Unlike Crash Bandicoot Spyro the Dragon’s career after his initial developer hasn’t been nearly as rocky. In fact for the most part the purple fire breather has starred in quite a few excellent titles including a phenomenal outing on the Nintendo DS. With his latest adventure Dawn of the Dragon it appears that the formula may finally be in desperate need of an overhaul and with Activision at the helm it could be as good a time as any.
Dawn of the Dragon starts off with you in control of both Spyro and Cynder as they are chained together in the ice cave where they have been imprisoned for year. It is no mistake that you begin the game tethered to your partner in crime as this is one of the main focuses for Dawn of the Dragon. You can switch control between Spyro and Cynder at any time by simply tugging the left trigger. As you progress you will come across puzzles that require you to switch characters, but the majority of the time it feels like your better half is more of a drag than an advantage.
This is easily remedied by dropping in another player via local co-op. This eliminates the frustratingly lousy AI and actually makes the game more enjoyable. Tackling some of the game’s cooperative puzzles are much easier when you are working with another person. The combat also improves thanks to the fact that the enemies always focus on human-controlled characters and when you have a second player they spread out their attacks more evenly across the board.
Most of Dawn of the Dragon will feel familiar to anyone who has played the series before. You still collect gems from enemies and the quintessential object smashing throughout the environment. There are three types of gems scattered throughout the game and they all replenish various things. The red gems are health, the green ones refill your magic gauge and the blue ones are used to purchase new upgrades. Usually when you come to an area with a specific goal you will find a large cluster of these gems that are colored appropriately for the task at hand. For instance if you come to an area where you will need to use fire breath in abundance expect to find a nice green formation awaiting your destruction.
Both characters in the game possess special abilities that are considered your magic. You can purchase upgrades for these in the pause menu using the aforementioned blue gems. Spyro carries the conventional element powers such as fire, wind, ice etc. while Cynder carries a more diverse array of powers. She can utilize such powers as Poison and Fear which are more varied and actually make her more interesting to use. You can activate these by holding down the right trigger and you can also unleash an advanced version of the attack by tapping the right bumper.
Combat has also been refined for this version and actually made a bit more complex than past entries. You have two basic attacks, heavy and light, that can be combined in several different ways for various combos. You also have a grab move that allows you to sling opponents into the ground. The game also gives you the ability to perform ground and air attacks (which can span either jumping or flying) giving your repertoire more than enough complexity to satisfy. The problem with combat lies in the fact that the game throws so many enemies at you at one time it quickly becomes too hectic. Losing track of what is going on onscreen is a common occurrence and often times you will find yourself simply mashing buttons and hoping to still be standing when the dust settles.
The biggest bullet point for this new chapter in the life of Spyro is the ability to fly all the time. This is executed by simply tapping the jump button while in the air. For the most part this mechanic works, but when you attempt to use it the way logic tells you to problems arise. This is a platform game plain and simple, this entails jumping and if the developers allowed you to simply fly everywhere then it wouldn’t be much of a platformer now would it. The bottom line is that even though you can take flight anywhere on the world, it does limit on how high you can go, so don’t expect all of the platforming elements to just disappear.
Visually the game is the expected plethora of primary colors mixed with decent character models and surprisingly cleverly designed levels. Each level sports a new look and feel and it really aids in keeping the game fresh throughout. Unfortunately with the skittish combat things tend to get hectic with too many enemies onscreen. This in turn causes some serious slowdown in some instances, almost to the point of slow motion. The second biggest culprit is the camera system.
While you would expect in 2008 for a 3D game to a fully functional rotating camera Spyro is surprisingly sans one. Instead the game forces you to look at what they deem necessary. This works for the most part, but there are times when the camera will be the difference between falling back to the bottom of a long upward journey and making that pivotal final jump. The audio on the other hand is top-notch and feels very much like a summer animated flick with its star-studded cast. Elijah Wood reprises his role as Spyro while Christina Ricci assumes the role of his sidekick Cynder. Other voice overs include Wayne Brady, Gary Oldman and Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill. The music is also incredibly well presented with an orchestral score that really sets the mood for each level. Presentation soars in this game and it seems that is where the majority of the budget has been dispersed.
There is no doubt that the Spyro series has become sort of a conundrum in the industry. This latest chapter feels like it doesn’t know exactly which audience it was aiming for. The visuals and characters scream casual kid’s game that parents tag along to, while some of the complicated mechanics and platforming elements will frustrate even veteran gamers. Perhaps this is a stepping stone for the series and now with Activision at the helm we can finally see it evolve to its former glory. If you are a big fan of the series then this game is certainly worth checking out, but be advised there are some complicated moments that will frustrate even the most die-hard veterans.