This review was originally published on my Google Blogger website.
Neither Hot Nor Cold…Just A Little Over Lukewarm
I would consider myself to be a fan of the Spyro the Dragon games by Insomniac Games. …Okay, I’ll be honest. I’m a massivefan, especially since I would consider Ripto’s Rage! or Year of the Dragon to be one of my top 10 favorite games. The beautiful environments and graphics, humorous dialogue, solid platforming, diverse gameplay, and charming characters are just a few of the things I could mention from these games that make them stand out. They also happened to be some of the first games I played as a kid, so they’ve been a large influence on the kind of games I like to play today. You could say the nostalgia is definitely there.
However, you would think that I would have stuck with the franchise even after Insomniac Games finished their run on it. Well, I actually did with Enter The Dragonfly and A Hero’s Tail, but oddly enough, I only vaguely recall playing them. They are also missing from my collection of games, so did I finish them? When did I sell them? These are questions I don’t know the answers to, so I think I can come to the conclusion that since those games were critically lambasted for paling in comparison to the Spyro the Dragon trilogy, I must have not enjoyed them that much either, which is why I probably gave up on the franchise for many years.
However, especially within the past year, I’ve looked back on my gaming history and realized how much I loved the Spyro the Dragon games. They are masterpieces in my eyes, and I will remember them fondly for introducing me to the brilliance and impact games can have. Unfortunately, it isn’t likely we’ll be seeing a true follow-up to the original trilogy since Skylanders has been such a monumental success for the youth of today. Regardless, that doesn’t mean I can’t go back in time to figure out what Spyro games I missed. Indeed, I actually did this several months ago and discovered something that was supposedly a reboot for the franchise called The Legend of Spyro, and the first of those three games is fittingly titled A New Beginning.
Upon further research of the game, I discovered that it was met with lukewarm reception from critics, but noticed there was a surprising majority of gamers that loved it; the game almost seemed like a cult classic for a lot of people. And when I saw this, it excited me to jump into A New Beginning because I wondered…being a fan of the original games, will I end up enjoying this one more than I anticipated? Will it exceed my expectations?
I’m finally able to answer that question upon completing the game, and I can say that the process of working out my opinion on it has been a personally nostalgic and interesting experience. So, did The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning manage to breath an underappreciated yet invigorating flame into the life of the franchise when it was released, or was the game a mediocre attempt to rekindle the former glory Spyro once had during the PS1 era?
Platform: PS2, Xbox, Gamecube
Genre: Action, 3D Platformer
Developer: Krome Studios
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Release Date: 10/10/06 (PS2, Xbox, Gamecube)
Average Metacritic Score (All Platforms): 67%
While the original Spyro the Dragon games had platforming, simple combat, and mini-games spread evenly throughout them, The Legend of Spyro establishes itself as a combat-centered experience. Reminiscent to God of War or the recent PS4 game Knack, level after level is packed with fighting scenarios as enemies hoard you in droves, and a little bit of platforming is thrown in with the intention of keeping the combat from becoming stale. In addition, varying instances of unique gameplay seek to keep these games compelling, such as puzzles and quick time events in God of War or controlling Knack’s titular hero in the air to reach a certain area. However, much like Knack (God of War does not struggle with this from what I’ve seen), there are rare instances of other types of gameplay to spread out the combat in A New Beginning, and this is detrimental to the entire experience.
This isn’t to say that the combat is bad. On the contrary, it is actually pretty solid and difficult to get the hang of at first (in a good kind of way). I was surprised at the amount of moves and combos at my disposal. In Spyro the Dragon, you can headbutt, breath flames, jump, and fly a short distance. Hardly advanced controls at all (albeit difficult to master for some boss fights). But in addition to these controls in A New Beginning, you can use four types of breaths with multiple functions (such as fire, which can be breathed out normally or concentrated into a ranged, a fiery explosion), a melee move, super moves called “Fury” attacks, a targeting/strafing move to circle enemies from a safe distance, and a series of combos! I was baffled at how advanced the controls are compared to the older games, but I like the challenge they pose.
Spyro electrifying an ambushing trio of frightening warriors.
