The Sophomore Slump is a term often used in musical circles to describe when an artist achieves success with his first release but struggles to replicate that same level of triumph with the second.
It’s equally applicable to Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp, a 1991 arcade release that took almost a decade to appear after the astonishing popularity of the original game.
Despite its lengthy development period, Dragon’s Lair II wasn’t a massive advance over the LaserDisc original, offering the same context-sensitive gameplay and mechanics. As a result, it’s not quite as well known – or as well liked - as its predecessor.
That hasn’t prevented it from making the transition to the iPhone, however. Like its prequel, Dragon’s Lair II has been faithfully ported to Apple’s device and has lost none of its vibrant animation - hand-drawn by former Disney artist Don Bluth and his team.
As before, you’re placed in control of the hero Dirk the Daring, a bumbling clot who seems to succeed purely by luck rather than any visible skill or intelligence.
The voluptuous Princess Daphne - who is now Dirk’s wife and mother of his brood of children - has once again been kidnapped. Dirk has to chase her through the mists of time itself, using a bizarre time machine that's infused with the spirit of an ancient wizard - who, rather conveniently, happens to be the brother of the main antagonist, Mordroc.
Out of context
Rather than having direct control over Dirk’s movements, you’re instead expected to tap directions or instruct him to swing his sword at predetermined points. Failure to press the correct command in the time allotted results in you losing a life and having to restart the entire sequence from the beginning.
As you can imagine, this becomes frustrating very quickly - especially when you’re agonisingly close to finishing a level and then have to play through it all over again thanks to one tiny mistake.
Although there are visual cues in the animation hinting at which action you should undertake, the developer has seen fit to introduce an even more obvious guide.
The virtual buttons you have to press to move Dirk or swing his weapon flash when required, making it a damn sight easier to forge ahead.
In fact, it makes the game a little too easy - even a player with average reaction times will be able to reach the final level on his first attempt, although the additional challenge of collecting all of the special items required to access the final stage ensures that the game doesn’t surrender its secrets too swiftly.
If you really want to hike up the difficulty you can turn off the control guide altogether and rely solely on the cues shown in the animation, but unless you're willing to memorise all of the movements it's not an appealing prospect.
From the pen of the master
The highlight of Dragon’s Lair II is unquestionably Don Bluth’s exquisite animation. The time-travelling premise has allowed his mind to run riot, and the game takes you everywhere from the Garden of Eden to the study of Beethoven as he composes his masterpiece.
The only drawback of all this inventiveness is that the game never feels as coherent as the original did. The lack of a consistent backdrop shows this sequel for what it truly is: a series of unconnected short sequences that seemed to have been birthed from Bluth’s boredom rather than his desire to create a solid narrative.
Ultimately, Dragon’s Lair II fails where many sequels have failed - it doesn’t really manage to better its forerunner. The inclusion of collectible items adds an additional level of challenge, but it’s very much the same experience - only more linear and less cohesive thanks to its barmy plot.
Hardcore fans will be satisfied, but everyone else is better off sticking with the original.