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|Kevin Krock, editor|
Since these discs have similar content, performance and feel, theyíll all be reviewed together in one big review, rather than the normal single review per disc.
I remember walking through an arcade when I was a bit younger and clearly hearing a voice saying over the typical din of "electronic" beeps and booms:
It was unlike any other game I had heard. When I eventually made my way through the crowd to the source of the mysterious voice, what I saw fascinated me. This was no ordinary game. The screen lacked the blinky pixels and blocky figures running around a maze or shooting invaders from space that I was accustomed to. No, this was a fully animated cartoon where the player actually controlled the fate of the main character! It was one of those "must play" games in the arcade, and with that, I was hooked on Dragon's Lair. I quickly dug into my quarter filled pocket for the $0.50 to place on the machine to reserve my turn, and then I proceeded to empty my pocket.
A bit of background: In the early 1980s, "electronics wizard" and inventor Rick Dyer and former Disney animator, Don Bluth (An American Tail, Anastasia), got together to reinvent the arcade gaming experience. With Dyer's technical expertise, equipment was developed to allow the original 12" laser discs, filled with high quality audio and video, to be used with common game controls, creating a more realistic interactive game. With Bluth's animation expertise, beautiful animation was created to provide a visually stunning video game world that had never been seen before.
It was a phenomenal idea, and in 1983, the world was introduced to Dragon's Lair. It made such an impact that, along with Pong and Pac Man, it is only other video game ever admitted to the Smithsonian Institution! Not a bad track record. Needless to say, when I heard that it had made its way from the arcade to DVD, I knew I had to check it out...along with all of the other Rick Dyer classics.
After Dragonís Lair, Dyer and Bluth had to develop a follow-up game that went beyond the world to which they had taken arcade gamers the first time, and it was a pretty tall order. So, where do you go from a medieval castle with monsters and a dragon? You head for the opposite end of the reality spectrum Ė space travel!
This time around, you play Ace, the intrepid space superhero, who travels through space in an attempt to save his girlfriend, Kimberly, and keep the Earth from being enslaved by the evil Commander Borfís "Infanto Ray." Along the way, you must dodge, shoot, fly, and generally avoid getting Ace killed. The setting may be different, but the plot is not too far from Dragonís Lair. Nevertheless, the action is fast paced and the animation is beautiful, detailed, and wonderfully colorful.
One very cool change that set Space Ace apart from Dragonís Lair was a dual-threaded storyline. You start the game as Ace, but you are promptly shot by the "Infanto Ray" and turned into your younger, scrawnier alter ego, Dexter. At several points during the game, the player has an option to change from Dexter to Ace by "energizing." If you become Ace, you see the story develop along one path (typically a bit more difficult), and if you remain Dexter, you see the story unfold in a slightly different way. Itís a fun idea that could only be achieved through laser disc technology, and it works quite well. It reminds me of those "Choose your own story" childrenís novels that I used to read. Keep in mind, however, that both story lines still follow a fairly linear plot that eventually leads both characters to the same climax.
Dragonís Lair II: Time Warp
With two hugely successful arcade releases under their belt, Dyer and Bluth had the daunting task of delivering a third arcade game that would surpass Dragonís Lair and Space Ace. For the game, they decided to return to the familiar characters of Dragonís Lair and continue the story several years after the conclusion of the original. Mordroc, the evil wizard, has now kidnapped your wife, Princess Daphne, and it is up to you, Dirk the Daring, to use an unpredictable time machine to travel around and save her. Sound familiar? The plot is quite similar to all of the other Dyer / Bluth games, but the great animation, fast paced action, and technical innovations continue in this sequel.
In fact, Time Warp introduces an interesting twist that the two earlier games lacked. Throughout the game, several items appear and you must collect all of them before finishing the game. If you miss any item, you will eventually be sent back to a particular scene to retrieve the item! On top of all of the action, it adds a nice touch of complexity to the game.
The action is along the same lines as Dragonís Lair, but rather than many rooms that Dirk has to escape, Time Warp focuses more on fewer and longer scenes. This allows the game to develop a bit more of a plot as you jump from world to world on the time machine. Because Don Bluth was a former Disney animator, some of the scenes have an interesting Disney connection. The first is an extended scene based on Alice in Wonderland. The animation and visual effects are fantastic as you try to avoid the card soldiers, Queen of Hearts, the Cheshire Cat, and others. The other scene is put to Beethovenís Fifth Symphony, and the visuals are similar to the "Bumble Boogie" sequence from Melody Time. They are both clever sequences, and they provide a cool glimpse into what a fully animated "Choose Your Own Disney Story" could be... Just imagine an interactive Aladdin movie where you have to get Aladdin out of the Cave of Wonders on the Magic Carpet!
