"The levels have been designed so you can visit any part of the them you want at any time, it's real 3-d freedom (Almost more free-roaming than the playstation games). "
Spyro is a hard game to judge. On one hand it offers an epic sense of freedom and visual grandeur not seen in any other handheld title to date. On the other hand it has some crippling design issues that will serve up game over screens again and AGAIN. Developers Digital Eclipse have realised that Spyro just couldn't work as a 2-d platformer, the main draw of luscious worlds to explore would be lost, so they have created a sprawling isometric adventure.
If you haven't played the previous Playstation installment in the series, Spyro: Year of the dragon, then the plot will make little sense to you. After the sorceress' army was defeated, the remaining troops were discharged and sent home. But one rather useless one who never got a chance to fight, Grendor, was a bit jealous. So he steals the sorceress' magic book and conjures up a spell to make himself more powerful. The spell goes wrong and Grendor grows a second head. So, enlisting the help of the rhynoc army, he sets about doing all he can to remedy his problem. This apparrently entails trapping all the fairies of the land in ice. You, Spyro, must save all the fairies and defeat Grendor.
And so it begins in an absolutely massive world animated beautifully with fiery grass and drooping trees, as well as a few bubbling streams. It's the autumn world and it's absolutely beautiful. This is the first hub of the game, you can charge around it as you please, finding the level entrance portals (Some of which require a certain umber of fairies or gems to open). It really is a HUGE place, and that leads to the first problem.
You get lost. A LOT.
Now it's only the hub levels that are so wide and sprawling, the actual levels themselves are split into islands clustered near to each other (Although, in essence, are still just as big). But even then you'll be constantly losing your way. Now if you're going to make a large-scale isometric platformer, this is a problem you can't really avoid, but you could at least have a map feature. Now, you can put up with this, but sometimes it goes too far. Example: in all the levels (Including the hubs) you are given the task of flaming five or so small objects that are scattered around the landscape, be it lighting jack o' lanterns or just melting ice crystals. Generally, the pumpkins are well hidden and placed wide apart around all areas of the level. If you die, all the pumpkins you've flamed, or ice crystals you've melted will be reset. Now you must go around the whole level (Not an easy task, as finding your way around is a tricky process that doesn't get any easier) and flame all the objects AGAIN. This can take an hour for each level, and I'm not even counting the other tasks, just flaming the damn objects. Now, surely this wouldn't be a problem if you were just careful and didn't die. But that's the problem
You die. A lot.
Discounting bosses and the Sparx levels (I'll explain this in a bit I only died TWICE in the game from enemies. It's almost impossible to die this way. For one, most of the enemies seem to run away from you when you approach and then stand still so you can kill them, which isn't too challenging. How do you die? You fall off the edge, and you do this a HELL of a lot. The hub levels generously lift you back onto the ledge if you fall up, why this isn't done in the normal levels (Where there's even MORE risk of falling off) is beyond me. And because of the isometric view, getting from one island or ledge to another is a cumbersome and frustrating task. Often, due to the slightly fiddly controls (Isometric handling has never been my strong point) you'll fall off the edge when just idly walking around, and there's not much you can do about it. And this is the frustrating thing, although they're big, the Spyro levels hold no REAL challenge beyond their design niggles.
However, if there's one thing the game does well, it's redeeming itself. If you look past the faults (Which you can, with some effort) there is a magical quest just waiting to be finished. The level tasks do repeat themselves (Kill all the enemies, ring/light the bells/lighthouses, flame all the DAMN objects etc) but there's some devilishly tricky tasks to perform that add some variety. For instance, although ringing the bells requires you to flame them (As you have to do with every other task), you must do it in order, which is considerably more difficult. And, quite simply, it doesn't matter what the tasks are, as they are just means to get you exploring the worlds. And doing so provides the same magical feeling that it did in the dragon's 1998 debut. The levels have been designed so you can visit any part of the them you want at any time, it's real 3-d freedom (Almost more free-roaming than the playstation games). And hopping about picking up gems is the same strangely appealing, idyllic experience that has given the series it's name.
Where's the action you ask? Well it comes in the form of speedway and sparx levels. The speedway levels are limited, but fun, forward-scrolling shooters of the Starfox ilk. Although they may not provide as much challenge and variety as the aforementioned game, they certainly inject a welcomed dose of diversity into the game. And rushing to get to the end in time provides some quite tense moments. Better than that though, are the Sparx-levels.
Viewed top-down they see you buzzing around semi-maze levels blasting enemies and finding keys. It may not sound like much, but the enemies come thick and fast, and the shooting is satisfyingly furious. The bosses provide an especially tough challenge and call for a lot of quick timing.
This is easily the most attractive game I've seen on the GBA. The whole foundation of spyro's style has been the beautiful worlds. Without them you wouldn't be compelled to explore. And the GBA handles them beautifully, levels are wonderfully designed with a dash of fairytale style everywhere you go. The backgrounds are particularly attractive. And all those little details from the playstation games have been realised wonderfully. The gems look the same, Spyro moves beautifully and Sparx the dragonfly still follows him around (Indicating the dragon's health by his colour). The character animation is absolutely stunning, and a perfect down-sizing of the stuff we've seen in the past PS games. Obviously the developers have had to forgo some of the detail due to the restrictions of the handheld, but they have still delivered a breathtaking looker.
The sounds are also fantastic. The sound effects are basically identical to the ones we recognise from earlier games. They are clear, accurate and of a decent quality. I still love the pitter patter noise of the charge move. And the music is a great mood-setter as well. It doesn't have quite the same effect as the first three games, but you can't really expect it to. Like with the graphics, certain things have been sacrificed, but the overall quality oozes style and personality.
There are 25 levels to explore here (Although about ten of them are Sparx or speedway levels) and there are several goals to reach in each of them. So this will take quite a long time to finish fully, and it's quite a compelling game. Okay, some of the playtime will be due to the constant deaths and hopeless searching, but more of it will be put towards an enjoyable experience. You're looking at about 15 or so hours of play here (Could have been longer, I didn't time it) and there will definitely be a day when I go back to it.
Really Spyro provides everything you could have hoped for on such a limited console. It's the only thing like it on the handheld market, and the same calm brilliance is yet to be successfully pulled off by another series. It has some AWFUL flaws that really do affect the gameplay, but behind them is a real gem of an adventure that genuinely deserves your perseverence.
Is that a dragon in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me
+ Excellent Spyro atmosphere
+ Lots to do
+ Three different gamestyles. All a lot of fun in their different ways
+ HUGE worlds. Lots of exploring to do
+ Clever, epic level design
+ Splendidly mythical sense of style
+ Absolutely gorgeous graphics
+ A long lasting challenge
+ A lot of effort has obviously put into everything. The little details are great, the bouncing sheep are back!
+ Like nothing else on the GBA
+ Good music
- Controls too fiddly
- Ruined by the appalling amount of unfair deaths. You'll rarely get anything done without having to do it all over again. Several times
- You are ALWAYS bumping into walls
- The glide move is near impossible to pull off
- You are constantly getting lost
- Some more challenge outside the unfairness would be appreciated.
If you like this....
Spyro the dragon - similarly good but not perfect calming exploration-based adventure
Spyro 2 - Easily the best platformer on the playstation. offers up the beauty of the first game, but is more adventurous visually and has tonnes of variety
Spyro: Year of the dragon - Not as fulfilling as the previous two but still immense fun and a massive challenge.
Community review by maxh (Date unavailable)
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