During his illustrious career, which began almost 10 years ago to the day, the plucky doe-eye dragon, Spyro, has matured considerably. After hatching out of an egg and being raised by dragonflies, Spyro began his life with a few simple powers. Eight games later and the video game mascot has transformed himself into an almighty killing machine with an arsenal of dynamic combat moves in his fiery belly.
The focus of the series has also shifted emphatically from the initial cutesy fantasy storyline to the much darker Legend of Spyro trilogy that culminates in this latest game, The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon.
The story revolves around Spyro and his new ally and former adversary, Cynder, another cute purple Dragon with fluttering eyelashes. If you’ve followed the storyline through ‘A New Beginning’ and ‘The Eternal Night’ you’ll be glad to hear that Dawn of the Dragon concludes and ties it all up nicely with Spyro and his sidekick setting out on an adventure to save the world, we hope, from the evil clutches of the Dark Master.
Although you can play Dawn of the Dragon as a single player experience and switch between Spyro and Cynder to utilise their very different combat and puzzle solving abilities, Dawn of the Dragon is ultimately geared towards cooperative play.
Throughout the game, Spyro and Cynder are chained together and therefore have to work as a team as they collect crystals, solve puzzles, platform hop and fight off hundreds of re-spawning enemies. It’s essentially everything we’ve come to expect from the Spyro series, albeit with a few added twists, including ‘Free Flight’, a feature that allows you to take to the skies at any point in the game, which gives you more freedom to explore the environments. There’s also far more emphasis on combat and the explosion of colour that comes as part of the fighting experience.
Ever since Spyro made his video game debut back in 1998, the production quality of the series has always been high and the colourful nature of the games have played a big part in that. In Dawn of the Dragon, the developer has pushed the visuals a little too far and the kaleidoscope of colours that explodes on screen during combat as enemies spray red, blue and green gems, clashes crudely with the various colours of Spyro’s elemental abilities (epileptics beware.) As a result, it often means that it’s hard to see what’s actually happening on screen.
Nevertheless, the locations in the game, such as the enchanted forest, are suitably enchanting to explore, with a combination of colours working nicely together to create a stimulating atmosphere.
The audio is top notch, with a rousing soundtrack that moves along with the gameplay nicely and the likes of Elijah Wood (Hobbit-boy) and Gary Oldham (Harry Potter’s Godfather) provide some of the excellent voice acting.
Unfortunately, it becomes apparent from the very first level in the game, where you’re tasked with escaping the Catacombs, that the storyline and indeed the excellent cinematic cut-scenes have taken precedence over the actual game-play. As a result, Dawn of Dragon looks great, but is excruciatingly frustrating to play.
Dawn of The Dragon isn’t a bad game. The platform elements are fairly generic as you hop and fly from one stage to the next flicking switches and pulling levers, but nevertheless it can be fun when you’re playing in co-op mode, as you combine your combat abilities to take down a horde of gremlins or work together to find secret areas and hidden gems. The main issue, which unfortunately is one that hampers the whole experience, is the shoddy control scheme.
The addition of ‘Free Flight’ is a nice idea, but steering the dragons becomes a nightmare due to the over-sensitive controls and poor use of camera angles. Glide down to a platform to try to land and invariably you’ll miss it because the camera will switch position at the last second. Try to jump from one platform to the next and you’ll accidentally start flying instead, thereby totally misjudging it. Controlling both Spyro and Cynder in flight is immensely frustrating, so much so that it overrides some of the good things that the game does have to offer.
The main highlight of Dawn of the Dragon is the combat. There’s a heavy focus on it in this final game in the trilogy, with plenty of sections where you’re locked into an area until you’ve defeated a wave of re-spawning enemies.
If you’re playing alone you can switch between the two dragons and take advantage of their abilities and also collect experience gems so that you can upgrade your powers with attacking moves, such as a snow or electrical storm. Whilst Spyro can breathe fire, ice and electricity, Cynder has wind, poison, fear and shadow as his elemental strengths. Combat is in-depth, but only if you want it to be. You can switch between elemental attacks with the d-pad, grab enemies, block, evade and pound them into the ground with your tail. Alternatively, thanks to some dumb enemy A.I., you can simply mash the ‘X’ button and you’ll still get the job done.
Visually, it’s quite a spectacle and in co-op mode it can be a lot of fun, though unfortunately, when playing solo, the poor A.I. of your teammate means that he’s little help in any of the battles.
Where he’s more helpful, however, is in puzzle solving, where aside from pulling levels and flipping switches, the elemental abilities of the two dragons really comes into play. Using the likes of Spyro’s electricity charge you can open up doorways to reach the next area, or use Cynder’s wind breath to blow a trombone, which, er, opens another doorway. The creative juices had obviously stopped flowing for Spyro’s less-than-triumphant final outing.
With so much effort put into the combat, the production and the explosion of colour that greets you around every corner, it’s a shame that more effort wasn’t put into the control scheme, the smooth flying of the dragons and the incredibly dopey A.I.
The Legend of Spyro Dawn of the Dragon should have been fitting tribute to the end of the series and possibly Spyro himself. Disappointingly, it fails to deliver on many levels.