Dragon’s Lair II: Timewarp was released in 1983… what a time to be alive.
For me, it was the best year for music and also a time when I would frequent the arcade at the top of Oxford Road in Manchester, near to the Odeon, on a Saturday afternoon. Packed with gaming machines all wanting my ten pence pieces, the one that drew my gaze the most was a title called Dragon’s Lair.
So what makes it stand out from the crowd? Well, with every other game in the arcade created using computer graphics and played off a microchip, this one featured actual cartoon images coming from a laserdisc player inside the cabinet. Yes, there was a bit of technical jiggery-pokery inside to control it all, but between this and another game, Astron Belt, they were something the like of which we’d never seen before.
For those who hadn’t come across Astron Belt, it was a shoot-em-up where you could actually control a spacecraft that appeared onscreen as graphics, but was programmed to react to the video footage being displayed onscreen which was generally space, the terrain of a planet, aliens flying about, or a huge fireball explosion when you died. Think Space Invaders but a million times more cool. You could also sit down in its cockpit cabinet, something I remember later being used with the Star Wars Arcade game, and anyone who remembers playing the sit-down version of that will have many happy memories.
Anyway, back to the plot, and the original Dragon’s Lair had a very simple concept. You take the role of Dirk the Daring, a lanky knight who is somehow the object of desire for the gorgeous Princess Daphne. Well, I say ‘gorgeous’, but that’ll sound like I’m attracted to a computer game character… erm…. anyway.
Each location within the game comprises of beasties, potions, other items of interest and at least one exit although when there are multiple ones, all but one of them will be a red herring. Try and jump or walk towards one of these and you’ll end up losing a life. While taking in everything that’s happening onscreen, your only options are to move forward, backwards, left, right or press fire to swish your sword at a baddie and you would also only be expected to learn a handful of moves in each scene.
Contrast that with Dragon’s Lair II: Timewarp, released in 1991. The premise here is that Dirk and Daphne are now married, with several children to their name. However, Daphne has been kidnapped by the evil wizard Mordroc to marry him instead – and he’s not exactly a great catch. Split into eight sections, Dragon’s Lair II: Timewarp takes you through various eras of history – as well as sometimes mixing in a heavy dose of fantasy as the take their cues from Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty and the like. However, the biggest problem with the game is that it’s too damn difficult. AND, each section goes on too long – well, the last couple are seemingly quite short after I sneaked a peak at the walkthrough on Gamefaqs – so you do end up getting mightily frustrated with it.
Note how these sections follow in turn, rather than the original game’s randomised scenes being played out from one to the other, often changing after a death.
Graphics are… well, as everyone knows with these games. The graphics aren’t graphics, they’re the original animations by Don Bluth, previously one of the animators at Disney. So, basically, you’re playing out a cartoon. When it comes to the audio, the basic stereo track certainly engages with the player. Yes, it’s a long way from the Dolby Digital 5.1 you’d expect from a conventional release, but we are talking about a game that’s 20 years old.
As for the gameplay, most of the time the game responds perfectly well to the joystick, but occasionally if you press it too early, it’ll assume you’ve pressed the wrong button and give you the requisite ‘death’ animation. This is immensely annoying because these levels often run for 30-40 joystick movements and button presses, without any checkpoints, and it’s bad enough trying to keep up, even if you’ve mastered most of it and just need to learn the last few moves. It’s also a royal pain when, given the limited movements available to you, you’re presented with one that looks a bit diagonal and it’s not at all obvious which of the two ways you should push your joystick.
Now, I said there are no checkpoints, but I’m playing the original arcade game. If you import the Blu-ray version, as it was released in the US but never let out over here, then that does include checkpoints.
If you’ve never played either Dragon’s Lair game, then check out the original first as having a run-through that game will give you a good background in how the sequel operates.
Director: Don Bluth
Producers: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy
Music: Christopher L Stone
Dirk the Daring: Dan Molina
Princess Daphne: Vera Lanpher
Mordroc / Cheshire Cat / Card Soldiers / Time Machine (Mordroc’s brother) / Dirk’s Mother-In-Law: Hal Smith
Narrator: Michael Rye
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.