The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night Review
Sometimes, they just don't know when to stop. When the original Legend of Spyro hit the PlayStation nearly a decade ago, it was revered as one of the better platformers of the generation. Critics also enjoyed subsequent installments like Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage, and the series began to feature reliable titles for observant parents who wanted entertaining, non-offensive games for their kids. Well, at the end of the PS2's lifespan, we may also be seeing the end of Spyro. That is, unless someone else besides Krome Studios wants to pick up the ailing series and rejuvenate it, which might make the most sense. This latest entry, The Eternal Night, is greatly lacking and seems more like a half-done game rather than a fully realized vision. Sure, we get the professional voice actors back, but even they seem tired and bored. In the end, all we have is a barely enjoyable game that suffers from a wide variety of major flaws; all of which conspire to make this a mediocre, tedious and ultimately unfulfilling game.
Spyro's graphics have been pretty consistent throughout on the PS2, and we're not seeing anything different, here. There's some deep color and nice detail, especially in the characters, but a lot of this presentation is mostly bland and even a little blurry in some spots. We've always liked the animations and flashy effects in these games, but by this time, it's in definite need of a next-gen overhaul. Perhaps Krome would've been better advised to wait for a possible resurrection on the PS3, primarily because the graphics prove they're only recycling old formulas and ideas. These visuals are almost too dark to appeal to the targeted age group, too, and while we understand the title should matter (yeah, "The Eternal Night"), they push it a bit too far. The dark purples and blues almost run together after a while, and we noticed some technical difficulties with some of the cut-scenes. It's just a little painful to see the same ol' same ol' in October of 2007, and it really has nothing to do with the new generation...a graphical upgrade wouldn't have been out of the question, even if it is on the PS2. Geez, how many times are we going to see the same visual palette?
The sound, as usual, is the highlight of the game, although we're still not too happy with it. The foundation of this category would normally lie in the stellar voiceover talents of Elijah Wood, Gary Oldman, Billy West, Kevin Michael Richardson and Mae Whitman. But as we mentioned earlier, it almost seems as if the cast is phoning this one in; either that, or the writing is too sub-par for even the best voice talent to save it. However, at least the voices are still the best part of this category, as both the soundtrack and effects remain overplayed and generic. There is a decent variety in the music, but it's not brought out enough, and the effects aren't bad in quality but still fall into the category of "standard run-of-the-mill." The balance seems a bit off, too, because the effects and tracks often don't blend together very well. All in all, we had hoped for a lot more in the sound category, because it's routinely pretty damn good. But even with all those great voice actors and a dose of diversity in the orchestral arrangements, The Eternal Night fails to live up to our admittedly high expectations. The last entry, A New Beginning was much better.
Actually, just about everything in the last installment was better. The gameplay in this one suffers from poor controls, a sloppy camera, and outrageously annoying enemies that provide a far steeper challenge than normal. If this is a game designed for younger audiences, we wonder how many of them are going to be able to finish it, considering the surprising difficulty we experienced in the first few hours. Of course, much of that difficulty stems from the mediocre technical implementation of the combat system and the camera issues, which are major drawbacks. It is possible to ignore the shortcomings and have some fun for a while, but the game can get very tedious due to lackluster level design and an uninteresting storyline. Spyro has a bunch of cool new moves and Krome essentially copied the gameplay feature that has been flavor of the year: time manipulation. In this way, your adventure can be very fun at times. If only it wasn't dragged down by the erratic and often annoying controls.
The primary issue centers on the wild camera and the fact that Spyro will often out-maneuver the camera. Things can get moving very quickly (thankfully, the frame rate remains solid throughout), and the camera quite simply can't keep up. It's a pain in the ass to control it during battle, plain and simple. In fact, you spend almost as much time battling the camera as you do any enemies that might be on the screen, and whenever that happens, we start to lose interest very quickly. It gets all the more annoying when previously unseen enemies nail Spyro from outside the edges of the camera, which constantly sits too close to the action. We lost count of how many times Spyro keeled over due to an enemy that attacked from the side, well before we even knew it was there. Factor in the somewhat sluggish controls - which ironically contrast with the speed of action execution - and you've got a seriously flawed combat mechanic. We weren't expecting God of War, but damn, how hard can it be to just recreate what we had in early Spyro titles? How can you make it worse on the PS2 hardware after it did so well on the PS1?
We mentioned those cool new abilities, and we weren't exaggerating. Spyro may have more capability and power than ever before, and that's one of the only reasons one might want to keep moving forward. As you progress, you not only unlock new skills (they're elemental-based in this one), but you can also level up your current abilities by gathering up blue crystals. This is another aspect of action/platformers we've seen before, although we won't hold that against The Eternal Night. The other good thing the game has going for it is it's pacing; rather than being assaulted with too much storyline in the first few hours, we have a major event in the first hour, and a lot of gameplay along with a few plot-advancing cut-scenes sprinkled in. That much is well done, because the player always feels involved. We don't get tired of over-long cut-scenes and we don't lose track of the story because we spend all our time fighting, so that's a definite bonus. Unfortunately, that's pretty much where the "good" ends, as the rest of the game is almost too "meh" to even talk about.
We did like the addition of energy bars, especially for tough enemies and bosses, but we spent far too long getting whacked by invisible enemies. It didn't help that our opponents could always knock us out of any combination attack we'd attempt, and too many of the special moves were nowhere near as effective as they should've been. I know we just said the main character has more capability this time around, and that's true, but the fruits of our labor weren't rewarded often enough. Spyro can unleash his Fury attack when the purple meter fills up, and that's probably the one thing that will save you from annihilation during unusually difficult boss encounters. As for the platforming aspects, they're okay, but they aren't very refined; we still aren't exactly sure when we can double-jump and when it's too late to try. Having a shadow makes it easier to gauge where Spyro will land, but he'll easily slip off ledges, causing our frustration level to rise.
Lastly, the time manipulation feature works just fine and makes combat much easier at times, but most players will just abuse the hell out of it due to the inherent challenge. They also don't do anything special with it, which makes it feel like more of a tacked-on aspect than anything else. Overall, The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night is mediocre in every sense of the word, failing to provide a polished and accessible gameplay foundation and falling well short on the technicals. The great voice cast helps, but their hearts just aren't in it, and nothing can help the sloppy camera and controls. That little purple dragon is as cute as ever, the story isn't terrible, the pacing is better than average, and there are some genuinely amusing moments. But it's nowhere near enough. There are plenty of decent games geared towards younger gamers out there, and in the past, we were always able to say Spyro is one of them. Not this time.
Come on guys, it's time to start over.
11/28/2007 Ben Dutka