Hologram Time Traveler
After three blockbuster games, Rick Dyer and Don Bluth went their separate ways. Bluth moved on to continue to direct and produce animated features, and Dyer continued to develop laser disc arcade games. In the early 1990s, Dyer released his fourth arcade game, and this one featured a unique and fascinating video projection system that provided the illusion of "holographic" characters. They werenít really holograms, rather, they were a visual trick with parabolic mirrors. It was a really cool effect Ė you could reach into the "screen" and put your hands right through the characters!
The game plot is pure Dyer: You control the daring Marshal Gram and travel through time to rescue Princess Kyi-La from an evil scientist. In doing so, you must get past a series of enemies and either shoot, punch, jump or duck to elude them. Hmmm, where have I heard that before? This time, the characters are filmed, live-action actors rather than animated, but that doesnít really help with the plot. I didnít find the game play terribly interesting back when I first saw the game in the arcade, and after looking at the DVD, I still donít find it as interesting as the first three Dyer laser disc games. The big draw for this game was the unique visual presentation.
This DVD contains the video and audio portion of the game, but on a normal TV, much of the coolness of this game is gone. Digital Leisure has provided a "3D mode" and some 3D glasses, but the effect simply consists of some circles that move in a tunnel fashion. The glasses just mess up the colors of the characters on the TV screen and make playing the game far more difficult than necessary. The effect is just not worth the trouble, and it doesnít provide the original feel of the arcade game.
Kingdom II: Shadoan
Based on many of the comments that Rick Dyer made when Dragonís Lair was released, he was looking at laser disc technology to change the world, not only in the arcade but at home. In an attempt to provide content for the growing home market, Dyer developed another animated game that plays much more like a computer role-playing game than an action game.
Shadoan is set in the medieval ages and features over 250 different scene locations and over 50 animated non-player characters that you may interact with. You play the hero, Lathan Kandor, and itís up to you to explore this world and solve its puzzles as you try to reunite the five missing pieces of a magic amulet. Guess what? When you restore the amulet, you can then destroy the evil wizard Torlock and save the Princess Grace Delight. Yes, there is a definite theme that runs through Rick Dyerís games.
After playing the game for a while, itís clear that it lacks a bit of the flair and character that Dragonís Lair has in exchange for the complexity. The animation is more closely related to Saturday morning cartoons, and game play is fairly slow. The big advantage of this DVD is that you can play a fairly comprehensive adventure game on a standard DVD player Ė no computer necessary!
While itís nice to be able to use a standard DVD remote control to play, too many concessions had to be made in the interface to make the game easy to play. With the other laser disc games, all that was required were simple directional movements, but in Shadoan, there are several screens that one must dig through to find items, perform actions, etc. Itís not as smooth as many current computer adventure game interfaces, and, unfortunately, it seriously hampered my enjoyment of the game.
DVD is the perfect medium for transferring Dragonís Lair and other old laser disc games to the home video market. Both optical storage systems operate in very similar ways, so the DVD version plays almost identically to the arcade version. In fact, the DVD performs better than the laser disc because a technical limitation of laser discs caused the screen to black out in-between scenes, but the DVD plays right through with only a slight pause in the animation. Additionally, DVD remote controls have been designed with a set of arrow keys and an "enter" button. Because these are the same basic controls required by the original arcade game, no additional hardware is required to play, and the game is quite playable with the DVD remote control.
The best advantage of the DVD version: No quarters! When youíve exhausted your five Dirks per game, you can simply continue from the last scene by hitting the "Enter" key. One minor advantage is that, unlike the arcade game, the DVD provides a visual "move" cue for the players. A small empty diamond appears in the lower right corner of the screen when a move is required from the player. Purists may not like this feature, but for many, it will be a very helpful tool. If the correct button is pressed, the diamond changes to the depressed key, in yellow, and the game continues. An incorrect selection generates the depressed key in blue and your character dies.
One last, quick point about the disc has to do with the formatting. These discs are currently available for use on standard DVD players, but they evidently will NOT work on Sonyís PlayStation 2 (PS2) game console, which is capable of playing DVDs. Iím not entirely sure about the incompatibility, since I donít own a PS2, but Digital Leisure has a special version of their discs for the PS2. It turns out that the PS2 versions will run just fine on standard DVD players! If you have a PS2 and a DVD player or DVD-ROM drive and want to play the game on either system, it probably best to go ahead and pick up the PS2 version.
