Dragon’s Lair Trilogy v Sega Genesis Classics (IGC Retro Bowl I)

Welcome to the first IGC Retro Bowl. Here’s the idea: two classic game collections will be pitted head-to-head with each other in a variety of categories. Whichever game wins the most wins and moves on to face the next challenger. The loser takes their seat somewhere on the IGC Retro Board, which is like the Leaderboard but for Retro Collections instead of indies. That’s coming soon.

By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, this is the first feature in IGC history where I’m not paying for every game featured. These are not indie games, and I really can’t justify buying games that were not remotely aimed at me. Some of these were supplied by fans who wanted me to experience (or suffer) through the games of their childhood. Others have been supplied by the companies themselves. I’ve also bought a few for myself and will continue to buy others if this feature takes off.

What collections to look forward to for IGC Retro Bowl? Here’s what I already have for it, and I expect to get more:

  • Rare Replay
  • Midway Origins
  • SNK 40th Anniversary Collection
  • NES Classic Edition
  • SNES Classic Edition
  • Capcom Arcade Cabinet
  • Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle
  • Atari Flashback Classics (Switch version)
  • Mega Man Legacy Collection
  • Mega Man Legacy Collection 2
  • Disney Afternoon
  • Namco Museum Arcade Pac

And of course, today’s contenders..

IN THIS CORNER
Dragon’s Lair Trilogy
$19.99 for Nintendo Switch
3 arcade games released between 1983 – 1991
Game supplied by a fan.

IN THE OTHER CORNER
Sega Genesis Classics
$29.99 for Switch, PlayStation 4, & Xbox One
53 console games released between 1988 – 1997 (51 on Switch)
Game supplied by Sega.

I hate FMV games. I’m getting that chiseled on my tombstone. Dragon’s Lair wasn’t the first FMV game. Funny enough, Sega barely beat them to the market with Astron Belt, even though work on it was done much sooner than Dragon’s Lair. But while Astron Belt bombed so badly that you’ve probably never heard of it, Dragon’s Lair went on to become a bonafide legend. It’s still fondly remembered today. I had barely played it at all before a fan bought it for me for this feature and really didn’t understand it. But, I go into every game with as open a mind as humanly possible, and this was no exception.

As for the Genesis, it had NOTHING to do with my childhood. My father insisted he did own a Genesis, and eventually we did find one in the attic. It had two games (Altered Beast and Super Monaco GP) and looked like it had barely been touched. My gaming upbringing really didn’t begin until the PlayStation 1 in 1996. Funny enough, the oldest game released in this set came out in North America a year after I got my PS1. Anyway, I’m known for shitting on Sega games, Sonic especially. So imagine my surprise when Sega actually sent me a code (initially from my friend/surrogate little brother Jon). When I finally spoke to them, I was fully open that I wasn’t the biggest fan. But they were smart enough to know that it didn’t matter if I was. Once my fans saw I was playing the set, they’d find out it existed at all and rush out to buy it. And they did. Sega’s message to me was essentially “sock it to us.” Which is pretty much what happened. And my older readers responded by buying the set OUT OF SPITE for me. Sega: they’re smart cookies.

And so, for our first every IGC Retro Bowl, we’re going to pit these two collections featuring games I have no nostalgia for against each other. Which will soar and which will sink?

Yea, this is a tremendous waste of time. Dragon’s Lair has about as much chance as no-armed golfer using his mouth to swing the club at Augusta. But work with me here.

PRESENTATION

Sega Genesis Classics’ menu is themed like a typical 90s child’s bedroom. Well, an idealized, borderline fantasy one. It’s too clean, among other things. Games are displayed on a wooden rack. You can move the games you enjoy into their own section, which is a nice feature. Selecting games sees them inserted into the Genesis. You can even eject the carts afterwards. There’s a huge variety of options to run the emulation too. Of course, it kind of sucks that sometimes the emulator shits the bed, especially displaying text in games like the Phantasy Star and Shining Force titles.

I questioned on Twitter whether children of the 90s really would have a record player. Most people said yea, they would. I still find that hard to believe but they insist. Guess it’s true.

