Dragon's Lair: The Sexiest Videogames of All Time (01)

Bill Loguidice's picture

In Armchair Arcade's fun new series, we ask the provocative question, "What makes a particular videogame sexy?" Each week's feature will explore some of the many intriguing approaches game designers have taken over the years to make their games more sensual, not just with increasingly detailed graphics, but also with romantic and seductive gameplay. While some of the games we'll be looking at are unabashedly low brow, displaying their raw sexuality like a badge of honor, other games in contrast are remarkably subtle, often downplaying their suggestive themes.

This week's entry, written by Bill Loguidice, is on the oft-ported arcade classic, Dragon's Lair. Enjoy, help spread the word, and of course, let us know what you think:

Dragon’s Lair

Developer: Advanced Microcomputer Systems
Publisher: Cinematronics, Taito
Release Date: 1983
Platforms: Arcade and most capable home platforms
Game Type: Action

There's a common phrase that sometimes less is more. Farrah Fawcett's legendary 1976 photo in the red, one piece swimsuit, which was presumably shot on an unusually nippy summer day, sold millions of posters, all without actually showing much of anything, perfectly embodying that concept. Of course, Fawcett would eventually give us the full monty, with triumphant appearances in both film and Playboy in the 1980s and 1990s, but it was that relatively modest poster that secured her status as a sexy icon for the ages. That's all well and good, of course, but you probably want to know what that has to do with Dragon's Lair? You see, Princess Daphne, as the videogame princess that you actually want to rescue, embodies all the charms of that famous poster. While another game on our list, BMX XXX, does away with any pretenses of subtlety and has playable, topless female characters, it's arguable that what's teased at in Daphne's presentation is a far more effective approach to sexy.

Like a hungry vampire right before sunrise, the art style of Dragon's Lair goes straight for the sexy jugular. Drawn by former Disney animator Don Bluth in what can best be described as a mash-up of a Disney Princess and Tex Avery's, Red Hot Riding Hood, Daphne comes complete with stereotypical, high pitched 1950s bombshell voice, and was apparently captured by the evil wizard Mordroc while in the middle of a high-heeled romp around the palace in her sheer, black negligee.

Dirk and Princess Daphne are a study in contrasts. On the one side, you have the clumsy comic relief, on the other side, the supremely seductive siren.

That's not to say that Dragon's Lair is entirely consistent in its sexuality - it's not - particularly with the player-controlled comic-relief protagonist, Dirk the Daring. Of course if you find the likes of Ralph Kramden (The Honeymooners), Fred Flinstone (The Flintstones), George Jetson (The Jetsons) and the countless other mismatched sitcom pairings attractive, then this is the game for you, otherwise there's not much here for the ladies. In fact, while Daphne oozes bubbly sexiness in the various quick-hit cut-scenes that urge the presumptively male player ever onward, Dirk, in all his goofiness, borders on asexual. Perhaps to counter this, in the second of his only two outbursts of speech in the entire game, he does let out an appropriate, "Wow!", when first entering Singe the dragon's, lair, and lays eyes on the seductively slumbering Daphne. In contrast, it seems the big, fire breathing dragon is the sole opportunity for the female player to let out her own, "Wow!".

As shown in this two scene sequence, Dirk's exaggerated shout of "Wow!," upon seeing Princess Daphne for the first time is a perfectly appropriate use of his limited vocabulary.

As one of the first arcade games to double down on the traditional $0.25, or one credit per play pricing, Dragon's Lair presented a high-end experience to match that high cost of entry. Featuring its masterful hand-drawn animation with memorable characters and matching sound, Dragon's Lair drew large crowds in its first few years of existence, often requiring arcade operators to set up additional displays so all could see the current player's adventures.

It's hard to focus on her instructions as Princess Daphne seductively coos the details on how to rescue her in the climactic battle sequence with Singe.

While the embedded laser disc technology enabled random access to dazzling full motion video, it was slow, so the gameplay suffered, utilizing what is now referred to as quick time events. In short, after the animation sequence loads, the player has a tiny response window with which to take a single appropriate action, such as pressing the Action (sword) button or moving left. Taking too long or engaging the wrong action results in an often comical or exaggerated death sequence. These clever death scenes are a good thing, helping take some of the edge off the game's frustrating single solution gameplay design, because short of memorizing the correct sequence of moves, the pace of the game is too unrelenting for most players to react with the sole aid of the on-screen prompts. However, for the sexy videogame enthusiast, all that's really needed to play through to the end is the idea that Daphne will be there with an enthusiastic - and appreciative - greeting.

