Dragons Lair (Blu-ray player) (2007)
First game for Blu ray disc players
Review - IGN (2007)
"Relive 1983 on your Blu-ray player. PS3 owners beware.
By Peer Schneider Whenever a new home video format arrives, Dirk the Daring isn't too far behind. Created by Don Bluth (of Secret of Nimh fame), Gary Goldman and Rick Dyer, Dragon's Lair has become an institution; an example of the now defunct "interactive movie" genre that spawned during the Laser Disc days and has seen a home release with virtually every new video or gaming platform since.
Following the release of a first high-definition version of the title for PCs in 2006, Digital Leisure has dusted off the valiant knight Dirk, his ditzy love interest Daphne, and the evil dragon Singe once again and brought the whole lot to Blu-ray.
Yes, it's not exactly a movie - we know. But as a nostalgic throwback to a (thankfully) bygone era of choose-your-own-adventure-but-do-it-quickly-or-else movies, Dragon's Lair is a lot better off among its non-interactive DVD brethren than sitting alongside fully realized PlayStation 3 games that happen to share the same disc format and, for some, playback hardware.
What do you use to play back Blu-ray discs?
If you didn't play Dragon's Lair when it first debuted in arcades in 1983, you'll likely be disgusted when you give the game a first run on Blu-ray. As much as we marveled at the animation and were looking forward to seeing how Dirk's quest panned out a quarter of a century ago, nostalgia is now the defining key factor to enjoying Dragon's Lair.
The actual movie part of the whole experience is easily summarized in a single sentence: watch the unlikely medieval hero, Dirk, make his way through a trap-filled castle to rescue Daphne from the initially sleeping dragon Singe. The entire movie experience is made up of just 19 minutes of hand-animated footage, including repeated death sequences, attract mode, and mirrored scenes. The interactive component is comprised of visual and audio clues that prompt the player to react by hitting an action button or pushing a joystick (or directional keys on your remote, in this case) in the correct, predetermined direction.
For example, in one scene Dirk is careening toward a wall of fire on a flying horse statue (don't ask). If the wall appears on the right, hit left; if it's on the left, hit right. While most scenes in the game are set, some, like the horse sequence, are randomized and also appear in mirrored form. Brave the fast and curve balls thrown at you to complete a sequence and you'll move on. Hit the wrong key or hit it at the wrong time and you'll get to enjoy an amusing death animation and lose one of your five lives. In order to keep frustration at a minimum, the game usually continues on to the next sequence no matter whether you made it or not, but there are certain sequences that have to be completed or you'll have to redo them all over again. Brave all the challenges and you will see Dirk defeat Singe and get his hands on the curvaceous Daphne. That's it.
There are five different settings for owners of the Blu-ray version. Though easily accessible from the main menu, none of the options are documented in the manual and are likely to confuse first-time Dragon's Lair owners.
Arcade/Home Gameplay: You can switch between the Arcade and Home versions of the game. The differences between the two are that the latter includes the additional moat sequence that was not in the original Arcade game.
Difficulty: Easy or Hard. The Hard option complicates things by adding additional moves in certain sequences and mixes up the scenes for less linear stage progression.
Lives: Choose between unlimited and 5 lives. (PS3 owners, be sure to read the paragraph below.)
Visual Move Guide On/Off: Toggle this option on to bring up a visual clue in the bottom right corner that shows whether you entered the right move or not. A red circle means you entered the wrong move or your timing is off, a green one lets you know you did it right.
Game Statistics: Displays your lives and overall score via a text display at the top.
Alas, due to the ongoing lack of Java standardization (the deadline that's supposed to end this madness is set for October 31, 2007), some of the above settings that require BD-Java may not work on your Blu-ray player of choice. For gamers, that platform is likely the PlayStation 3, which currently is not able to play back Dragon's Lair with the standard "5 lives" option. You're automatically forced into the "unlimited lives" mode, which entirely kills the challenge of the game. The PS3 also has issues rendering the menus correctly. On some other players, the Visual Move Guide doesn't appear. Though publisher Digital Leisure says it has tested the title on a variety of players, the issues are quite commonplace and occur with the latest firmware (as of April 27). It's disappointing that the disc doesn't include a printed advisory notice to disclose the issues. Even more confounding is that there's no technical support section on the publisher's homepage to note the incompatibilities as of yet. Hopefully, future firmware updates will fix the problems and Digital Leisure will warn of specific player problems in the interim.
Blu-ray growing pains notwithstanding, Dragon's Lair is still an enjoyable piece of gaming nostalgia. Sure, the animation is spotty at times and there's a feeling of randomness hanging over the entire production, but the characters are memorable and some of the trap sequences offer a glimpse at Bluth's imaginative genius.
No matter whether you last enjoyed Dragon's Lair in the arcades, on a home computer, or on DVD, know that the Blu-ray edition is a big leap forward when it comes to picture quality. The transfer reformats the experience to a 1:78:1 widescreen presentation to better play on today's 16x9 home theater displays, which also gets rid of the arcade version's "bubble vision." This new 1080p transfer of the original film source is a huge, huge improvement over the Laser Disc original and, like last year's PC release, really makes the colors pop. Digital Leisure also took the extra step to remove specks and scratches. Compressed using MPEG-2, the presentation is free of artifacts. There is still some grain to be seen on many of the darker, single-colored surfaces, but it's consistent with the age of the footage (remember the pre-digital days?) and doesn't detract from the experience.
