November 13, 2008
Spyro made his debut on the original Playstation and has starred in many good and mediocre titles ever since. The first few games seemed to win the hearts of platforming fans, but as the series has worn on, Spyro has lost the fire he once had. About a decade ago he was fending off Crash Bandicoot, but we've come to expect more bang for our buck in the current generation of consoles, so how does his newest adventure fare?
It should be noted that the newest entry in the Spyro franchise is the ending of a trilogy, but this is the first Xbox 360 game that our little purple friend has shown up in. This being the case, newcomers may find themselves slightly confused with the game's plot, but fortunately, someone decided it'd be a good idea to not shove the backstory down your throat. The unfortunate part is that the story just doesn't really hit the mark you may expect, because it tries too hard to be serious; because of the light-hearted style of the game, the way-too-serious overtone is somewhat off-putting. On top of that, the characters involved in the story range from well-voiced and intelligible to downright annoying and incoherent (Mark Hamill's voice work as Malefor is plain terrible). There's also a throwaway love subplot, but it seems buried underneath everything else and it never really materializes as you might expect it to.
Graphically, the game is pretty average. Nothing stands out as fantastic, but they never reach the point of being terrible either. Considering the game was also released on the PS2, it's unfortunate that the graphics never really hit the mark you might fully expect in an Xbox 360 game. The environments aren't horrendous, but the textures could've benefited from a small boost. The vivid colors in a highly detailed world is great, but it's far less impressive when you're being plagued by frame-rate and pop-up issues. The characters are also well-done, but the fact that they're all smiling all the time gives off the vibe that they're all trying to conceal their laughter. They could've done a far worse job, but that's not really a compliment.
The music in the game might not win any awards, but it's charming nonetheless. The voice-acting, however, is inconsistent and will leave you a little frustrated. Everyone's favorite hobbit, Elijah Wood, voices Spyro and does a very good job at doing so. Comedian Wayne Brady adds some humor to the dialogue as Sparx, a sidekick who varies from mildly funny to just plain annoying. As I mentioned earlier, Mark Hamill tries so hard to be dramatic as the game's villain, but in the end, it just sounds ridiculous. It's rather obvious they deepened his voice to add an evil element, but it serves only to distort it and make him difficult to understand. Turn on the subtitles!
The biggest feature in the newest installment is the ability to actually fly. In previous Spyro games you could merely glide from platform to platform, but in Dawn of the Dragon you will find yourself with the ability to take flight. The downside is ever too apparent, however, and it kills the entire concept. Where the game fails is that it expects you to feel cool being able to fly, but it never really specifies what you can and can't fly to. For instance, on multiple occasions I would attempt to flap my little wings and head over to a far off platform to be thwarted by an invisible wall which is frustrating. I thought I'd get to "fly", not glide around some and be tricked into thinking it was flight. The frustration extended to the camera as well, both in and out of flight. Inconsistency is abundant; sometimes you can do a full 360 view of your surroundings, yet other times you're forced into a camera angle that is far from perfect and can make for a frustrating death.
You can toggle between your two characters, Spyro and Cynder and whilst plenty of things in the game require collaboration between the two, such as opening a treasure chest, it often feels like a gimmick. You'll open these treasure chests so you can get a piece of armor that gives them added abilities such as health regeneration, which will be helpful for less skilled players, as the combat in the game is actually pretty advanced. Although it may appear basic (X is a light attack and Y is a heavy attack) the move list will unleash all kinds of combos you can use by putting together button presses in a particular sequence. The more traditional moves like ground and air attacks give you multiple ways to defeat your opponents, but that doesn't necessarily make the game fun. As a matter of fact, between the disappointing AI of your co-op dragon (I'd recommend playing the game with another person) and the periodically uneven difficulty (to hell with Elites!), you'll probably find that the enjoyment you're deriving from the moderately fun combat is quickly brought down.
You'll also find yourself collecting gems by killing enemies and destroying objects, of which there are three different kinds; red for health, green for mana, and blue for currency. The blue gems can be used to upgrade your breath attacks which you'll find is an important thing to stay up to date on. Spyro and Cynder have different types of abilities, but only Cynder's seem diverse enough to warrant any real explanation, whereas Spyro has a very basic list of offensive attacks, Cynder can use such attacks as Fear and Poison which sets her apart rather well too.
The achievements in Dawn of the Dragon reminded me a lot of The Force Unleashed. A bevy of "perform x amount of kills using this type of attack" are apparent, as well as many "kill x amount of enemies total". Overall, the list is pretty expansive even if there's a lot of similar goals. It's really hard to say it's a bad list of potential achievements for you to unlock, unless you simply aren't enjoying the gameplay (which is quite possible). I'd say the achievement list is of medium difficulty and shouldn't take a good player too long to max out.
Admittedly, it may sound like I picked pretty hard on our old purple pal, but in reality, the game is enjoyable for what it is. As long as you leave high expectations at the door, you may find you can enjoy a single playthrough of Spyro's latest adventure. There's a lot of charm in it, but a mere fix of the camera and a more enjoyable flight mechanic could've done wonders alone. I sincerely hope that they don't make false promises in the next entry, if there even is one.
So, if you're an old-school Spyro fan, go ahead and pick this up, as you'll find a lot to keep you smiling, and it'll wrap up the trilogy nicely enough. However, for those of you looking for a real platforming treat, I'd recommend holding out for some of the bigger titles hitting your console later in the year. Spyro just isn't going to keep you interested long enough, charming or not.
The charming music suffices, but the uneven voice acting quality brings it down a notch.
Pop-up and slowdown cause the score to get a bump down, but the overall graphics aren't terrible at all.
Crappy AI, under-delivered flying mechanics, and uneven difficulty. The game does what it sets out to, but apparently it wasn't aiming too high to begin with.
The story will be lost on newcomers, the characters are only moderately likable, and the presentation and execution falls perfectly into mediocre territory.
A surprisingly nice selection of achievements that shouldn't take an average gamer too terribly long to max out. The only downfall is you may not have much fun getting them.
This game could have fared far worse, but it keeps itself sitting right on the mediocre line. Long-time Spyro fans should pick it up and enjoy it for what it is. The rest of us will find our platforming fun elsewhere.