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PS2 Preview - 'Spyro: A Hero's Tail'

by Thomas Wilde on Oct. 17, 2004 @ 3:48 a.m. PDT

Spyro must save the Dragon Realms from the Evil Red Dragon who has planted light-sapping Dark Gems all over the Dragon Realms in an attempt to capture and control the world. With the help of his allies, Spyro must seek out and destroy all of the Dark Gems to return the lands back to normal and to save the Dragon Realms from the evil dragon's tyrannical control.

Genre : Action
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Developer: Eurocom
Release Date: November 2, 2004

Pre-order 'SPYRO: A Hero's Tail':
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One of the benefits of the current console generation is that developers finally have hardware powerful enough to really cut loose. A lot of PSOne and N64 properties, freed of the restrictions of those consoles, have been made into some truly excellent games on current systems.

Just to pull an example out of a hat, let’s take Spyro, a sardonic purple dragon who saves the world every so often. His PSOne games, to my mind, gave the impression that they were being watered down so the hardware could handle them; they did their best to embody that often-sought-after state of a real-time, playable cartoon, but the technology wasn’t there.

Now it is, and as a result, Spyro: A Hero’s Tale is one of the most cheerful and colorful games I’ve seen this year. It’s one of those platformers that’s suitable for kids, but the humor value’s there to keep older gamers entertained, and it’s challenging enough for them both.

The ancient red dragon… Red… has placed malevolent Dark Gems throughout Spyro’s homeland, with the help of Spyro’s old enemy Gnarly Gnorc. The Professor dispatches Spyro to, in no particular order, destroy the Dark Gems, defeat Red and Gnarly, rescue the kidnapped Dragon Eggs, and collect Light Gems to power the Professor’s latest inventions.

Towards that end, Spyro is equipped with three kinds of lethal breath (water, fire, and electric), his horns, and his guardian fairy Sparx, who absorbs damage meant for Spyro and lives on a diet of butterflies. To get those butterflies, you chase down sheep and roast them with Spyro’s flame breath, which transmogrifies them through the means of some unknown science. I’m sure it makes sense to someone, somewhere. I don’t question it.

Hero’s Tail is spread out over a vast overworld, separated into various levels via tunnels or passages; there are no “levels,” per se, but each area has a set number of Dark Gems hidden within it. Once you’ve found and destroyed all the Dark Gems, a forcefield somewhere else in the level will dissolve, allowing you to force a confrontation with that area’s boss.

Each level has its own native dangers, traps, treasure chests, and problems; for example, the first stage is relatively pastoral, inhabited by armored orcs and strewn with bottomless pits. Once you dig up the double-jump ability, you can progress past a broken bridge to the swamp stage, where you’ll have to dodge spike traps, giant spiders, carnivorous plants, and overpriced shops.

Those shops are a big part of the game, as Spyro earns gems by defeating enemies, opening treasure chests, or simply finding his way to hidden caches. In each stage, you can trade gems for items at Moneybags’s shop or at one of the distant shop platforms. The platforms also serve double duty as a teleporter, letting you backtrack to the Professor’s shop if you’re in over your head.

If that should happen, you should also remember that you’ve got some help. Hero’s Tail has a large supporting cast of characters, including Hunter the cheetah archer, Sergeant Byrd the heavily armed… bird (I want to say “penguin,” but, well…), and Blink the mole. In each stage, you can find one of your pals and send them on a “maxi-game” quest, where they can destroy Dark Gems Spyro can’t reach or steal items you need from areas that only they can find.

Sgt. Byrd’s stages, for instance, are a little like Pilotwings, if any of you remember that; he navigates obstacles with his trusty jetpack while blowing enemy vultures out of the sky. Byrd’s stages are timed, but you can earn extra seconds on the clock by flying through special arches.

Blink can access subterreanean dungeons that’re as treacherous as the stages on the surface, but then again, he has a laser cannon and a pocketful of explosives. Blink seems to have come equipped for a far more lethal game than this one. Since he’s got thumbs, Blink can go hand-over-hand across certain ceilings; he can also dig through walls and rebound off parallel walls to scale vertical passages.

Hunter uses his bow and his superior agility to work his way through jumping sections that Spyro couldn’t handle. He can open doors by striking targets with an arrow, and carry on running fights at a distance with Gnarly’s crossbow-wielding goons.

If Hero’s Tail has a real flaw at this point, it’s that the maxi-games can actually be more fun than Spyro’s part of the game; Blink, in particular, has a much more well-rounded moveset than Spyro. Then again, I may just be biased towards the idea of agoraphobic moles with lasers. It’s very Conker, minus the gratuitous bloodshed.

Spyro: A Hero’s Tail is one of the better “mascot” games I’ve played this year. It’s a solid, cartoony platformer with a lot of challenge and depth to it, and can keep you busy for weeks digging up Dragon Eggs and Light Gems. It’s a good game to pick up for kids this holiday season.

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