I’m sure that everyone knows about the Laser Disc game craze that took place back in the early to mid 80s (before the big crash). When Dragon’s Lair was released to the arcade masses, it took the country by storm, raking in over $30 million in revenue during the first six months.
Dragon’s Lair was the creation of former Disney animator Don Bluth, whom you might know as the animator for classics such as The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time, An American Tail, and the recently released Titan A.E., and the game concept was developed by Rick Dyer, founder of Rick Dyer Industries.
The success of Dragon’s Lair started a trend of similar titles trying to follow in Bluth/Dyer’s footsteps. Even Bluth and Dyer had future plans for themselves. First off was the second laser game in their series, entitled Space Ace. While not achieving the same monumental success that Dragon’s Lair had, it still has a very strong following. In addition, plans for Dragon’s Lair 2: Time Warp were in the works, but with the crash of 1984, and the decreasing popularity of laser disc titles (primarily due to the linear action and lack of interaction present), it was put on hold.
DL2 however, was released to the gaming public in 1991, when it was picked up by the Leland Corporation (responsible for arcade titles such as John Elway’s Quarterback and Ivan Stewart’s Super Off-Road) during the second wave of laser titles that was spearheaded by a small company called American Laser Games. Unfortunately, DL2 went unnoticed by a gaming public which was engrossed in a little phenomenon called Street Fighter II.
These titles also had a poor showing on the home video game market. In the early days, CD-ROM couldn’t handle the graphic quality that these LD titles were known for. Whether it was because of lack of color depth, missing scenes, or sloppy controls, all the CD titles failed to capture the whole LD experience. And aside from the Halcyon (Rick Dyer’s laser disc home system in 1984), and the ill-fated Pioneer LaserActive in 1993, there were no laser disc game systems to provide the full Bluth/Dyer glory.
But technology changes over the years, and in 1997, a lovely little invention called DVD was unveiled to the public. Finally we can have crystal clear audio and video, and a storage space so vast that a full feature-length movie can be printed on a disc the size of a CD. And at long last, these laser disc titles can achieve the proper treatment that they deserve. Digital Leisure, an Ontario-based company, decided that they can take advantage of this, and released Dragon’s Lair 1 and 2, as well as Space Ace, to be used on, of all things, a DVD movie player! And let me tell you, although being skeptical of how these titles would operate (DL mentions on the packages that some Toshiba, Samsung, and Aiwa DVD players wouldn’t work right), I am pleased to mention that of all the LD conversions I have played, these are the best.
First of all, the video and audio is the way I remember it back in 1984. Full-screen, digital video running at the original 24 frames per second, with little or no artifacting (digital color distortions on pure black surfaces) and very little pixelization (even on my VGA monitor running through S-Video). Audio is recreated though AC-3 Digital conversion, and it sounds sweet.
Now as for the control, this is what concerned me the most. Surprised to say, it controls very well. Considering my DVD player (a low-level RCA 5220P), I didn’t know how responsive it would be. Movement is controlled by the cursor keys, and the Enter/Select key is used for drawing your sword or firing your laser. It is very responsive to the remote, and feels comfortable even compared to a joystick. Even better, to compensate for slower DVD players not capable of making quick controls, Digital Leisure offers the option of a two-second window to make movements without being killed constantly.
The original laser titles made a beep sound whenever you made a correct move. However, Digital Leisure makes this beep visually. On the lower right hand corner of the screen will a diamond will appear when a move needs to be made. If the move you selected is correct, it will appear as a yellow symbol. A wrong move will result in a blue icon. I find this makes the game a lot easier than it was in the arcades.
Even better though, if you don’t want to go through all the moves and just want to see the game in action, there is a Watch feature that allows you to do just that, watch the game as if every move was done perfectly. How cool!
Also, what DVD would be complete without bells and whistles? (well, there are some that think they are complete with just the movie) In this case, Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace contain several news reels and interviews about the production of these two games. It provides a very informative background of how these games are designed, and the future of laser gaming (which is neat to watch because as we all know, their predictions were wrong). The audio and video are of lesser quality, but then again, these clips were transferred from videotape dating 1983-84, so DVD transfer is not to blame.
Truly, these titles are very impressive considering the format they are running on. Who would think that a DVD movie player could do a darn good job at recreating laser disc titles? The simplicity and linear nature of these games would warrant 4 Gems just for the gameplay alone.
However, the painstaking effort that Digital Leisure demonstrated in recreating the audio and video quality, as well as the very responsive control scheme, earns 5 Gems. The final overall grade is an impressive 4 1/2 GiN Gems. Digital Leisure’s next project will be recreating Sega’s 1991 Hologram Laser game Time Traveler, which also was created by Rick Dyer. Time Traveler was on display at E3, and it looked impressive. Only time will tell.