The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon Review
Spyro the Dragon, much like Crash Bandicoot, was the closest thing Sony fans had to a mascot back in the 90s. Thanks to Sony, the Spyro the Dragon franchise has really established itself as a solid platform-adventure series of games. Thanks to Sony's enormous budget, the original three Spyro games were heavily campaigned by the publisher, and it certainly didn't hurt that developer Insomniac put together a solid set of games. When we entered the PlayStation 2 era, Universal ended their contract with Sony and made the franchise multiplatform. And the many iterations that would follow turned out to be a mixed bag: few were good, some average, some terrible...and now it's time for one more.
With this iteration, The Legend of Spyro era comes to an end, as Dawn of the Dragon marks the end of the trilogy that includes New Beginning, and The Eternal Night. This finale starts off with our cast finding themselves released from a spell that had left them frozen for the past three years. Unaware of where they are and how long they've been out cold (pun!), Spyro, Cynder, and Sparx are quickly thrown into an unexpected conflict and so begins your first control over the game, with, weirdly enough, a quasi boss fight of sorts. The boss fight plays out much like those in God of War, utilizing a "mini-game" mechanic that requires you to time your button hits after striking the enemy down briefly. The flying trio get acquainted with Hunter, a character whose knowledge and wisdom will come handy to the group as he informs them of what's happened.
Now, new for this finale is a co-op element that lets two go through the entire adventure. As many gamers know, at one point or another the good guys eventually have to ally the with their enemy, and it's usually a welcome treat. Sonic allied with Knuckles, Spider-Man allied with Venom, Mario played nice with Bowser, and now Spyro will team with Cynder to stop the Dark Master's evil from spreading around the world. So Dawn of the Dragon has you playing as both dragons, allowing for either co-operative gameplay, or seamlessly switching between the two by hitting the L2 button.
Additionally, on-the-fly co-operative mode has also been introduced, allowing a second gamer to come in and out as either Spyro or Cynder -- depending on who player one is using. So yes, that said, you can indeed play through the whole game as Cynder. As Spyro, you'll be able to use fire, electricity, earth and ice attacks, while Cynder can use poison, wind, shadow, and fear. Additional differences between the two are speed and strength, as Cynder is the faster runner, but weaker in defense in contrast to Spyro.
For Dawn of the Dragon, Spyro and Cynder gain the permanent ability to fly at anytime you wish. But there are some issues with the flying, as you aren't given total freedom to fly around a stage or get to higher areas, the game will simply prevent you from flying higher than a certain point. On the other hand, the game will automatically give leverage to either of the dragons when the only way to reach your destination is by flying. So while yes, you can fly anytime you wish, the freedom is certainly not there.
Upgrades are an integral part of this new Spyro game, as equipping dragon armor is another new mechanic for the thid game, allowing either dragon to increase their defenses, in addition to power gems that increase other statistics. Armor upgrades include head wear, tail covers, and bracers. Each category has three pieces of armor to be found, all of which offer great benefits. Additionally, collecting experience points will allow you to convert them into upgrades for your elemental powers. Furthermore, the more you upgrade your dragons, the more powerful they become by gaining various performance enhancing gems. While on the topic of experience points, performing melee combos is one more new feature found in this series finale, and you'll want to get the hang of defeating enemies with long string combos by utilizing a mixture of melee and magic attacks, as enemies will drop the blue gems that help Spyro or Cynder gain more experience.
This particular Spyro game is actually a decent entry in the series. It's simple and can be enjoyable, but it falls short of being a good game thanks to a number of technical problems. A direct link to affecting the enjoyment of the game, the framerate here is not particularly good and hurts the experience quite a bit. The framerate almost never runs anywhere near 30 frames per second, and considering that Spyro isn't exactly a groundbreaker in terms of looks, there is no excuse for the poor framerate. Because Spyro is a fairly quick-moving game, this less-than-stellar framerate makes either playing or watching a chore, it's simply a strain on the eyes.
Like I said, the game is far from a visual tour de force, at times looking more like a hi-res PlayStation 2 game, with a few extra pretty textures, often crazy bloom lighting, and a vivid color palette. The other issue is the game's presentation, as cut-scenes are poorly compressed and cheapen the look of the game. I mean really, compression artifacts are absolutely not acceptable when you're talking Blu-ray storage capacity here. Thankfully, the vividness of the game and the scenery still make Spyro a somewhat appealing game to look at, as the visual touches suit the look and feel of it quite well. Image quality is good, as the graphics are free of any nasty jaggies and screen-tearing problems. Unfortunately, had it not been for the poor framerate, Spyro's visuals would've certainly faired better.
As far as audio, for the third entry in the Legend series, Sierra (or do I have to say Activision now?) went all out and has cast an all-star lineup of Hollywood's biggest. Elijah Wood and Gary Oldman reprise their roles as Spyro and Ignitus, respectively, but jumping on the wagon are Christina Ricci, Blair Underwood, Mark Hamill, and Wayne Brady. The voice acting is a mixture of decent and good, and is thankfully tolerable for the most part. A nice score plays in the background throughout the game, adding to the game's atmosphere. Below is the list of actors and which character they represent:
Elijah Wood: Spyro
Christina Ricci: Cynder
Wayne Brady: Sparx
Blair Underwood: Hunter of Avalar
Mark Hamill: Malefor (The Dark Master)
Gary Oldman: Ignitus
Corey Burton: Volteer
Jeff Bennett: Cyril
Kevin Michael Richardson: Terrador
This newest iteration of Spyro could've been a much better game had it been left an extra month in the oven for a much needed polish. There is a really solid game underneath a plethora of framerate issues that really prevented me from enjoying the game more. Because the first three Spyro titles were so good, I continue to keep my hopes alive that soon enough we'll see the franchise return to greener pastures. The conclusion to the Legend of Spyro series is certainly better than the games developed by Krome Studios, but an incomplete game engine robs the gamer of truly enjoying it.
11/11/2008 Arnold Katayev