|System: X360, PS3, Wii, PS2, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Etranges Libellules||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Vivendi||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 21, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon has a lot going for it. Though the franchise has suffered in recent years, a lot of gamers still remember its successful outings on the PlayStation; the original Spyro the Dragon sold well, leading to two sequels by developer Insomniac. Other developers have been responsible for subsequent titles, including the Legend of Spyro trilogy, which Dawn of the Dragon concludes. In each game, Spyro explores a fantasy world, battling various foes along the way.
As on previous installments, real Hollywood actors take care of the voice acting. Heavy hitters including Elijah Wood, Gary Oldman, Christina Ricci, Blair Underwood, Mark Hamill, and Wayne Brady take parts this time around.
The graphics, while they don't reach Gears of War levels of detail, are impressive and colorful, making the game feel downright magical in places. The characters move with fluid animations, the cutscenes look appropriately cinematic, and the environments are beautiful. You'll notice the occasional glitch (pop-in, etc.), but on balance, visually, Dawn of the Dragon lives up to the promise of current-generation gaming.
The fighting system is quite evolved for a beat-'em-up, with strong and weak melee attacks, various magic spells, blocking, jumping (you can attack from the air), and grabbing. The sound is terrific too, with majestic orchestral music and wonderful sound effects (most common and cute is the pitter-patter of dragon feet as you walk). The drop-in, drop-out co-op is a nice touch.
Unfortunately, after developing these aspects so thoroughly and so well, it seems this title's makers got lazy or ran out of time. As a result, this is simply not a fun game to play.
At virtually any point, you'll be either exploring or fighting. When exploring, you'll roam around, break random objects looking for gems (these replenish your health, refill your magic bar, and serve as currency for buying more abilities), and jump and fly to platform after platform. Once in awhile, there's a Resident Evil 4-style cue for button presses; you'll have to press a button repeatedly to pull a lever or, during a cutscene, press a button fast enough to avoid getting killed. On the exploration side of things, four problems will frustrate players.
The first is nearly ubiquitous in the adventure genre, but bears mentioning nonetheless: It's just not very entertaining to run from item to item, smashing them all to see what's inside. There's no skill to it, beyond being thorough and willing to waste hours on such a monotonous task. Yes, that's what we've been doing since early Zelda games, and yes, Zelda games are great, but it's almost 2009, and we should move on and make the time spent playing adventure games a little more efficient. There's got to be a better way to award life, magic, and money, even if it's just giving a little of each every time an enemy is defeated.
Second is that the game's layout is confusing. Most of the regions are rather big; it's not always clear where you're supposed to go, and after destroying a bunch of random objects looking for gems, it's easy to forget which way you were headed. There's no map, and while there's a dragonfly who's supposed to lead the way when you get lost, sometimes he does his job, and sometimes he doesn't; he works at all the wrong moments. When you know exactly where you're going, you'll often catch him flying ahead of you, but when you don't, he's as lost as you are.
Third, though the game's promoters have made a big deal out of the flight system, it's awful. The big improvement over previous Spyro games is that you can fly anytime you want. The problem is that the air is very different in different parts of the game, and it's not always obvious how your dragon will behave when you take off.