon’s Lair is a classic full motion video (FMV) arcade game, animated by Don Bluth Productions, that tells the tale of Dirk the Daring and his quest to rescue Princess Daphne from the evil dragon, Singe. As the beautifully animated cut-scenes play out, Dirk will encounter various dangers, and players must select one of the four directional arrows or the action button in response to prompts. If you choose correctly and time it right, Dirk will survive – if you don’t, he dies, often in hilarious ways.

In short, the game is a series of what we would today call QTEs or Quick-Time Events. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about what makes this port stand out from previous releases.

Dragon's Lair Xbox LIVE Arcade Kinect
Dragon’s Lair for Xbox LIVE Arcade remains largely unchanged from previous ports, featuring the same beautiful animation, same QTE-style gameplay, and the same plot and purpose. It uses the 16:9 HD transfer for its cut-scenes, and has pop-ups telling you what button to push at what time. The only major change is the addition of Kinect support, which once again, surprisingly proves a change for the better.

Rather than going for a basic control scheme involving a couple of small hand gestures, Digital Leisure has decided to get the player’s whole body involved in the action, and it does wonders for immersion. If you want Dirk to dodge left, then jump to your left. If you want him to dodge right, then jump right.

Sword swings are executed by swinging your arm like a sword, and other unique actions, like running or grabbing for ropes, are performed by literally running and grabbing for ropes. It’s incredibly intuitive and surprisingly fun. The only tricky part can be getting the timing right, but by default the game is incredibly forgiving in Kinect mode and will usually keep you progressing unless you completely fail several prompts in a row. Once you get the hang of the controls, the difficulty can be increased to offer a greater challenge.

I played through the entire game by myself using the Kinect, as well as having a few of my friends try different segments. While I had no problem at all with the Kinect tracking my position, a few of the other players did seem to have difficulty with the sword slash. I’m not certain if this was caused by a change in the lighting of the room, their attire, or just the Kinect being Kinect, but it’s worth noting that the sensor is not 100% responsive and this may be an issue for some people.

Other gestures like the dodges or swinging from the ropes seemed to work just fine for everyone, and of course, if you just want to play the game while sitting down, there is always the option of using the regular controller.

Dragon's Lair Xbox LIVE Arcade Kinect
In addition to the full-screen 16:9 HD presentation that has been used for almost all releases since 2006, the game gives you the curious option of playing in 4:3 with a fake arcade bezel. I say curious, because while the original game was indeed 4:3, a close examination of the framing shows that the game is just cropping the sides off of the 16:9 print; even though that itself is cropped from the original version. The resulting video still shows all the action, but is essentially zoomed in and looks a bit off. If they had used the original full frame print than this would have been a cool feature, but instead it’s just a waste.

Rounding out the package is the option to play the game Arcade style or LaserDisc style, though the only difference between the two is whether or not the scenes are played in order. QTE pop-ups can also be turned off, leaving only the hints present in the original animation. Nice features for purists, but trivial for the casual player.

Taken as a whole Dragon’s Lair for XBLA is an excellent port that introduces a great new way of playing, but actually recommending it to someone is a bit of a tricky proposition. Ultimately it comes down to one simple fact – if you don’t own a Kinect, then there is no reason to pick this up if you own any version released in the last 5 years.

If you do own a Kinect however, then it’s completely worth a look. I’d recommend players sample the trial first to makes sure they register well on the sensor, but otherwise this is one of the more enjoyable Kinect games out there and easily worth the $10.

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