Dragon’s Lair Trilogy has a much fewer options. You can display the games with or without an arcade cabinet. You can turn on and off the movements guides. Turning them off is something only the most sadomasochistic person would ever consider. But really, the most noteworthy aspect is how bad figuring out what’s highlighted on the menus can be. Take a look here and tell me which of the two options is selected?

Believe it or not, CONTINUE is what’s selected right now. I have no clue why they decided to make the duller color the cursor, but they did. And that combines with other issues. There’s no language options, which is weird because you’re watching a movie. I mean, sorta. And while the extra features are nice (more on them later), you can’t skip to different parts of the interview, nor can you rewind or fast forward. You either watch it all at once or not at all. Lame.
Edge: Sega Genesis Classics

HISTORIC IMPORTANCE

Dragon’s Lair is slightly more than a weird anomaly. In 1983, it received the largest order for units in the history of the Chicago Coin convention. It shattered every previous record, by some accounts securing more orders than all other games at the show combined. That order was for $10,000,000. That’s in 1983 dollars, or over $30,000,000 in today’s dollar. For an arcade game. Granted, Dragon’s Lair cost between 3 to 5 times as much as other games did, but still, it’s pretty noteworthy. And that investment did pay off for arcade operators. Arcades were starting to decline, but Dragon’s Lair brought players back and kept them there. Even being the first upright game to charge $0.50 a play didn’t deter gamers.

In a set based on an anomaly, Space Ace is itself an anomaly. Of the three, I think it has the best story and best animation. It certainly has the highest potential to become a property with actual value today. Besides, it’s about emasculating a dude-bro. I heard that’s topical today.

For a few months at least. What Dragon’s Lair really did was attract a crowd to arcades so they could check out the latest titles from other manufacturers. Dragon’s Lair was neat to watch, but players quickly caught on that it wasn’t really interactive. You had no control over Dirk the Daring and once the novelty wore off, so did Dragon Lair’s use. It didn’t help the machines were prone to breaking down. No game from its era displayed “out of order” signs more than Dragon’s Lair. When Space Ace came along, the boom was even briefer. Funny enough, Dragon’s Lair was so uncommon by 1991 that Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp also very briefly caused an arcade resurgence. And once again, the same thing happened: fans quickly caught on that it was a horrible game and moved on to other things. Still, people do remember it for reasons other than being shitty, and that counts for something. I had a gamer from that era tell me that Dragon’s Lair was like a bright, beautiful shooting star. Look away for even a second and you miss it completely, but everyone who saw it will never forget it.

But the historical significance of Dragon’s Lair pales in comparison to the Genesis. They’re polar opposites in terms of their trajectories. Dragon’s Lair made a major impact immediately and then fizzled out quickly. The Genny arrived with little fanfare and support. Gamers of the time wanted to wait on the next new Nintendo console. But then an incredible marketing campaign (Genesis Does What NintenDon’t), an aggressive free-game for early adopters program, competitive pricing and the arrival of Sonic T. Hedgehog turned around the fortunes of the console. By time the SNES launched, the Genesis was legitimate competition for it, and that carried on for the entire generation. The Master System flopped. The Saturn flopped. The Dreamcast, regretfully, flopped. Sega still carries clout and reverence to this day, and the main reason for that is the Genesis.
Major Edge: Sega Genesis Classics

 

Oh my God, Genny fans will hate me for this: I actually liked Toejam & Earl 2 more than the original, which I didn’t like at all. I think the idea for TJ&E was great and this was a case of being ahead of its time. “The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak” type of deal based on the limitations of the Genesis. That’s why I’m excited for the upcoming reboot. It’s going to be what the original wanted to be and wasn’t.

