Genre : Platformer
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Release Date: November 2, 2004
Spyro the Dragon was introduced on the Playstation about midway through the console's lifespan, and it was arguably one of the best platformers on any console and was followed up by a sequel that didn't let down fans and expanded on everything that made the first a great game. In fact, that game was followed by a third, which was seen as just as good or even better. It wasn't until the first Playstation 2 game that the series started to lose its luster, and drastically. The game was merely average; suffering from boring gameplay and a number of problems that kept it from being great, but maybe decent.
Spyro: A Hero's Tail, while not magnificent material, does redeem the Spyro image. It's a very solid game, fun for both kids and adults, with a sense of humor that's silly and appeals to kids, but subtly poking fun at itself to appeal to a more mature audience. For example, one sequence early in the game has Spyro meeting up with a disgruntled professor: he needs some equipment for his new invention, and asks him to collect ten so-and-so's - but then pauses, and wonders if perhaps he needs this-and-that's, or such-and-such? It's rather funny that the game makes fun of not only the collective platforming genres, but its own, gameplay that focuses largely on the collection of random items.
Still, that doesn't change the actual gameplay, which is pretty straightforward. As Spyro, you travel through a number of worlds, collecting this-and-that, destroying such-and-such, or fighting so-and-so. The game is ludicrously easy most of the time, too, with very little challenge coming from the level design, the enemies, or even the bosses. If you manage to fall off a cliff, you can just climb back up and try again most of the time. Many enemies require either a simple headbutt or a blast of fire breath, or a combination of both.
Thankfully, Spyro controls absolutely fantastically in this edition of the series. The analog control is tight and smooth, while jumping and double jumping is easy enough and makes for accurately timed jumps most of the time. Gliding feels great, and Spyro smoothly goes from a double jump into a glide if you simply hold down the button. Fire breath works fine, as usual, and you can alter it with certain items, making it into icy breath, for example. Spyro can also run extra fast by holding down the button for dashing, which makes ramming into certain things easy enough or simply makes crossing long distances a less annoying problem. The other platform game conventions are also here in fine form; the usual butt-stop and wall-jump, for instance. It also helps that the camera is more than adequate and is rarely frustrating.
Mixing things up a bit are a number of playable characters. You still have to use Spyro until the game allows otherwise, and the other characters are often used only in mini games or short ventures. There's Hunter the Cheetah, an expert with a bow, offering up some shooting fun. He can also perform a spin jump. There's a penguin, Sargeant Byrd, letting players take the game to the skies (except… penguins can't really fly, can they?) with some bomb-dropping and ring diving missions. Blink the mole is another addition, a little fella who can burrow underground and set off explosives. Finally, there's Sparx the firefly, who Spyro fans will recognize from previous games; he's back and he's got some missiles ready to use at your command.
Level design in the game is decent, but hardly spectacular. It's easy to get lost as the game has a rather meandering, directionless feel to it, and there's often little indication as to which way you should be going. Getting to certain platforms is probably the trickiest part of the game, as sometimes it just seems to be out of reach but you're missing a piece of the puzzle, in which case the pace of the game slows considerably while your progress is halted from a few goofy puzzles. There's a map, too, but it's hardly useful, lacking intricate detail and being rather vague.
The graphics in the game aren't overly impressive, but they manage to stay bright and colorful while allowing the framerate to exist at a rock solid sixty frames per second. Textures really aren't very detailed – in fact, most of the ground textures are practically solid or have very subtle repeating patterns. Models look fine, if a bit blocky at times (Spyro looks great, however), and animation is excellent. Spyro actually looks insanely cute as he gallops across terrain, stops to blast a fiery puff in the air, or pole vaults over a large crevice with his tail. He's got kind of a puppy or kitten-like movement, and it adds immensely to the satisfaction one gets from just controlling him.
Soundwise, the game's not bad. Music is lighthearted and chipper; it's nothing that will stay in your head all day, ffor better or worse. The voicework is good, and since the dialogue is hardly serious in the first place, the goofiness of the actors is easily excused and actually appreciated. Sound effects are more than adequate. The game's not quiet, but not noisy, with appropriate walking, fire-breathing, crashing, and grunting sounds, and that sort of thing.
What we have, in all, is a game that doesn't really try to push the boundaries very much. However, Spyro does succeed at what it sets out to do – provide a fun platforming adventure with some light humor that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's not very difficult, it controls great, and the graphics and sound – while not majestic in any way – are fine. Adding multiple characters helps keep tedious missions feel a little less tedious, even though most missions are based around collecting something with the occasional fight. It's a great game for kids, a solid rental for platforming fans, and a great step up from the previous entry in the series. If you want a family-friendly title to ease out the heaviness in the living room this holiday season from M-rated games like Halo 2, San Andreas and Metal Gear Solid, skip over painful-to-watch-or-play children's titles and pick up this one instead. You'll probably find yourself enjoying it quite a bit.