After rescuing Pricess Daphne, the game allows Dirk to become less the comic relief and more a real man for the first time. It's left to the player's imagination what happens next.


Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Excellent work, Bill! Those

Excellent work, Bill! Those pictures are definitely sexy. I only wish more artists would follow that style instead of the horrifically overdone anime style.

I must admit to not being a fan of the game though. I know, blasphemy, but to me it's just an awesome tech demo--kinda like the seventh guest. Just not fun once you get past the appeal of the tech.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
It's more art than game, but...
Matt Barton wrote:

Excellent work, Bill! Those pictures are definitely sexy. I only wish more artists would follow that style instead of the horrifically overdone anime style.

I must admit to not being a fan of the game though. I know, blasphemy, but to me it's just an awesome tech demo--kinda like the seventh guest. Just not fun once you get past the appeal of the tech.

I agree on the artistry. It's a shame that most visual styles seem to err on the anime side of things these days. There are so many other criminally underused visual styles out there! With that said, I have to say there have been improvements in this area (Rayman Origins, Limbo, etc.), so I hope this upward trend of visual diversification continues...

I also agree on Dragon's Lair being more of an awesome tech demo than an awesome game, though it is a fine example of a very specific type of genre. It's no coincidence that Dragon's Lair is still ported and re-ported to this day, while most other laser disc games (and latter day FMV games in general) are passed over or all but forgotten. Dragon's Lair is like the total package, with intriguing characters, rich visualizations, and approachable, if not completely interactive, gameplay. Certainly one thing in Dragon's Lair's favor is that the audio-visuals age really well and it can still be used to show off that new iPad or Blu-ray player. While some may argue it's cheating because it's just cell animation, it's still a game, and they still count as audio-visuals, and that's saying a lot for a game released almost 30 years ago.

Dragon's Lair is actually also an important lesson/predictor for what will eventually come--at some point we'll reach a technological singularity where reality will be perfectly modeled. Only then for the first time will we no longer have a need for a game like Dragon's Lair and the technological limitations imposed on its gameplay.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
Speaking of art styles, I was

Speaking of art styles, I was playing Rayman Origins on the Xbox 360 with the family again last night in four player mode, and, as you would expect, we've progressed further into the game. Maybe it's the newer, bigger TV we recently got, but it really seems like at the point where we are in the game it's even more beautifully illustrated than it was earlier in the game. I was struck by that last night because of the very conversation we were having here about Dragon's Lair. The visuals in Rayman Origins really are the embodiment of a living, interactive cartoon. While it's not as ambitious from a shifting perspective standpoint as Dragon's Lair (Rayman Origins sticks to the traditional 2D side scrolling view while Dragon's Lair changes camera angles between scenes), it at least demonstrates the possibility that we could have a real-time Dragon's Lair type of game right now if a budget for such a thing were to exist...

Joined: 01/21/2009
I must admit I dont remember

I must admit I dont remember DL being quite so revealing, but then again i see old 80's music videos and dont remeber how far they took those either till i viewed them today. I guess its all in the perception, it was a game, nothing more to me when i played it, and I never much was one for cartoon "sexy" pics.. But i can sure see why you are saying it from those pictures. I am really suprised i never noticed it at all. My memory of the Princess was in a black dress, an while i couldnt place it.. it was not that revealing.. funny how you can think of things fromt he past, and then see them and see how wrong you are. I can see DL being the most "sexy" at its time of release as its hand drawn and not limited to pixels. its almost funny i could smoke through the game on $.50 and rembere people crowding around to watch the end.. and I would walk away. I can tell you one thing.. today i cant play it worth a crap.. memory whre are you now.

Chris Kennedy
Chris Kennedy's picture
Joined: 08/31/2008

I have to say that I am not a huge fan of this particular gaming genre, however I did have a blast playing Space Ace on Sega CD with a friend of mine about 10 years or so ago. Screaming "right! left! up!" while in the heat of battle/fleeing/dodging can really cause quite a bit of laughter when you get it all wrong and die. (Simultaneous "ooooooooooh!" upon death).

As for the artwork (difficult to call them "graphics," you know?) - the princess certainly has quite a bit of appeal. She is totally a tease, and you can't help but wonder what you will see next.

I think Bill really hit it with -


In fact, while Daphne oozes bubbly sexiness in the various quick-hit cut-scenes that urge the presumptively male player ever onward...

The simple drive of mastering a game should be enough for anyone interested in games, however getting a chance to see more of (and less "on?") Daphne as the game continued had to have some influence on if yet another quarter went into that machine or not.


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