More animation than you can shake a stick at!

Dragon's Lair 3: The Curse of Mordread logo

READYSOFT * £34.99 * 512k * Joystick/keyboard * Out now

Anyone who has experienced the previous Dragon's Lair games will no doubt be familiar with the story, which consists of the fairly standard nasty witch/wizard kidnaps beautiful princess/maiden, holds her random for no apparent reason and cackles evilly as the kingdom rallies round in panic-type tale.
But for those who aren't clued up, I'll tell you more - because, unusually, the story is a major part of the game in this particular instance.

Daphne (the princess type) found herself kidnapped by some warlock geezer named Mordroc - Lord only knows why, but there you go. Anyway, Dirk the Daring (that's you) sets off on a dangerous rescue mission. The reason? Daphne is your sweetheart and you're going to get married.

Well, Mordroc must have some reason for his purloinment of the princess, and it's unreasonable and rather native to believe that he would simply hand her back to Dirk without a peep..
Which of course he doesn't - in fact it is only Dirk's quick-witted cunning that enables him to divert the warlock's magic onto the man himself, allowing him to rescue his betrothed and sweep her back to the enchanted (surprise, surprise) forest where they resume a life of happiness together.

No-one seems to live in towns in these games, do they? But it isn't that easy. Mordroc had a sister, Mordread, and she's none too chuffed that her sibling has been killed. Black magic runs in the Mor family it seems, and Mordread swears to avenge the death of her brother by condemning Dirk and Princess Mrs Dirk to the Vortex of Eternity, where they will never grow old and never die. Hey, real punishment - we should introduce her to Walt Disney.

So the Vortex of Eternity it is then, and again it's up to Dirk to perform the suitably heroic deeds that will free him and the missus from his terrible fate.

The game is split into 20-odd levels, which are actually only single animated sequences, so packed with colour, detail and effects that it takes about half a dozen to fit them all in.
Dirk is faced with a problem in each sequence, related to the trouble conjured up by Mordread, which he must obviously solve in order to progress.

Having booted up the machine and loaded the game, I was absolutely gobsmacked by the brilliant animation of Don Bluth (last seen in Guy Spy, for the curious among you) that virtually leapt out of the screen at me. My God! This was going to be brilliant!
Or so I thought. As it transpires, the gamer is not in total control of Dirk in true arcade style - there are a limited number of moves he can make, and instead of initiating the action you must take note of what happens around you and respond to it.

Unfortunately, and quite unbelievably, your responses are limited not only in terms of movement but also in terms of the time at which they must be carried out.
Whereas pushing back on the joystick or keys would normally - obviously - move your character backwards, Dragon's Lair for some reason insists that your move is carried out at the exact time the programmers intended it, otherwise Dirk will simply not respond.

The obvious moves are not always the correct ones to make, and even if you do choose correctly, then unless it's timed just right you'll lose a life, and may quite reasonably think that you made an incorrect choice.
If this sounds laboured I apologise, but unless you have actually experienced the frustration of this as I have then it's difficult to understand just what how ridiculously unplayable the whole thing is, which is a real shame as the presentation is absolutely superb.

Dragon's Lair 3 resembles a high class running animation demo more than a game, but even as such is rendered close to useless because of the difficulty in accessing the later levels.
After being treated to the stunning level of detail, I am genuinely disappointed by this game as it offers nothing in the way of gameplay and is far too expensive to purchase just as an animation package.

If the playability came even remotely close to the presentation then Dragon's Lair 3 would be a worthy winner of a Gamer Gold - as it is, unless you desperately need to see some beautiful animation and have plenty of cash to spare, I just can't see any reason to buy it, which is sad.

Dragon's Lair 3: The Curse of Mordread logo

After the original Dragon's Lair game died a death in the arcades and on disk, who had have thought that Readysoft would ever get the third incarnation on to the Amiga? Believe it or not...

Sit back, relax, and imagine a perfect gaming world. One where graphics, sound and gameplay all come together seamlessly to form the ultimate game. Moreover, the ultimate game is also available for the same price as a compact disc.

Was that good for you as it was for me? Well, I am sorry, but we were both dreaming. Back in the real world, games can cost upwards £20, and good gameplay is an exception, rather than the rule.

Makers of Dragon's Lair III - ReadySoft - have the knack of creating games which stretch the average Amiga's graphics and sound to its limits. Graphics that make a Disney blockbuster look fairly passé, and a soundtrack which would not look out of place on CD and cassette. But - and it is one hell of a big but - their games lack any decent remnants of gameplay.

So does Dragon's Lair III break the mould? As expected, the graphics and sound are excellent throughout. No qualms there then. The animation is some of the best you will find in a game - bright colours, sharp outlines and very smooth movement. You really could not ask for more.

