In an era where arcade game graphics were along the lines of Space Invaders or Asteroids (i.e., blocky, crude line drawings), games like Dragon’s Lair were major quarter-eaters. I easily blew $50 trying to beat the dragon, or, more accurately, trying to navigate the castle only to be smacked down long before I made it to the actual lair. While this is a major arcade classic, it is so on graphics alone (that’s a screen shot, and miles ahead of the the black-and-white games there were still common when Dragon’s Lair came out).
Gameplay is simple in principle. The knight, Dirk the Daring, enters a room. Some part of the room will flash (and this can be very subtle). The player then clicks the joystick either left, right, up, or down, or clicks the “sword” button. An animation then plays. If the player clicked the right direction at the right time, the animation shows Dirk escaping danger, or slaying a bad guy. If not, Dirk dies, usually in some amusing way. And that’s the whole game–no real skill required.
Still, those graphics kept pulling me in, if only to see myself die in yet another gruesome way. There were actually a few other games like this, such as Space Ace and Mad Dog, but they never really caught on. I imagine it’s because if I was going to blow 50 cents (an expensive arcade game in those days, when you could get two games of pinball for a quarter), it just made sense to play Dragon’s Lair, a game I could at least survive sixty seconds on (and I’m not kidding, a game could go really fast), rather than risk my hard-earned quarters on what would be an even briefer experience.
Nobody I knew back then could beat Dragon’s Lair, but that was in the pre-internet days. Now they have things like web-sites and walkthroughs. Once I had those, I beat the whole game in under 15 minutes. If, like me, you still have some unfinished business in this game, blowing a few bucks for a Steam download is well worthwhile (and the walkthrough is free).