Developer: Etranges Libelles
Release Date: October 2008
The Spyro series is sort of weird. It got its start during the second mascot craze of the '90s, when Sony was casting about in every direction trying to get some manner of platform-defining, attitude-laden, non-human cartoon character franchise up and running on the PlayStation. Crash Bandicoot wound up at the top of that particular heap, but Spyro's franchise survived.
The character, by rights, should be in the same dusty file drawer that Bubsy and Gex inhabit, but Spyro's franchise has actually managed to persist up until the present day. Last year, Sierra began to try to reinvent the character from a kid-friendly, vaguely self-aware platformer hero (ever play A Hero's Tail? He spends the first half of the game complaining about the platforming clichés he's being asked to undertake) to appeal to an older, young-adult demographic. Starting with The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning, the games have focused more on cinematic action and high adventure than collect-a-hundred-of-these platforming.
Dawn of the Dragon is set three years after the previous game, and Spyro's gotten a little older in the intervening time. He's no longer the baby dragon he's been for the last few games. Now, he can fly for as long as he likes, which changes the game's flow dramatically. Spyro's also been studying martial arts or something, because he's gained access to a few impressive grappling moves.
Cynder, one of the bosses in the last game, has been redeemed, and is now Spyro's sidekick. You can play cooperatively, albeit only locally, throughout the entire game, with one player as Spyro and the other as Cynder. The two dragons are connected to one another via a chain, which can occasionally be used to circumvent obstacles via swinging one another around.
Both dragons can fly, and both have access to eight different elemental powers. Spyro can wield earth, fire, ice and lightning, while Cynder uses fear, poison, shadow and wind. (She's not all that redeemed.) As in past games, you collect crystals to power up your abilities as you progress through the game, and you won't be able to collect enough crystals to power them all up over the course of a single playthrough.
Beyond all that, though, the thing that characterizes Dawn of the Dragon more than anything else is its sense of scope. The bosses that Sierra showed me were utterly huge, including a massive lava monster, and your ability to fly played a major role in defeating it. The game has an A-list voice cast, including Elijah Wood, Gary Oldman, Christina Ricci, Wayne Brady and Mark Hamill, and it's taking full advantage of the next-gen systems it's on to be as colorful and smooth as possible.
The Spyro series has been essentially furniture for a long time; the games are popular with casual players, but they're practically invisible to people with a more hardcore mindset. The Legend of Spyro series is a pretty bold move when you look at it that way. You don't see a lot of reinventions within a franchise in this industry, and this one seems like something I'd actually enjoy.
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