The sound is equally impressive, using samples throughout, and there are ample amounts of speech. But this quality of sound is repeatedly broken up every time that you have to access one of the seven disks! With a single floppy drive gameplay is at its best dull, and at its worst downright irritating.

But I will just install it on to my hard disk, so it won't be a problem after the first initial loading. I hear you say. Wrong there I am afraid. Just to make you suffer that little bit more, Dragon's Lair III is not hard disk installable! On top of that, the graphics screens only load one by one when required, although this does not utilise any extra memory. Anyway, on with the story...

Impressive or what?
In Dragon's Lair II, Dirk the Daring - supreme warrior and all-round nice guy - rescues his girl Daphne from an evil wizard called Mordroc. In doing so he has to drop the nice-guy image and throw a few blinding punches at the old wiz.

Well, in Lair III you play Dirk again and the storyline follows in a similar vein, but this time Dirk's darling Daphne has been abducted by Mordroc's witch sister, Mordread. Dirk, being the kind of man he is, goes to the rescue again, chasing the evil kidnapper through Alice in Wonderland world. To survive, Dirk must face up to fights and terrible tricks being played by all the members of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, the Queen of Hearts and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

Play then continues through several different time zones in which various famous people of the era are featured. Beethoven plays his Ninth Symphony while his vicious pet cat attacks you. Amusing scenes like this are accentuated by the expressions on the characters' faces.

Playable? Nah!
There is really one thing that makes or breaks a computer game - and that is playability. Graphics and sound cannot get you completely and utterly hooked. If a game does not make you want to forget about the rest of your life, then it just does not work in my book. All that Dragon's Lair III makes you do is long for the refuge of day-time TV - though it is more aesthetically pleasing than Richard and Judy.

The gameplay has the same old problem that dogged the previous versions: you have no direct control over Dirk. That is right - a few seconds of animation, you place Dirk in a potentially lethal situation, and you twitch the joystick in the vague hope that you choose the right direction to move Dirk out of danger. But which way? Left, right, up, down, or even diagonal, who knows? The whole thing boils down to trial and error.

Charging through the scenes soon loses its appeal, and eventually you are stuck in a scene that seems to ignore all logical joystick movements. So you press fire, which does not work either. 'Timing is important', says the manual, which could not be more true. If you do not move the joystick in the fight direction until you are blue in the face without any effect whatsoever.

All that playing the game seems to be at the end of the day is a test of memory. Trying to remember 27 joystick movements in a row can be quite difficult. Thankfully, Lair III comes with a save-game option, which, although it is not the best of systems, does stop all the trudging through early levels again and again.

Third-time lucky?
Even with all these serious faults Dragon's Lair III does improve on versions I and II, even if it is only because it seems a tad longer. It is a bit crinkly, and generally quite sad. Good graphics and sound no more make a good game than appearances make a good cake. All the icing in the world could not save this release from the realms of mediocrity.

Ein ritterliches Déja Vu

Dragon's Lair 3: The Curse of Mordread logo

Wusstet Ihr eigentlich, dass das erste Arcade-Abenteuer von Ritter Dirk gleichzeitig das allererste Laserdisc-Game der Coin-Op-Geschichte war? Ja? Wir auch, aber recht viel Neueres gibt es halt hier nicht zu erzählen.

Um den Drachen gleich aus der Höhle zu lassen: Wer sich vom jungsten Teil der scheinbar unendlichen Serie irgendetwas anderes erwartet als das obligate spielbare Grafikdemo mit bombastischer Präsentation und minutenlanger Motivation, der kennt ReadySoft aber schlecht. Nicht genug damit, dass das Gameplay wieder aus der üblichen, szenenweise abgespulten Hetzjagd nach altbekanntem Muster besteht, darüberhinaus wurden diesmal großzügige Anleihen bei den direkten und indirekten Vorgängern ("Space Ace") sowie diversen Zeichentrickfilmen der Disney-Factory genommen. Aber die Fans werden zufrieden sein, und der Rest der Welt hat eh schon weitergeblättert...

Selbstverständlich hat sich Prinzessin Daphne auch diesmal wieder entführen lassen - anstatt sich endlich mal den hübschen Kopf darüber zu zerbrechen, warum sie eigentlich jedem hergelaufenen Kidnapper auf den Leim geht! Aber da braucht bloß die Hexe Mordread aufzutauchen (die sich dafür rächen will, daß Dirk letztes Mal ihren Bruder Mordroc erledigt hat), und schon verschwindet sie samt Kind, Kegel und Wohnhütte in einer riesigen Zeitmschine.

