The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night
Sometimes, you just wish established franchises would die. Rather they vanished into thin air than become over-saturated with a slew of average games. Better to become established as one of the great franchises of old than be sneered upon each time a new game is released. Debates rage to this day about whether Mario is milked too heavily, his personality and purpose in video games lost to often substandard sports games. Spyro seems to be walking a similar road, but with mediocre adventure games. The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night is simply average, leaving a lot to be desired.
The Eternal Night follows on from The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning, and so the story can initially confuse if you havenít played A New Beginning, though that doesnít really matter since the story is hard to follow, and in that respect any interest in it wavers. Itís unfortunate, since the voice acting from such actors as Elijah Wood and Billy West sounds fantastic alongside the beautiful artwork that accompanies the tale.
The Eternal Night is now in full 3D on the DS and so holds a passing resemblance to the stellar Spyro games of the PlayStation era. Unfortunately it doesnít retain the quality of the Insomniac-developed games; its gameplay fails to impress. Each level begins with a flyby of the level you are about to play through, and this highlights the level design well. One aspect of The Eternal Night that towers above the rest is the level design. There is a lot of variety in the levels, and at times they are a real joy to play through. You will be playing through a mountain, an overgrown forest, and atop an airship, amongst others, and the levels have been created with care so they look natural and appealing. Had the gameplay matched the level design the game would be on the end of a much warmer reception.
The main gameplay fits the mould of any other platformer, with Spyro on a quest to reclaim his powers in order to defeat all manner of evil in the world. To do this he has to battle through a number of levels, fighting hordes of enemies and solving puzzles. All levels exist within the same formula Ė a physical barrier stands between you and the next level, with you needing to find the missing pieces for a puzzle that will, upon completion, vanish. Sometimes levels just require you reach the end, and when youíve spent most of your time stuck on a puzzle in the level before, itís a nice relief to realise you can just breeze through.
The puzzles in The Eternal Night thankfully prove quite invigorating, and donít go stale after the third or fourth puzzle. The concept centres on redirecting coloured beams of light to the relevant places, and with each puzzle new reflectors and colours are introduced to up the difficulty. Itís a nice concept that works well and doesnít outstay its welcome. For the puzzle enthusiasts an extra mode can be accessed from the start that compiles a huge range of puzzles that can be worked out in either an easy, medium or hard difficulty.
The more enjoyable parts of Spyro (the level design, the puzzles) are severely let down by the gameís shoddy camera, weak graphics, repetitive combat, arbitrary boss fights and unnecessary and irritating use of the touch screen. These points overshadow the merits The Eternal Night has to offer, and for that it feels like a missed opportunity. The camera, while at first seems perfectly functional, soon starts to crack under pressure. If Spyro goes through a camera trigger point Ė round a corner under a tunnel, for instance - then the camera cannot handle it and you end up having to fight with it to get Spyro to go where you want. This happens a lot throughout the game and becomes increasingly annoying. There are also times where the camera will show parts of the level you didnít want to see (through walls, for instance), which isnít too pleasing to the eye as you would expect.
More aggravating than the camera is the combat in the game mixed with the uninspired enemy design. Thereís only two buttons that Spyro can attack with Ė one beats the opponent, the other unleashes an elemental attack, from fire breath to lightning, provided you have enough orbs at your disposal. Essentially youíll spend most of your time pummelling the enemy with the one button, and this becomes tedious after the third of fourth enemy you encounter. In an attempt to spice it all up, developers Amaze have integrated the touch-screen into the combat system, but this inevitably makes it a whole lot worse. When you strike the opponent a few times Spyro will lift the enemy into the air, after which you can then jump up and a short touch-screen mini-game will initiate. This Ďgameí, if you could call it that, requires you simply follow the arrows on screen to re-enact your strikes on the enemy. While it might sound fun, it really isnít and soon becomes a huge chore. Whatís made worse is that the whole game can almost be completed without ever using the touch-screen, bar the many puzzles, and so you are constantly having to take out your stylus just for this awful and brief mini-game - thereís an awful jarring feel between it and the main gameplay.
Enemy designs are no better either, with a small variety of beasts that require little in the way of a tactical approach. Enemies miraculously respawn a couple of times, which starts to grate early on, especially when all you want to do is progress. There is a section of the game unlike the other levels Ė a gladiator arena, and this pits you against what feels like an endless slew of enemies. Define fun then flip the definition and you get the gladiator arena, once itís over you canít help but feel relief. As if the developers thought it fun, you can play out the gladiator arena again once you complete the game as an unlockable. A swift brick to the head would be more enjoyable; quicker, too.
The bosses arguably require the most criticism, with them feeling completely random. There is no structure to the battles and it often feels like luck as to whether you can fell them or not. They are sometimes invulnerable to your attacks and other times not, there is no way to tell and so you are often just plugging away, hoping to make a dent in their health. The bosses are usually huge dragons that Spyro needs to defeat after he has gained a new elemental move. In fairness to Amaze, the bosses look significantly better than most other things in the game, yet this does little to disguise the fact the boss battles are, under the skin, awful.
The graphics arenít terrible, and in some levels look commendable (a waterfall and river in one level particularly stands out from the rest), but generally they fail to impress. Textures are incredibly simple, game objects are usually jagged and ugly, enemies trudge along with no solidarity or believability, and with the draw distance noticeably short, thereís huge room for improvement on all areas. Spyro at least maintains his charm, and the slickly presented artwork that describes the story is extremely pleasing to the eye. The presentation of the opening screen is cute, too.
The sound is pleasant enough, the music works in tandem with the theme of the levels, and is successful in creating at least some atmosphere. The sound effects are functional but forgettable, yet the dialogue is where The Eternal Night stands out. While there isnít too much dialogue in the whole game, what is there is expertly delivered by the likes of Elijah Wood and Gary Oldman, itís an enjoyable listen.
All things said, The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night is a likeable adventure. While it contains many frustrating aspects that gamers would do well to stand, thereís something in the game that makes it oddly appealing. Itís a game thatís hard to dislike when it comes down to the facts, even if it has far too many things wrong with it. Kind of like eating melted chocolate off your toes, then.
Five out of ten
- Inspired level design
- Puzzles are a joy to play through
- Great voice acting
- Awful boss battles
- Weak graphics
- Awkward camera
- Tired and repetitive combat system
- Unnecessary use of touch-screen that stalls gameplay