Review: The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon (PS2)

The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon (PS2)
Developer: Etranges Libellules
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Genre: Action
Release Date: 09/19/2008

Spyro has had a long and sordid history. Passed around from developer to developer like a… well, this is an all ages game review so let’s just say like the town bike. The series started off wonderfully enough, lovingly crafted in the expert hands at Insomniac, but after the trilogy the rights got sold, some new people got their hands on it and it went downhill. A mere shadow of its former glory. Then came The Legend of Spyro.

The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning was a continuity reboot (Which I believe involved angsty super powered teenagers punching the old discs really, really hard) intended to usher in a new audience and breathe new life into the property with great graphics, an epic storyline, and top-notch voice acting. And so it did. For one game. The sequel, The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night sucked like a… (Man this is tough), um… Dyson Vacuum cleaner. Seriously, I couldn’t even force myself to make it though.

So here we are. Final act of the trilogy. New Developer. How’d it turn out?

I’d say read on, but you’re already skipping ahead to the Short Attention Span Summary, aren’t you? Heathen.

1. Story / Modes

The story picks up where the last one left off with Spyro and Cynder trapped in a giant crystal. Mysterious bad guys show up, break the crystal, attach magical snake collars to the unconcious dragons necks, and drag them off to their underground lair as a snack for the Balrog.

Sorry, no, not Balrog, Magma Golem. Completely different. No wings and whip for starters. And, well… no wings and whip, I guess.

The story continues that you’re aided by a mysterious hooded ranger named Arag… er, Hunter, who takes you to the ancient and beautiful Elve… sorry Dragon city where you must defend the ramparts against a giant army of invading Orcs Grublins with a giant glowing Volcano in the background overseeing everything you do.

Catch the drift yet?

Suspicious similarities aside, the plot does flow nicely from the previous entries, reintroduces Hunter the Cheetah (though he looks like a lynx) and plays off the suspicion of having a former villain as a cohort. It’s an enjoyable story that makes you care about the characters whether it’s your first time playing or if you’ve been familiar with them for years.

As far as modes go, it’s two player. Two. Freaking. Player. Do you have any idea how huge that is? No one makes two player games anymore (That aren’t “party” games). I think Ultimate Alliance was the last one I can remember. It’s a brilliant move that works well both with the story and gameplay.

Story / Modes Rating: Very Good

2. Graphics

There’s a significant improvement from the graphics of the last game, for starters. The CGI cut scenes are very well done, though they did too much skin-glow in some of the scenes for my taste. Spyro isn’t part firefly, he shouldn’t light up the room and burn out my screen in a magenta haze.

When you get to playing, the graphics remain solid. Little to no flickering and the fire effects are nice. Too nice, in fact, as when you use your fire breath it’s about the only thing you can see on the screen. The game can be somewhat chaotic with fights anyways, but having special attacks cover the action doesn’t help. Nor does having the camera fly far away where it can’t get hurt, but that’s for another section.

Graphics Rating: Great

3. Sound

Elijah Woods (Bet you couldn’t have seen that coming) and Gary Oldman return and are joined by Christina Ricci, Mark Hamil, and for some reason, Wayne Brady as Sparx. Everyone but Brady does a great job. I don’t know what was wrong, but his performance was beyond phoned it. It was more like he was half asleep. Bonus points are awarded for a joke early on about how Sparx’s voice keeps changing.

Anways, the special effect noises are good, including the amusing but pointless “zinging” noise the gems make, but the music is bad. And loud. And repetitive. And plays over the voices sometimes. Thank god for subtitles.

Sound Rating: Enjoyable

4. Control / Gameplay

There are two major aspects of the gameplay that affect everything you’ll do. Flying and the tethers. And while they have their uses, you’ll be cussing them out more often than applauding their application.

The tethers prevent you from moving too far away from each other during two player. And while many two player games will artificially instill this by refusing to move the camera and forcing you to stay on screen, it seems more limiting when there’s a glowing green beam of force holding you back. It’s even worse when you’re not at the edge of the screen but rather in a large area. And it’s even worse than that when you’re in a large area full of hazards that you can’t avoid because you’re at the end of your tether and are unable to maneuver. This also means that as you’re each fighting separate enemies, and they’re being pushed back by your attacks, at some point you’ll no longer be able to continue. You’ll have to stop attacking and retreat because you’re at the end of your chain. And yes, I understand this is most likely on purpose to add to the challenge rating of the game and force you to adapt to it, but it sucks and I hate it and I’m going to complain about it because I can. So there.

A new concept like that should add to a game, not detract from it. If you could use the chain as a weapon, perhaps spin the other dragon around damaging multiple enemies, it would have more use to it and be less of a drawback. As it is, you mostly use it for swinging from ladders which can usually be completed by flying instead. There’s also a challenge or two that combines the use of the tether and your powers, but they’re so rare that they really feel like they were added in simply to justify the tether’s use. Come to think of it, it’s also useful to keep you from falling. But you know what else keeps you from falling? Flying.

Fans have been waiting for free-fly mode since the inception of the Spyro series. The double-jumps and gliding were good, but a real dragon should fly. If we had known this is what we were waiting for, we’d have changed our minds.

First off, button-mashers beware. Hitting X three times activates flight. Hitting X again flaps your wings. Holding X makes you fall. In the heat of combat, you’ll sometimes find yourself flying when you meant to be attacking. This effect is made worse by enemies who’ll pop you up into the air with their attacks, causing you to fly around when you want to be returning the favor. The flight itself is lazy and drifting, more like gliding than flying, even when you’re trying to land. Rather than being able to perform tight maneuvers, you drift around like a leaf on the wind. And we all know how well a “leaf on the wind” turns out, don’t we? And did I mention you can’t control the height? It’s preset to be a certain distance from the ground. The only way to fly higher is to fly over higher ground. Or be in a space where the game thinks you should fly higher. Seriously. I can’t tell you the number of times my wife started ascending like a fighter pilot with a mission, while I’m stuck dangling at the back of the tether, flying in small circles like a bored three year old on the leash of a negligent parent at the mall. I’m not quite sure how this happened, but it happened a lot.