Instead of a basic health indicator this time around indicated by Sparx’s glow, there is a red health bar on the top-right corner of the screen as well as a green mana bar, which tells you how much you can use Spyro’s breaths. Both of these things can be restored with gems of the same colors spread throughout the environment, which do not act as currency this time around. However, there are light blue gems you collect over time to upgrade those breaths (gained in intervals throughout the story), which consist of fire, electricity, ice, and earth. They vary in range and abilities, which is why they should be used in a fairly wise manner to take out certain enemies effectively. It’s also fun to see how these breaths increase in power and what residual effects they will gain as you upgrade them. But outside of this interesting upgrade system and, might I add, cool slow-mo sequences triggered when you pull off something awesome, A New Beginning greatly suffers from repetition.
Besides around four instances in the game that introduced unique gameplay sections (such as short levels where Spyro flies to a new location as you make him dodge and shoot balls of flame at enemies), the novelty and initial excitement of the combat wears off after about two hours as you go from one area to another to fight onslaughts of enemies, which sometimes goes on for a ridiculous amount of time before you can advance. The platforming is uninspired and boring; there are no side missions or secrets to discover; and there’s no exploration or freedom. You think Call of Duty is linear? At least you can fight across the battlefield from different angles and find “intel” if you go off the beaten path. A New Beginning encourages no such things, which is very unfortunate. The combat is solid, guided by smooth controls that are fun to master. But it becomes familiar and annoying; it oversaturates the game with nothing to keep it fresh and exciting (if only it were more like Darksiders II, which expertly balances multiple genres to remain engaging).
Sound Effects: Besides an odd sound Spyro makes when hanging on to the side of an object (which sounds very low quality and nothing like his voice actor), a couple of cheap sounds for electricity and “whooshing” sounds, and weird enemy noises, everything sounds fine in this area. Kicks, headbutts, and tail swooshes have impact to them and ambience sounds like rivers flowing and lava bubbling are appropriately done. There’s nothing outstanding here, but it gets the job done.
The mentor, Ignitus, and the student, Spyro.
Voice Acting: Elijah Wood. Gary Oldman. David Spade. These celebrities are in this game. When I found that out for the first time, my mouth dropped to the floor. How on earth did Krome Studios secure such a star-studded cast of voice actors? It’s hard to figure out, but did they nail their roles? Gary Oldman does a wonderful job portraying the somewhat cranky yet wise dragon Ignitus, who acts as Spyro’s mentor. David Spade does a pretty good job as well, who delivers some lines that made me chuckle more than once. As for Elijah Wood…well, he’s a double-edged sword. His small yet strong voice is very fitting for the character, especially since he’s had an attitude adjustment (much less sarcastic and mischievous than usual), but many of his lines come across as bland or forced. There are moments of brilliance, but they are few. Other voice actors for characters like Volteer and Terrador are very distinct as well, which make them stand out. There are some poor performances from minor side characters, but I actually liked the voice acting as a whole. I found it to be entertaining and think the cast fits in their roles well.
Music: The orchestral, choir-driven soundtrack is surprisingly good, which has a few songs that really caught my attention. This is especially true for tracks that play during relaxing moments in the game like walking around in the dragon temple or when there’s no combat, which is sadly not often. There’s also a lovely song in the main menu that has beautiful vocals, good use of strings, and a tone that hints toward the duality of the themes of the story (being lighthearted and dark at the same time). Overall, I’m satisfied with the soundtrack and like how it accompanies the varying scenarios and environments in the game.
A New Beginning continues the tradition of having a multitude of beautiful, fantastical environments the Spyro games are known for with a vibrant, colorful art style. Although there aren’t many places to explore, as I would have liked, you really get to dig into what is presented. The first levels you traverse compose the areas surrounding Spyro’s home. He lives with dragonflies, so as you can imagine, there are lots of flora and vegetation. Giant orange mushrooms and green hills can be seen all around you, and this is where I began to notice the creative, fantastical aesthetics throughout the game. On the journey you’ll find a jungle floating on giant rocks in the sky, an ancient dragon temple in ruins, and gloomy castle grounds surrounding a once proud yet evil kingdom of warriors. The settings just look wonderful, and the graphical fidelity of the game is impressive for its time as well. The character models are very detailed and expressive with movement (except with the faces on occasion); there’s very little texture pop-in, even in wide areas covering a lot of ground; colors of the rainbow abound everywhere in the environments, but do not come across as overbearing; and the elements of Spyro’s breaths such as fire, ice, and electricity are visually powerful and awesome to look at when applied on the battlefield. While I do have a problem with the strange-looking cinematic cutscenes and some of the redesigned aspects of Spyro and Sparx (who look weirder than their past designs), the graphics of this game are hard to criticize as a whole; it looks fantastic, which the art department should be applauded for.
Gravity? Who cares? This is pretty nice to look at.
