Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Developer: Krome Studios
Release Date: October 10, 2006
Spyro the Dragon has been around as a series for an awfully long time. The tiny draconic fellow made his debut on the Playstation, the first big hit of California-based developer Insomniac Games. (They later went on to do the Ratchet and Clank series.) Once Insomniac moved on to other things, the poor purple dragon got tossed from developer to developer, thrown all over the place and into increasingly bad games. He even co-starred alongside Crash Bandicoot, if you can believe that. Yet he's kept chugging along, and in The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning, they've gone ahead and rebooted the franchise to start from a clean slate.
How much enjoyment it's possible to get out of The Legend of Spyro depends entirely on how much attention you're paying to the subtitle of the game. If you're an old-school PSX-era fan of the tiny purple dragon, this very well may be a game you'll cringe away from violently. Spyro does not move like he used to, he does not glide and platform hop like he used to, he fights in a completely different fashion, and at no point during this game will you be collecting 100 of anything scattered around the world.
However, if you're looking for a cut scene-heavy, well-produced game that's something like a Don Bluth movie meets the fighting engine from God of War, hey! We've got you covered! This feels really weird to say about the world's smallest and cutest dragon, but Spyro plays like a fast-paced 3D brawler wrapped up in the clothing of an animated movie.
A New Beginning starts out with the evil black dragon Cynder laying dramatic waste to the ancient Sanctuary of the Dragons. Once every Year of the Dragon, which is something like a thousand years in RPG terms, there comes a rare purple dragon who is slated to do Awesome and Great things. This would be bad for Cynder's plans to destroy the dragons, and so he's trying to destroy the purple egg. Instead, the Great Dragon Sage Ignitus sets the egg adrift down the river, kind of like that whole Moses story.
Thus, Spyro is raised in a village far, far away from his home, as something he isn't, until Destiny calls and his True Heritage is revealed and he must embark on an Epic Quest to Save Everybody, etc., etc. You've seen this before, except it was called The Lion King, Dungeon Siege, The Wheel of Time, The Dark Crystal, The Black Cauldron, or Beneath A Steel Sky. (I could go on, but I'm getting tired. You get the point anyway.)
Adding to the whole summer animated blockbuster feeling is the voice acting cast. Now, normally that wouldn't even get more than a passing mention here, but when you bring names like Elijah Wood and Gary Oldman to the table for a game like this, one simply has to take notice. Luckily, the characters they play aren't developed or portrayed simply as, "Look! Here's a character that has the voice of Elijah Wood! Isn't that awesome?" but instead, they're allowed to actually get out there and act. Elijah gets to be Spyro and brings the right touches of childish innocence with him.
The exception to this is David Spade, who shows up and as always is simply playing David Spade. He's Spyro's sidekick, "Sparx," and he's loud and brash and sarcastic. (In other words, hey, he's David Spade.) If you like Spade's schtick, you'll enjoy his presence. If not, like me, you'll want to slap him into the next time zone. Sadly, there's no way to turn him off, selectively mute him or torture him for fun and profit. Maybe in the next game.
If you did have the ability to torture David Spade using Spyro's arsenal, you'd have a great lineup of attacks to choose from. (How's that for a segue? Stephen Colbert, eat your heart out.) At first, you'll just be able to pull off a handful of short combos. It won't be much, just the usual Circle-Circle-Circle or Circle-Circle-Triangle stuff. Soon enough, you'll learn a running or flying ramming headbutt move, and then you move into launchers. Shortly afterward, fire breathing comes in ... and by the end of the game, you can blast four different kinds of elemental attacks in six or seven different ways, plus air-juggle combos and aimed throws and so on and so forth. Fighting bad guys in this game is easy, fast and fun.
Upgrading your attacks is done through a simple God of War-style system. As you travel, you'll break Dragon Crystals, and collecting the crystals gives you points which can be converted into knowledge. Mostly you'll use this to upgrade your fire, ice, electric or earth breath blasts.
You'll be doing all this running around and whacking on stuff in some really gorgeous 3D worlds. As I said, this isn't a platformer in free-roaming style like the Spyro games of ages past, although you will be doing some jumping and flying from place to place. The level design is more of an open area for you to do battle in than a convoluted place in which you leap from stone to stone. Enemies, lavishly animated ones, will come at you from all sides. Again much like God of War, monsters that were once presented as fearsome mid-boss fights will quickly become regular enemies for you to defeat en-masse. Everything in the world, from plants to animals to the main character, is animated smoothly and rendered with a touch that makes it feel almost hand-drawn. Light is used to gorgeous effect, as is water. You can really believe in these worlds.
Did I mention flying up there? I did. Good, because to get from landscape to landscape, you'll be taking to the skies. This is also really pretty-looking, although you won't get much time to admire it. The flying sequences are both short and packed with enemies, making it into a sort of Starfox Lite, complete with locking on to fired missiles and doing gratuitous barrel rolls.
So with all that said, how does it actually play? To be honest, I disliked God of War and so the prospect of playing through a sort of God of War Hyper Dragon Edition didn't really do it for me at first. However, Spyro himself has a kind of infective charm that's really difficult not to like. This feels like a game that has a lot of heart in it, and it's clearer the more you play that this is not another cranked-out sequel done just because they had the rights lying around. Sierra and Krome Studios are genuinely serious about this game, and about making more of them. I can't find it in me to disrespect that.
The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning is indeed a game worth playing if you're a dracophile, if you like the character or like animated movies, and if you're not averse to starting over with a fresh slate. It's also a game worth playing if you like beating the snot out of things and then setting them on fire. If, however, you can't stand the idea of not hopping from difficult jump to difficult jump while collecting pieces of the Ancient Cosmic Thinganummy to Save the World, this isn't the game for you. Sorry, fans. This dragon's got a new thing going on.