BEST AND WORST GAMES

I blitzed through all fifty-one games in the Switch port of Genny Classics over a two-day period. Twenty of those games got a more in-depth look from me afterwards. But during that initial blitz, only one of the games had me so sucked in that I couldn’t put it down until the credits rolled. That game was Gunstar Heroes. I’d heard the stories of course, but most titles from that era that carry the legend of John Henry’s hammer never live up to their towering reputation. With Gunstar, I was so awed by the marvelous gameplay that I literally started to cry in euphoric elation. It was so fun. I couldn’t believe a game that good was in a collection that had so underwhelmed me up to that point. Not only does it hold up today, but it should be studied by all game design students. It drops all the bullshit and focuses on fun, tight shooting gameplay. It’s one of the 25 best games ever made, and the best Genesis exclusive from its generation. It’s probably worth $29.99 on its own.

Sometimes the legends live up to their reputation.

As for the stinkers, over half the set has games that couldn’t withstand the test of time, but, nothing really stands out as abysmal. Except Sonic Spinball, which was never good for its day. Riddled with slowdown and technical issues (no surprise, it was made in only two months in order to replace Sonic 3 for a Happy Meal tie-in), the game is almost unplayable. Even then, Sonic Spinball has more gameplay at its worst moment than any of the three games in Dragon’s Lair Trilogy has. FMV games are limited in their capabilities, but I can’t let that be an excuse for just how crushingly unfun these relics are. Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp probably plays the best of the collection. It’s more clear which direction you’re supposed to press, which is something you can’t say about a few rooms in Dragon’s Lair or especially Space Ace. I preferred Space Ace to Dragon’s Lair 1 because it has a little more going on with the energize concept, but none of these anti-classics are really all that playable. Plus, they’re so prohibitively difficult that I think the average gamer will never put more than five minutes at most into any one of the three games even if they want to. They’re putrid.
Major Edge: Sega Genesis Classics

 

Dragon’s Lair II was co-written by an author whose initials are L.S.D. if you catch my drift.

EXTRAS

Hey, congratulations Dragon’s Lair Trilogy! You didn’t get shutout! Due to licensing issues, the Genny collection couldn’t include things a true museum-style collection probably ought to, like the iconic Genesis advertising. I can understand that. What I can’t understand is why things like concept art or interviews weren’t included. You do get online play and leaderboards, but I found the co-op to be laggy. There’s also “challenges” on the Switch version which stand-in for achievements from other ports. It’s a low-effort affair, with the best “special” feature being alternate region versions of games like Streets of Rage that differ sometimes in small ways and sometimes in huge ways. It’s a nice touch, one that a lot of my fans were shocked but very happy to learn about.

Dragon’s Lair Trilogy has a few bonuses. There’s a twenty-minute or so interview with Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, and Rick Dyer. It’s not long, but there’s some nice info in it, including plans for a line of thirty (!) FMV games, none of which materialized. An unproduced concept, The Sea Beast and Barnacle Bill, was going to be inspired by vintage Popeye cartoons and even had a promotional flyer made. But, nah, a game based on golden age animation would never succeed.

There’s also the animatics for part of a deleted stage (complete with voice acting) from Dragon’s Lair II, attract screens, and the ability to watch the complete movies without playing them. Those tell you everything you really need to know about Dragon’s Lair: that the best extra feature is the ability to not play the game.
Major Edge: Dragon’s Lair Trilogy

 

The dude in the middle did all the work and got none of the credit. Then he went bankrupt trying to push a Laserdisc-based console. No happy endings here, anyone.

WHAT IS MISSING THE LEAST?

My first exposure to Dragon’s Lair as a franchise came at the age of 13 with the release of Dragon’s Lair 3D: Return to the Lair for Xbox and GameCube (and PS2 if you were in Europe, though I heard it was broken on that platform). When I heard the term “Dragon’s Lair Trilogy”, I honestly thought the third game was going to be that, not Space Ace. It aspired to be what people always wanted to be able to do with the original game: actually play it. With the invention of cel-shaded graphics, it was now possible to take full control over Dirk. Return to the Lair did recreate all the famous set-pieces from the arcade original, and it looked very convincing. But, the game controlled miserably, had a terrible camera, and just still wasn’t very fun. Still, at least it’s a game and not a glorified string of DVD menus. Also missing are more gamey ports of Dragon’s Lair. Data East released one for the SNES. Absolute released Space Ace for the SNES. A Dragon’s Lair III was released on Amiga computers. There’s not even a mention of them here. While getting the rights to these games might have been prohibitive, it’s regretful that there’s nothing here but the three famous laser disc games. Then again, since all these games sucked (the NES Dragon’s Lair is famous for it’s horribleness), we really aren’t missing that much. Thayer’s Quest is probably the biggest omission. It was a conversion kit for Dragon’s Lair and I assume Rick Dyer has to own the rights to it. And at least that has something resembling gameplay and interactivity. But ultimately, nothing important is missing.