What else? The camera has more than it’s share of camera trouble. It pulls out too far during fight scenes (making them even more difficult with the giant effects I mentioned) and will often get trapped behind walls while you fight. You’ve got the ability to look around with the right joystick, but it’s ability is random as well. Only rarely will you be able to look all the way around you. More often than not it’s like trying to move your head with a neck injury. The camera will move just enough to not be of any use. And it’s not because there are obstacles in the way. No, the camera just doesn’t like turning full circles all the time. It’s probably tired from all the zooming out when you’re fighting.

Wow, that’s quite a lot of negatives, isn’t it? I should probably add a positive or two here so as to not bum you out too much. *ahem* The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon has included a rather nice experience based power-up system wherein you may increase the effectiveness of your powers in exchange for blue gems. It also includes three different sets of hidden armor for both Spyro and Cynder, and when a complete set is obtained it provides a special power-up like Nuclear Attack.

Thank you. We now return you to your regular review.

Combos will often move you past your enemy, or you won’t be able to keep up with them falling back. Worse yet, when you pop an enemy into the air for one of the many air-combos the game offers, they’ll usually fly up higher than you can jump, hanging like Tantalus’ fruit and mocking you.

The game is playable, but broken. How broken? There’s actually a boss fight where the health gems are located right where he hits you. You’ve got to fly up to get to the health, and land to get any effectively. Meanwhile, the giant boss is smacking at you and flinging you up into the air and away from the gems. Needless to say his health bar is huge and your damage is meager, so the health gems are necessary to success. So let me say this again: the stuff you need to stay alive and win is in a part where the enemy hits you almost automatically every time.

I was originally going to end this section saying that while the controls are bad, it never gets to the controller throwing level of badness. Having played further, I must take this back. Dawn of the Dragon goes beyond controller throwing. Gameplay gets so frustrating on one of the levels (for the entire level actually), that your anger at the inability of your character to simply move in the direction you indicate spills out into the real world creating a dangerous situation for inanimate objects, small pets, and children. Seriously. I have played some very bad games, but none so frustratingly, irritatingly, teeth-grinding, wall-punchingly bad as this. It is a danger, ladies and gentlemen. This is what Jack Thompson was trying to warn us about.

Control / Gameplay Rating: Dreadful

5. Replayability

It’s tough to recommend replaying a game when playing it makes you violent and almost physically ill. So looking at it from a neutral standpoint, there are several unlockable art galleries that will probably take a time or two to play through, as well as finding all the hidden bonus gems and armor. So there is the potential for replay there to complete the collection.

Replayability Rating: Decent

6. Balance

This game is seriously out of balance. Ignoring the whole Gameplay issue, let’s look at a typical level. Wander, wander, wander, wander, get attacked by a small horde, wander, wander, wander, wander. The pacing is terribly uneven. On the Two Towers level it inverts, having you run back and forth frantically, fighting enemies without rest while having to repair and reload what seems to be the only catapult (which looks suspiciously like a cannon) on the wall. Afterwards, the game returns to its normal wanderings, punctuated by occasional swarming hordes. There’s also the surprise element of Elite Enemies, who are tougher than the actual bosses. Luckily they’re usually out of the way, except for the time there’s one in your path and he’s wearing his helm of Invincibility to Everything Except One Thing. Again, I’m serious about this. I wish I was making it up.

Balance Rating: Very Bad

7. Originality

Credit where credit is due. They’ve taken the new Spyro story and run with it, crafting a satisfying new world for fans to play in. Or, y’know, beat their heads against the wall in. The armor and experience power-ups are a good addition, as the flying could have been. The tether, for as much as it irritates me, is a novel concept that they could have gotten far more use out of. Overall, they’ve done a good job with the concept; I’m quite pleased.

Originality Rating: Enjoyable

8. Addictiveness

Spyro presents a perverse sense of addictiveness. You don’t enjoy playing the game, but at the same time you’ll be damned if you’re going to let some kid’s game beat you. I can’t tell you how many times we said, “Alright, one more try and then we quit for the night” while playing. It’s like a bad relationship, sucking you back in because you’re certain you can turn things around.

Addictiveness Rating: Above Average

9. Appeal Factor

There’s a real love/hate kind of thing going on here (if you couldn’t tell by the ratings I’ve given so far). I enjoy the franchise and the basics of the game. It even starts out beautifully, everything working well and running smoothly. But then it starts to beat you over the head mercilessly. And while some people like that kind of thing, I find it’s best left to the classified section of your localweekly free alternative paper. Love + Hate = Meh.

Appeal Factor Rating: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous

Spyro had such potential. Those first three games were an icon of the PSX and could have been so much more. But imagine, if you will, a world where Mario got handed off to third party developers after the third game. Where every game was Luigi’s Mansion or Mario Sunshine. That’s what’s happened to Spyro. The Legend of Spyro series was supposed to fix all that, and started off strong, but fell short in the end. All they got right was the story.

Miscellaneous Factor Rating: Poor

The Scores

Story / Modes: Very Good
Graphics: Great
Sound: Enjoyable
Control / Gameplay: Dreadful
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Very Bad
Originality: Enjoyable
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous Factor: Poor
FINAL SCORE: Mediocre

Short Attention Span Summary
The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon is a study in contrasts. Good story and voice acting, bad gameplay and balance. This is a game for Spyro fanatics only, casual gamers need not apply.

6 Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *