The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon
Once again it’s that time when we critics swarm down onto the latest release of a dying series, and tear what little life there once was from the rotting corpse of the franchise; we are the vultures and you are our family waiting to be fed. Spyro was once a fresh catch which we all loved to devour slowly and time and time again we came back for more, until one fateful day in November 2002 the dish went stale and other recipes looked to give us the same satisfaction and then some. Since that fateful day six years ago upon release of Enter the Dragonfly, only Spyro diehards have been able to find something to get their teeth into from the series. The entire sixth generation passed and still nothing could revive the series as it was (along with Crash Bandicoot), tossed from one less reputable developer to the other. But not anymore; Dawn of the Dragon is here to start to right the wrongs of the past generation, and give us that little extra.
“Dawn of the Dragon is here to start to right the wrongs of the past generation.”Picking up where A New Beginning left off, Spyro and Cynder (a new ally from the previous game) are found frozen in ice by unwanted visitors, and are then forced to fight for their lives in a gladiator style arena against a series of enemies whilst chained down. Despite managing to break the chain to the floor, the two dragons are still chained to each other and this is a masterstroke, because despite being a colourful generic 3D platformer, the platforming focuses on the teamwork between the two characters either in single player or co-op mode. The two dragons are interchangeable at any time with a click of the left trigger, and this function is essential to completing the puzzles which lie ahead.
Although the fantasy graphical theme suggests the game will be a dumbed down experience, the puzzles require plenty of logic and will often leave players frustrated with themselves – but not the game. One early example sees Spyro and Cynder having to carry a weight across a river, over a set of boulders and along to the destination. At face value the task seems simple, but these simple goals tend to have other goals within them to do to allow progression. One problem with this though, is that you often loose sense of direction and there are very few hints on how to complete a task. This makes the puzzles more rewarding to complete, but it may sometimes take a little too long to work out – in which time less determined players will lose interest.
The combat system is classic Spyro with the twist of always having the two characters chained together. There is some wasted potential here though, as there is little opportunity for teamwork between the two characters in battle; those chains would have worked well for some lethal clotheslines. The battles are far easier than the puzzles as uninspired enemies constantly march forward to take a beating, but Spyro has always put exploration ahead of combat. Rightly so too, we wouldn’t exactly need St. George to slay him in the potential sequel, Good Dragon Gone Bad.
The real charm of the game and a factor which has been missing this generation bar a few mediocre releases is the graphics. They are what I personally have always wanted HD to take advantage of, beautifully enriched and full of CGI charm. Gears of War 2 might take honours as the most detailed and realistic game graphically on the system, but Dawn of the Dragon is a supernova of colour, particularly on a HD setup, and complement the epic orchestral backing music; giving the player the feeling of scale, but not in such a way the player feels they’re invincible. If the same style of background music were to be used on a game like Fallout 3, the game would feel disjointed; a fantasy world opens up more possibilities than a green/grey warzone. It’s the most fitting soundtrack I’ve seen in a game for a long time, with shades of Halo 3’s audio relevance.
“It’s a supernova of colour, particularly on a HD setup.”And it seems to be a minor trend that in Dawn of the Dragon, waiting has paid off. Arguably there hasn’t been a Spyro game which has truly been worth your time since the PSOne days, but like a certain Bandicoot, these ageing relics have found a new lease of life and managed to enter the new generation with style. Although the return of Spyro was never going to make a loud bang like when he first hit the gaming scene, this franchise is back and ready to make up for lost time. Gaming now may be more about shooting than jumping and Spyro may now be appealing to a more niche market, but that market is there and the Xbox 360 finally has a platformer worth any gamer’s time. If only Sonic could do the same…