The same can’t be said for Sega Genesis Classics. The Genesis was defined by its sports games, but none of those are here. Nor are celebrity games like Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. None of the three Ecco the Dolphin games are included. Sonic & Knuckles isn’t included. Sonic *3* isn’t included (apparently due to music issues). Eternal Champions isn’t included. It’s not as if these are minor omissions. These are first party Sega games that helped define the platform. Maybe they would have bumped the cost of the set up and that’s why a better effort wasn’t made to secure the rights to them. To which I say: I think most Genesis fans would have paid $10 more to have them involved. It’s not a complete set without them. Even stranger: the Switch version specifically is missing the two Wonder Boy games PS4 and XB1 owners got. Bizarre.
Edge: Dragon’s Lair Trilogy

 

Jokes aside, this would probably KILL upon solo re-release today. Someone really should get on it.

PLAY VALUE TODAY

All games are a product of their time, so perhaps the test of time is an unreasonable one. That doesn’t make it any less real. I didn’t grow up in either set’s respective eras. Their play value to me has to exist without historic context. Under those terms, at least the a few of the Sega Genesis Classics hold up reasonable well and can stand on their own merits. Besides Gunstar Heroes, I think the average gamer will still be able to enjoy games like Sonic 1 and 2 (I literally can’t believe I just said that), Alien Solider, the Streets of Rage games, the Shining Force games, and at least two of the three Phantasy Star Games included. There’s something for everyone here. And if you’re a slobbering 90s fanboy, that precious nostalgia dopamine is bound to hit even for stuff that aged especially poorly. You’ll feel like a kid again. And probably act like one too when you read how much younger people hate your childhood favorites.

A priest wants to “investigate” a bunch of children “to make sure nobody is hurt.” Well, if that’s not timeless, I don’t know what is.

I don’t think the same can be said about Dragon’s Lair Trilogy. No matter how fond your memories of it are, playing these games today is the pits. Putting aside how beautiful Don Bluth’s animation is, they have to also hold up as video games, and they don’t at all. They basically didn’t from the moment they launched. They’re frustrating, quarter-snatching slogs. Even by the low standards of FMV games, badly designed too. I can’t tell you how many times the on-screen indicator was placed in a way where it wasn’t clear if you’re supposed to move one direction or another. It forces you to use a guide that was added to this set in order to know what you’re supposed to do. The greatest irony of Dragon’s Lair and its ilk is that excelling at playing them can only be done by paying as little attention to the artwork and the storylines as possible. Only when you ignore the only possible reason you’d want to play them can they be played well. And that, above all else, makes them some of the absolute worst games ever made.
Major Edge: Sega Genesis Classics

 

WINNER
SEGA GENESIS CLASSICS

And let’s face it: it wasn’t even a fair battle. I had never played Space Ace or Dragon’s Lair II before I got this set, but having spent five minutes previously with a BluRay of Dragon’s Lair, I sort of had. I’m not taking anything away from what these games accomplished. But it’s pretty telling that most of the fondest memories from Golden Agers are not of actually playing Dragon’s Lair itself, but watching others play it on a second monitor most cabinets came with. I’m sure the visuals were mindblowing for their time. It’s not their time anymore. It stopped being their time long ago. Really, did any game lose its relevance faster during that era than Dragon’s Lair?

Sega Genesis Classics is hardly a flawless set. The lack of extras, frequent emulation issues, laggy online play, and perplexing omissions frustrate for sure. But there are games here that have value today, in 2019. More than one. I think there’s even games that initially were shit on, like Sonic 3D Blast, that are actually better than anyone gave them credit for being. Genesis Does indeed.

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