It’s a time of war where dragons are pitted against an army of heartless minions. They are commanded by The Dark Master and eventually led by Cynder – an intimidating, powerful dragon – to wipe out all dragons and the glory they’ve achieved over time. The mysterious villain behind everything eventually succeeds in accomplishing his goal due to his overwhelming forces and sends his minions to the dragon temple where dragon eggs are being held. Ignitus, a master of fire, had been tasked to protect them, but since the Dark Master’s forces ambushed this place one unsuspecting night, he only has time to take one of the eggs and send it down a nearby river in a basket. Knowing this dragon would reach someone’s care, he went back to fight with his brethren in a battle he would lose to Cynder in the years to come, also hoping that dragon could be raised well in seclusion. Meanwhile, the egg did find its home with a dragonfly family, who raised the dragon that hatched from it as one of their own. They named him Spyro. As he grew alongside his “brother,” Sparx, one day he discovered he could breath fire. His parents told him he wasn’t a dragonfly, but a creature from a mysterious race. Therefore, Spyro set out on a journey to find his true family, and manages to find Ignitus living as a hermit, hiding away from civilization to avoid being discovered. When he lays his eyes on Spyro, he realizes he is the purple dragon, who is destined to fulfill a great destiny. Although hesitant, he wonders if Spyro could save his three fellow dragon masters, learn from their wisdom, and defeat Cynder. Upon telling Spyro this thought, he agrees that he should attempt to do these things, so he sets off on a journey that will change him forever.
A Depiction of the ancient wars between dragons and The Dark Master. It would have been really interesting to have a prequel game taking place during this time.
It’s obvious that Krome Studios intended to make this game have a more serious, more focused, and darker story than any Spyro games before it, which had much less serious and complex stories behind them. And in many ways, this isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s an interesting direction to take considering the more playful and comedic stories of the past, and while themes like these are present in the game, they are overshadowed by antithetical themes (i.e. weighty, dark, etc.). There’s a grave history behind the story that profoundly impacts the protagonists’ personalities and objectives, and Cynder is more devilish in her deeds and motives than past villains like Ripto or the Sorceress.
The origin story of Spyro is also, for lack of a better word, cute. I think its funny how he thought he was a dragonfly because, like in some cartoon movies, the child who doesn’t know they’re adopted believes they are part of the family, no matter how different they may look. Spyro himself is different as a character too. He’s much more, shall we say, modest than his past iterations. While his sarcasm and humor linger, he’s vastly nobler and humbler this time. Overall, it’s a nice direction for the character. Sparx also talks now, who is constantly joking and expresses forms of vanity and cowardice. Although I preferred his silence in the past, I’m indifferent to how they’ve changed him. The other dragons are also a fun and interesting bunch, who banter back and forth with amusing results.
The story also ends on a surprising note, which serves as an enticing reason to return to see what happens in the next game. But as for the game at hand, A New Beginning manages to pull off an adequate start to The Legend of Spyro with a straight-forward story that has a good, entertaining cast of characters and light (as in “not intense”) dark themes that balance out well.
Outside of the main story, there is absolutely nothing else to do once the game is complete. Clocking in at around five to seven hours of total playtime, there are no secrets to find, no extra modes to delve into, or a reason to return to the game a second time. I remember putting hours into the Spyro the Dragon games to get all of the dragon eggs, beat my last record of flying through a series of rings, perform as many flips and turns as I could skateboarding…you name it. The replay value for A New Beginning is nonexistent, and it’s shorter than the Spyro the Dragon games despite having a tighter story to tell.
I went into this game with skepticism, but at the same time, I secretly expected that I would gain an affinity for it. This did not happen. The action-oriented gameplay is solid, the voice acting and music are excellent at times, and the story is a nice beginning to this franchise reboot. However, the one-dimensional gameplay becomes cyclic and monotonous; the linearity of the level design feels constraining and shows the lack of depth in the game; the overall audio, while satisfactory, fails to stand out as memorable; and the replay value is disappointing.
Although The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning stands above the – at best – mediocrity of Enter the Dragonfly and A Hero’s Tail, it fails to reach the heights and depth of Insomniac Games’ original trilogy of Spyro games. They are emblazoned in my memories like a fire that cannot die. A New Beginning, while it was a valiant attempt by Krome Studios to do Spyro good, is only above average in its overall execution. There are some genuinely good qualities in and underlying potential for the game and what it could have been, respectively, but its problems hamper it down from excellence.