You have to keep in mind that some of these games were made almost 20 years ago, and there wasnít a need to collect a lot of "bonus" audio and visual material for a home video release, since that concept didnít really exist back then. Because of this, these DVDs are a bit light on bonus material relative to other DVD titles. There are a few cool tidbits to mention that were provided by the game designers:
All four of those titles have two other additions: a series of previews for other Digital Leisure games (Dragonís Lair: Time Warp, Space Ace, etc.) and a "movie mode." The previews are generally the splash animation that was played on the arcade game when it was not being played. Theyíre kind of neat to watch, but thereís not a lot there. The other feature allows you to watch the game be played through without having to interact with it. If you get too frustrated playing the game, you can just play the whole game as if it was a cartoon. Itís a nice option to have with this type of game.
Shadoan doesnít have any bonus material. That is not a problem because youíd be too busy trying to figure out what you are supposed to be doing to look at any!
The Video, Audio and Interface...
Since the arcade games of the early 1980s were played on small, slightly modified TV screens, all of the laser disc games were originally filmed to fit in the full-frame format (1.33:1), so the video on the DVD is pretty basic. As for the video itself, the game animation on all of these discs was re-mastered prior to being transferred to DVD, and the games look really good, with vibrant colors and great detail.
The audio soundtracks, for most of the games are also basic Ė theyíre in 2.0 Dolby Digital (stereo), but they come across as mono for most titles. The audio in the games consists of a few voice clips, some music, and a lot of incidental noises, so thereís not much to them, however, they have been re-mastered, and they are nice and clear and should sound good on any system. Space Ace has a couple of scenes that have surround activity on my Dolby Pro Logic system, but other than that, donít expect these discs to push your audio system to its limits.
(The one exception is Shadoan. Besides a pretty nice 2.0 Dolby Digital (stereo) soundtrack, it also has a DTS 2.0 (stereo) soundtrack. For those folks that have DTS decoders, donít expect wonders out of this simple DTS soundtrack. For those that donít have a DTS receiver, this disc isnít a reason to run out and get one.)
The menu systems on the four games are about as basic as it gets. Thereís a main menu from which you may select to play the game, view the historical footage, watch the previews, or watch the movie mode. If you sit on the main menu long enough, you are treated with the gameís splash animation, just like the arcade game Ė great touch. On the other hand, Shadoan suffers from a rather complicated interface that makes going from scene to scene difficult, and the menu screen icons are not terribly self- explanatory. The manual describes them, but when you are playing, their purposes are not clear and, in some cases, difficult to see on the TV screen.
The Final Evaluations...
This DVD is a great nostalgic blast for those of us that poured our hard earned quarters into this arcade game classic, and for the others, it is a fun way to kill a lot of time watching and interacting with the great Don Bluth character animation. The news clips are neat to watch once, but the game is really the only thing on this disc. You may want to give this disc a trial spin before plunking down the bucks, but if you were a serious fan, definitely check it out.
I didnít spend my youth playing Space Ace as much as I did with Dragonís Lair, but I really enjoy the creative animation and concept of an interactive cartoon. This disc contains another great example of the genre, and the DVD carries on the tradition quite successfully. Like the Dragonís Lair disc, the news clips are fun to watch, but the game itself is the gold on the disc. Fans should definitely check this one out, and other interested folks should give it a try before they buy.
Dragonís Lair II: Time Warp
As with the first two games, this third DVD rounds out the amazing trilogy that Rick Dyer and Don Bluth put together in the 1980s. If you like genre, youíll need to check this one out too, but donít look for a lot of in-depth background info or bonus material Ė all of these discs are pretty bare bones.
Hologram Time Traveler
While it was fun to see this game again, unfortunately, this unique arcade game doesnít really make a great transition to DVD. The draw for the original was the projection system, but on a TV, the game looses a lot of its appeal. The whole 3D feature is worthless, and doesnít help bring back the fascinating look of the original. If youíre really curious about seeing this one, give it a rent, otherwise, save the money for one of the earlier games.
The concept is neat, the animation is okay, but the execution needed some work to function well on a standard DVD player. Youíll have to be a big fan of adventure games and animation to pick this one up, but Iíd give it a serious test run before buying it.
I have to say that I havenít thought about many of these games for years, and it was a pleasure taking a look at them. I especially enjoyed the old classic arcade games on DVD, and Iím glad that Digital Leisure has made them available to the DVD community. There were several laser disc games that were released after Dragonís Lair, so itíll be interesting to see if more of those titles make their way to DVD like these have.
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