Score: 8 out of 10
Remixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 (encoded at 48 KhZ/448 kbps) from the original mono soundtrack, Dragon's Lair audio also received a shot in the arm for the Blu-ray edition. Given the lack of dialog and the brevity of the sequences, there isn't a ton to work with here, but the overall audio is clear and bright and there is some mild use of the rear channels for ambient background and effects. It's not perfect, though. The LFE channel could have been used to better effect and there are a few instances where the on-screen action screams for more active use of the rear channels, but it's generally a quality mix.
Note that the Blu-ray edition also includes the original bleeps to signal correct or incorrect move entry.
Score: 7 out of 10
It doesn't happen very often that a disc's special featurettes are longer than the main attraction, but such is the case with Dragon's Lair on Blu-ray. Enthusiasts who just want to enjoy the animation can do so via the "Watch" option, which goes through all the sequences in the game without the need to hit any buttons. The feature is accompanied by a chapter select option for easy access (note that like the special features menu, it doesn't render correctly on PS3 at this time).
Next up is a full-fledged video commentary, which approximates the advanced PiP feature seen on HD-DVDs (and future BD-J enabled Blu-ray discs, one would hope) by simply duplicating the entire feature with an integrated view of the three creators, Bluth, Dyer, and Goldman. The audio here isn't perfect, but all three are audible and have interesting things to say about the creation of the game. Dyer comes across as a bit too gushing about Dragon's Lair's "gameplay" appeal, but discussions about the new transfer and Bluth commenting on the quality of the animation make for an interesting listen.
The same shoot also yielded an equally informative 23-minute interview featurette during which the trio talks about the genesis of the game and evolution from physical concepts to the LD version. It's great stuff that really shows off the thought process of arcade pioneers looking to score the next big hit. The team then moves on to talk about the unrealized "The Sea Beast and Barnacle Bill" and other projects such as IBM educational games. Other topics include a discussion of deleted and favorite scenes as well as the status of the Dragon's Lair feature film prequel.
Two additional narration-free clips use a split-screen setup to show off the HD restoration before and after, as well as time capsule comparisons of the new footage with previous home releases for Amiga, DVD, and Laser Disc, among others. A proper making-of or history featurette as well as footage of the original arcade machines would have rounded out the package, but the interview footage does nicely to fill in some of the blanks.
The disc also includes preview trailers for Dragon's Lair, Space Ace, and Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp.
Score: 7 out of 10
The experience is short-lived, but if you remember feeding the arcade machine just to see what fate awaited Dirk around the next corner, here's your chance to see Dragon's Lair with the best possible visual treatment. The MSRP of $39.99 is a few quarters too many (gamers can score brand-new, full-fledged games for that price), but if you look around you can easily get it for a more affordable price."
Review - blu-ray.com
"Encoded in MPEG2, this new 1080p transfer is more than likely the best anyone outside of the Bluth studio has seen. The new transfer is a dramatic improvement over the previous DVD incarnations, to say nothing of the original arcade LaserDisc. The most noticeable difference is the color. You didn't realize how pale the original version was until directly compared it to this new version. Grain and film flicker has been reduced, though can still be distracting at times. Oddly, the film's transfer seems uneven as far as the restoration goes: some scenes look clean and solid, but others look a bit battered and dirty in comparison, and can even vary from shot to shot. It's still miles ahead of the DVD version, but could still use further refinement. MPEG2 artifacts are minimal. My biggest gripe with the transfer is that it has been cropped from the original 1.33 aspect ratio. The framing isn't compromised too much, it appears the filmmakers left themselves some room for overscan on the old arcade monitors, but it is often too tight for comfort. The scene with the black knight and the electric floor panels is a good example: the knight's head in the overhead shot is slightly cropped off. As an OAR (Original Aspect Ratio) advocate, you would liked for Digital Leisure to have at least offered a 1.33 option.
Remixed for 5.1, the sound design is hit and miss. Some scenes have a terrific envelopment, some are missed opportunities. Perhaps the best sound remix is the river scene, with rushing water in the rear channels, the "hints" in the proper left and right channels, and a bass rumble with the whirlpools. Dialogue is clear (what little of it there is), from Princess Daphne's Marilyn Monroe coo to Dirk's various grunts and screams. One oddity though is the last scene, where the majority of the sound (dialog, music, sound effects) moves to the surround channels and then back to the front. The sound design is low budget, consisting of mostly stock sound effects, and unfortunately the remix exposes the weakness of the score: it sounds very much like a Casio keyboard. You won't mistake it for the Jerry Goldsmith or James Horner scores in Bluth's feature films from that era.
One nit about the sound: since there are rapid scene changes depending on what you choose to do, the sound on receiver kept clicking on and off whenever it re-locked onto the Dolby Digital signal. Recommend you change your output from "bitstream" to "PCM" for this title".
1) An instant hit in it's 1983 arcade debut, Dragon’s Lair has been digitally restored and enhanced with an all-new 5.1 surround sound mix. The video has been transferred directly from the original film and cleaned frame by frame by Digital Leisure and authoring studio "Infinite HD", creating a truly vibrant image. In addition, Dragon’s Lair is the first release to be authored in the Blu-ray Java environment, or BD-J, an advanced format that allows users to enjoy a fully arcade-authentic experience.
2) Watch Dragon's Lair DVD-Rom for more.
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