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Dragon's Lair for Commodore 64, immersed in the digital fantasy of another world

Updated the 06/12/2020 07:00 
 Dragon's Lair schermata iniziale

The fantasy genre in Video games has always been one of my favorites. It was 1986 and in the little booklet attached to a Com64 cassette I read the review of Dragon's Lair.

The news that Dragon's Lair had been made in six months had fascinated me, increasing the attraction for all digital worlds made of pixels and machine code. On the other hand, in 1986 I had my first Commodore 64 for about a year and I was taking the first steps in its programming.

Dirk the Daring the knight, Daphne the princess, Singe the evil dragon. The fairy tale characters were all there. Then came the setting of a castle, abysses, drawbridges, dungeons... and then mud monsters, wind spirits, ghost riders... the dream had come true, or rather a Video game. I had to have the tape.

I bought the tape in Syracuse from the store where I bought the Commodore 64. Beautiful, all laminated, with a little booklet of instructions, marked "ARMATI". Practically, without knowing it, I had bought yet another pirate Video game!

A good and wise ruler named Aethelred has a daughter named Daphne, whom he loves more than anything else. Daphne is a beautiful princess who is very much courted, but her heart belongs only to a knight of the king: Dirk the Daring.

One day a big, evil dragon named Singe appears. He wants to enslave the kingdom of King Aethelred. But Aethelred does not surrender to the dragon, so Singe kidnaps his daughter Daphne, takes her to his lair and imprisons her in a crystal ball. Singe wants the king to deny his kingdom before the sun sets!

The kingdom is prey to the deepest despair. Only the knight Dirk, whose heart belongs to Princess Daphne, remains lucid and decides to go and save his beloved. So he saddles his horse, arrives at the dragon's lair and the adventure begins.

The arcade version of Dragon's Lair was on laserdisc, an innovative technique that made use of cartoon animations recorded on laserdisc and sent in sequence according to the player's reactions. Consider that I didn't know anything about cabinets and laserdisc at the time, because in my town this Video game was never played.

Dragon's Lair for me was the one reviewed and the one I bought on tape for Commodore 64. I had no idea that the one for C64 was a conversion, among other things different from the original Video game made of beautiful animations. I could admire the animated scenes of Dragon's Lair only when it arrived a few years later on Amiga.

The Armed Drawer gave me another thing: Johann Pachelbel's love for Canon in D major. There was an intro with the sprite of the Armati logo spinning in a pseudo-3d, while Johann Pachelbel's beautiful music delighted my mind. Since then I have loved Johann Pachelbel's Canon, title and author of the classic song that I only knew many years later.

Let's go back to the Commodore 64 and the tape inside the datassette. The tape turns and at a certain point the loading ends. A wonderful opening screen appears, with the castle of Singe plunged into a forest of brambles. A dreamy music starts coming out of the Monitor speaker. Need I point out that I would never forget that music again? Colin Porch's song is the one you can hear in the player at the beginning of this article. Now make an effort of imagination and think of a thirteen-year-old boy, a Video game lover, fascinated by fantasy, listening to this presentation music, doubtful whether to continue listening to it fascinated by the castle in the background or start playing.

At the end I pressed the joystick button and the game started. First impact with a platform in free fall into a chasm. Dirk the Daring is on this kind of free-falling boulder, while demonic clouds are blowing on him trying to throw him off the platform. Dirk had to resist, i.e. I had to resist by rowing against the wind, until on the right side of the Monitor he came over a ledge on which I had to make Dirk jump, to save him from the abyss. And after repeated attempts, I finally succeeded!

The second level was simply made of a room, Dirk cubed, i.e. with more enlarged sprites that had to react to something. And that's when my game experience got miserably stuck. I suspect that the tape I bought didn't match the eight levels of the original version. Each level was a game in itself, and I found a trick to see them all, even though I vaguely remember the others. It consisted of resetting the C64 and loading the next level from the cassette!

But here my review stops, because the memories get hazy. The one for Commodore 64 was the conversion of a great Video game never reproducible on an 8 bit. From a lasergame we teenagers of the time found ourselves playing an action game that broadly resembled the original. Despite everything, the magic of Commodore 64 made this Video game unforgettable. It's a Video game that I'd love to play again now.