Thanks to a dip in profits while the arcade industry suffered massive losses, it was eight years between Dragon’s Lair and Dragon’s Lair II: Timewarp. While the ‘90s arcade scene will undoubtedly be remembered for fighting games, Dragon’s Lair II still offered something no other game could: Don Bluth’s animation.
Whereas the first game was set solely in a castle in which adventurous Dirk the Daring tried to rescue Daphne, the sequel turns into a mind trip, sending Dirk to a number of locations that defy description.
Take the Beethoven sequence, in which a shrunken Dirk is met with resistance from a hungry cat. Beethoven furiously plays his piano with Dirk struggling to avoid being smashed. Unexplained, the piano rises into the air, swirling musical note become deadly projectiles, and that cat defies all physics as it continues to swipe at the hero.
For all of its bizarre tendencies during a brief 10 minute run time, Dragon’s Lair II delivers some wonderful animation. Inside an Egyptian pyramid, the player must swing around on ropes carrying a mummified Daphne, when another mummy bursts from its coffin confines to grab her as a mate. Another sequence is a significantly disturbing take on the garden on Eden, including Eve as you’ve never seen her (or wanted to).
Taken as a game, Dragon’s Lair II doesn’t change itself. Players must still react inhumanly fast to guide Dirk around the screen when prompted. Using the term “game” is loose at best as it’s no more in-depth than the flood of full-motion video games of the era on the Sega CD.
The difference is the animated touch, and skilled hands of Don Bluth. Where other FMV games of the era used corny sets, no-name actors, and cheap technology, Dragon’s Lair is flashy, colorful, and a joy to watch or play. While it’s not necessarily more “fun” than any of those other games, taken as an animated short (as you can on this Blu-ray), this is a lively piece of Bluth animation, whimsical and incoherent.
Digital Leisure has chosen MPEG-2 for a compression codec, and while there are no comparisons, a more advanced codec (AVC) might have cleared up some of the problems with this transfer. Simply put, MPEG-2 can’t handle the fine grain structure, leading to noise and artifacting. The worst is undoubtedly on Beethoven’s blue-ish/purple coat, which is a mess of blocky pixels instead of film grain. The bright reds of the card segment are also a problem.
Despite the artifacting, this is a wonderful restoration, and the game has been given new life in HD. Colors burst off the screen with a richness the game has never previously been afforded. Clarity is remarkable, and brief dips in sharpness are rare (and minor). The print contains a sparse number of damage specs, hardly noticeable given the pace of the action. Both the original 4×3 and stretched 16×9 versions are available. Video problems occur in both.
Sticking with a compressed Dolby Digital 5.1 track, Dragon’s Lair II sounds fair. Fidelity is better than expected given the age. The LFE channel is left alone, leaving the animation sounding flat. The surrounds track poorly, coming through as more of a jumbled mess than an accurate representation of what’s on screen. The card battle is a perfect example, where the all of the effects are loaded into every speaker, instead of individually delivering positional audio.
It’s almost a shame there isn’t an option for the original audio. The remix included here is fair in terms of clarity, but the effect of updating it is lost.
A picture-in-picture video commentary from Don Bluth and Gary Goldman is nicely informative. It’s a change of pace from Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace where they spent most of their time gushing about how great the animation looked in HD. There are little production anecdotes, talk of how Bluth wanted alternate endings, and their concept for the sequel.
What’s odd is that the commentary contains all of the death sequences, whereas if you choose to watch the film by itself from the menu, it excludes them. An original attract sequence is also used for commentary, bringing the running time up to 14 minutes.
An interview with the commentary participants repeats a slight amount of information, but does offer deeper insights into the reason for a five-year production hiatus, why the deleted scene was deleted, and player response. A progression reel has been on each Digital Leisure release, comparing previous releases to the new hi-def edition. Obviously, there is no comparison in terms of which looks the best. An animatic for the deleted pirate ship sequence is followed by some trailers.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us by Digital Leisure. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.