There can be something magical about revisiting a video game from your childhood. Pick the right title and you can be instantly transported back to being a kid, when the weekends seemed to go on for ages and you had so much free time for the controller.
The most recent example of this for me was The 7th Guest. Although it’s now easy to see how bad the full-motion video (FMV) is and cringe at the cliched scary moments, it brought back everything I remembered about gaming in the 1990s. The title before this was Shivers and it was a different nostalgic experience. It reminded me of how much this released scared me in 1995 – so much in fact that I could feel my palms sweating, and I haven’t yet returned to it since.
On the flipside though, there are also occasions when you pick up an old game and fail to understand what made it so special for you when you were young. You eagerly sit there waiting for the installation to complete, hoping you’re going to witness that same magic all over again, but something is missing when you’re finally able to press the start button and you come away disappointed. This is just what happened to me when I decided to try Dragon’s Lair last month.
This was a game I have some memory of playing at my parent’s house when I was a kid, although it’s kind of vague and I’m not entirely sure when this was or the platform. I’m assuming it was my Amiga seeing as I spent so much of my free time on the thing but can’t confirm this. What I do recall however is never finishing because it was too difficult for me, and then deciding to purchase it in on Steam in July 2013 with a bunch of other old titles but never getting around to playing it again.
It captured my attention when I was young because it was like being in a cartoon thanks to its Western animation-style graphics. The other video games I was familiar with at the time were all pixelated, so it looked completely different to anything else I’d played before and I enjoyed stories about magic and evil wizards. When I realised that it was a potential choice for this year’s #MaybeInMarch event, I had a hard time deciding between Dragon’s Lair and Machinarium.
The latter eventually won, and I enjoyed the six-hours I spent with the point-and-click. It might not be the best adventure I’ve ever completed but there was something incredibly charming about the protagonist and robotic world he lived in. Even though my decision for #MaybeInMarch had already been made, I decided to install Dragon’s Lair too and give it a little go one evening; and after realising it was still as difficult as I remembered it to be, Pete and I thought it might make for a fun stream.
The storyline is pretty much what you’d expect from a 1983 arcade game: Dirk the Daring is a knight attempting to rescue Princess Daphne from the horrible dragon Singe, after he locks her in a castle belonging to the foul wizard Mordroc. It’s easy to figure out how little magic there is in this synopsis when reading it with adult eyes, but there was just something about it at the time that made me want to reach the conclusion of the game and find out whether the hero and his love-interest lived happily ever after.
The gameplay consists entirely of animated cutscenes and series of around 30 quick-time events (QTEs). In the original release, these were displayed at random and all had to be completed without failure in order to get to the end. In the Steam version however, we made things a little easier for ourselves: selecting the ‘home’ version to have the scenes played in order, along with additional lives and continues, meant we were able to finish Dragon’s Lair in just over an hour.
I was disappointed. None of the magic I felt as a child was there any longer and it was obvious how this had been a game designed to make young men give up as much money as possible in the arcade. As you can probably guess already, my biggest frustration was with Princess Daphne – although I can’t say whether it was her damsel-in-distress act or inappropriate clothing that annoyed me more. If she was that cold, she should really have been wearing a cardigan.
I came across an excellent quote while researching some background details for this post. In an article for Hardcore Gamer in August 2013, author Nikola Suprak wrote: “Years of playing video games has made me very familiar with the ‘save the princess’ motif, which makes me extremely suspicious about Daphne’s princess credentials. There is a far greater chance that she is just a stripper with the stage name Princess than an actual princess, because if actual princesses dressed like she did the royal weddings wouldn’t be so boring to watch.”
Perhaps the magic I’d felt as a child disappeared quickly because I’m a grown-up who is able to see the game for what it really is. Maybe it’s because too much has been changed from the original release to make the Steam version. Or perhaps Dragon’s Lair has now lost something that I’ve completed it and there’s no longer that wonder about what happens at the end. Whatever the reason is, there’s very little chance of me ever revisiting the series again in the future.
I’m glad I didn’t choose Dragon’s Lair for this year’s #MaybeInMarch event, but I’m also pleased that it’s another old game off my backlog. What’s next?