DRAGON'S LAIR 3D / UbiSoft / PC
Dragon's Lair 3D is a great concept on paper. Take the colorful world of the original Dragon's Lair, but remove the 1983 technological constraints and let the player move about freely in it! Unfortunately, it was released in 2002, perhaps a bit ahead of its time, and it suffers quite a bit for overconfidence in what the designers and the technology were actually capable of.
The first issue you run headfirst into is that of the controls. Fortunately, the game recognized my Saitek USB gamepad. If it hadn't, it would have been virtually unplayable! This is because the default keyboard control setup is one of the most poorly thought out I've ever seen. To make matters worse, there's some sort of glitch that prevents you from customizing the keys. Dirk has a whole shmorgasboard of controls you have to use to get past the various challenges, and trying to hold the R key to run while also pressing ALT to jump, manipulating the arrow keys to change direction, and also getting the camera pointed in the right direction with the mouse is just insane to ask of the player. Important commands are also in weird, seemingly random locations - you press CTRL to sheath your sword, Space to swing, and B to block? What kind of Gargantor hand do you have to have for that to be even close to comfortable?
The "QTE" style of the original Dragon's Lair was about as simple and stripped-down as game input could get. You moved between distinct screens, each screen had one correct input sequence. You get it right, you move on. You don't, you're dead. While it could be irritating and sometimes unfair, I'm not sure Dragon's Lair 3D's new "Xbox game with 1000 different commands" approach is all that much better, and it's certainly a complete break with the established gameplay style.
The game is really more like Tomb Raider skinned with Dragon's Lair characters and settings than anything approaching what we've come to expect from Dragon's Lair. Sure, Dirk has all his improbably athletic moves, and they've taken great pains to recreate all the scenes and characters from the original game here. But it just doesn't have a consistent look or feel. One major problem is the graphics. Dirk and his enemies have been given a cel-shading treatment and actually look pretty good and move pretty fluidly ... just not quite like the hand-drawn animation of the original. And the backgrounds have not been given the same high level of treatment, instead using very generic-looking textures that don't look much better than something from a Nintendo 64 Castlevania game.
Another problem is simply the gameplay style and layout. Between the "famous scenes" there's a lot of padding of generic platform-jumping and killing of repetitive enemies such as the Giddy Goons and flying furniture. Enemies in the Laserdisc original were menacing, because they represented instant death if you even screwed up just a bit. Here, they're mostly bumbling clods that only threaten to chip off your life bar a bit, and are easily dispatched even with Dirk's generic, clumsy sword swing. There's simply little sense of tension in facing the major antagonists of the game. This is not to say, however, that the game isn't challenging - in an ill-advised nod to the original, it's packed with cheap insta-death traps, falling into one of which means replaying a potentially lengthy scenario of repetitive platform-jumping and Goon-bashing over multiple times.
Had the Dragon folks simply sat on this idea for 5 or 10 more years to wait for hardware to catch up with the ability to render a fully cel-shaded world (and also mooch the benefit of 3D platformer gameplay design), this could have really been something. Maybe incorporating QTE scenes for the game's major encounters, or to keep you on your toes in a sequence here and there. Instead this came out too early and just looks and plays like a generic 3D platformer from the first half of the previous decade. But hey, with everyone "rebooting" everything these days, there's no reason they can't take another crack at it on the current-gen systems. I mean, everyone forgot about Prince of Persia 3D and became so enamored with the Sands of Time branch they eventually got a movie deal out of it. Give it some thought, guys!
* Gameplay Video