Der völlig verdatterte Held kann gerade noch hinterhüpfen, und am anderen Zeit-Ende bekommen altgediente Drachentöter dann jede Menge Wiedererkennungseffekte serviert: zunächst einen Kampf auf einem überdimensionalen Schachbrett, danach bietet sich ein Lindwurm als Reittier an, anschließend kommt ausnahmsweise ein richtig originelles Duell mit Beethovens Katze. Die nächste Szene spielt auf einem Piratenschiff, und so geht es immer weiter, bis man die flatterhafte Daphne wieder an die Ritterbrust drücken kann. Dirk wechselt dabei via Zeitmaschine von einem Abschnitt zum nächsten, eine tiefere Bedeutung hat dieses Feature allerdings nicht.

Während ReadySoft zuletzt bei "Guy Spy" wenigstens ansatzweise versuchte, der Präsentations-Orgie einen Hauch von Spielbarkeit zu verleihen, knüpft Dragon's Lair III nahtlos an die Serien-Tradition an. Positiv gesehen heißt das zum Beispiel, daß es 60 Einzelszenen mit filmreifer Zeichentrick-Grafik (1.500 Animationsphasen!) und guter, wenn auch nicht überragender Soundbegleitung zu bestaunen gibt. Andererseits beschränken sich die Eingriffsmöglichkeiten des Spielers dadurch halt wieder auf das Drücken des Feuerknopfs im richtigen Moment und die berühmten Ausweichbewegungen in alle vier Himmelsrichtungen - der Tastaturbetrieb ist ebenfalls möglich, ganz wie gewohnt. Ansonsten kriegt man ein paar nette Gags geboten (z.B. läuft der Arme Dirk nun eine ganze Weile in Frauenkleidern herum); dafür wurden manche Game Over-Sequenzen schlichtweg 1:1 vom Vorgänger übernommen.

Was soll man noch sagen? Eingeschworene Bildschirmritter brauchen das Teil natürlich um jeden Preis, alle anderen nicht einmal geschenkt. (mm)

Dragon's Lair 3: The Curse of Mordread logo

Part three of the bizarre interactive cartoon thing is here.

We have been through this so many times, but let us say it again. Do graphics make a game? The answer, as the Dragon's Lair and Space Ace series have consistently proved, is no. These games contain possibly the best graphics you will find anywhere, but the problem is that there is no gameplay to accompany them. Is this instalment any different?

For those of you who have not come across these games before, this is how it goes: Our hero is Dirk the Daring, and for some long forgotten reason he keeps getting his girlfriend Daphne nicked. It is your job to rescue the damsel in distress.

Now to the gameplay. Er, what gameplay? No, there is some. You see, the story unfolds in front of you as a series of animated scenes, and at key points in the action you use the joystick to determine Dirk's fate. This usually consists of one move, such as 'joystick left' or 'press fire' or sometimes a couple of moves in quick succession. If you are successful the narrative continues until you come to the next point at which you need to wiggle the joystick.

There are plenty of cartoons on TV

Okay, that is the past, so what does this game do to improve on the previous efforts? Well, I am sorry to say, precious little. Once again Dirk manages to lose his girl (I would look for somebody else if I were Daphne), this time to old enemy Mordroc's sister Mordread. The poor girl is whisked away from their idyllic cottage in happy-ever-after-land, and from the start Dirk gives chase in his inimitable fashion.

All in this game Dirk's whisked into an Alice in Wonderland world where he encounters Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter's tea party and all the other Lewis Carrol classics that people so often rely on when they have run out of ideas of their own. It all looks wonderful as usual, but I am afraid the gameplay is in no way improved. It is the same "watch for thirty seconds then make a move" stuff. And the scenes are broken up in the weirdest places. You will be in the middle of a scene when suddenly the game will access the disk to load in the next scene.

There are some improvements. It is hard drive installable, which with seven disks is important. If you are running the game from hard drive then the game is saved automatically whenever you get through a scene, which saves a lot of bother, and helps to give the game a flow it otherwise lacks. With one drive it is a bit of a nightmare, as every few scenes requires a disk change, and if you die in a later scene you have to reload the original disk, then the saved game disk, then the disk with the scene on - phew, what a pain.

The manual does not give you a complete solution, but it does give you a few tips on what is required of you in each scene. The problem is that in some scenes you might be doing the right thing but not at the right time, and there is no way of knowing.

Having said that the game is remarkably easy to get through, and at the very most you will get a week's worth of playing out of it. At 35 quid that is too much to spend on such a limited game. And after all, there are plenty of cartoons on TV that cost nothing to watch. Not worth it, really?