The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon Review for PlayStation 3 (PS3)

The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon Review for PlayStation 3 (PS3)

Spyro the Magic Dragon

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.

The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon screenshot

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.

The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon screenshot

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.

The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon screenshot

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.

When the title throws jumping puzzles your way, the best you’ll usually be able to do is double-jump, glide, and, if necessary, thrust yourself forward to grab hold of a climbable surface. (You’ll master these techniques early, in perhaps the most annoying jumping puzzle every to appear in a game’s first stage. There are multiple jumps that require exacting precision, at least for someone who’s just getting used to the controls, and if you miss a single one, you end up back at the bottom and have to start all over again.) At other times, you can fly effortlessly over long stretches of terrain. It doesn’t help that once in the air, your dragon is hard to control.

The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon screenshot

Fourth, the game constrains players’ movements in a number of ways. Sometimes the right stick will rotate the camera a full 360 degrees, but at other times only a few degrees in either direction is possible. This makes it tough to get a feel for your surroundings. Also, you’ll run into invisible walls a lot; they cordon off everything from the edge of the game’s universe to shortcuts between trees.

When you’re not exploring, you’re fighting. You have two dragons, Spyro and Cynder, which you can switch between with the push of a button. (Your partner won’t die when you’re not controlling him or her, but won’t help out much either, and once in awhile will get stuck while traveling.) As already mentioned, the dragons can perform melee attacks in addition to casting magic spells. The fighting, unfortunately, rarely requires the player to use these moves in a nuanced manner, and, as such, it’s no more fun than the exploring.

For the most part, you’ll face off against waves and waves of relatively easy enemies. Button-mashing is the typical tactic here, as there are often so many enemies coming from so many directions that no real strategy is possible. When it comes to the forgettable boss battles, you’ll die a few times getting to know the patterns and weak spots.

Easily, though, the worst fights are against “Elite” enemies. Technically, you can simply walk away from these battles (something the game doesn’t bother to inform you; you can either discover it by accident or read about it online). Even as bonus missions, however, these face-offs are brutal. A few hits will kill you, and typically, only one of your many available magic spells will do any damage. The fact that your other moves don’t hurt the enemy is far from obvious, unless you keep a close eye on the various stats that pop up on the screen. Add in the fact that there’s no way to tell which spell will work (it’s rarely something obvious like using fire on an ice enemy), and it’s a mountain of trial-and-error frustration.

As you explore and fight your way through the game, the story unfolds. This game begins with Spyro and Cynder becoming unfrozen after three years (they were put in crystal following their fight with Gaul). Enemies break them out and bond them together with snakes that look like electric bolts, a conceit that explains why they’re never apart during this game. They start with a boss battle against Golem (a bit demanding for newcomers, but manageable), and go off in search their archenemy, the Dark Master.

The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon screenshot

When it comes right down to it, it’s hard to imagine who would enjoy this game. Certainly, the five people who’ve beaten both the previous Legend of Spyro titles might want to know how it ends. But for kids, an obvious target audience given the childish-looking dragons and bright color palette, this title is too boring, too hard, and possibly too long (10 or so hours). Adults can find better games in which to mash buttons and break random items, and even they might find the Elite enemies too much to handle.

It’s also hard to be so dismissive of this game, because the developers put together about 90 percent of a first-class title. The graphics are there, the story is there, and the mechanics are just a few tweaks shy of perfect. Yet when it comes to gameplay, that final and most important 10 percent, most folks will find themselves getting bored, lost, annoyed, or all three.

It’s not quite Gears of War, but it truly takes advantage of the new generation’s hardware. 3.7 Control
Flying is hit-or-miss. 4.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Excellent orchestral music and evocative sound effects. 2.6 Play Value
It’s just not much fun. 3.3 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Take flight anywhere in the Spyro Universe for the first time.
  • Drop-in/drop-out two-player co-op with Cynder as a playable character.
  • Epic challenge of huge bosses and multiple enemies.
  • Live the Spyro saga through the talented voices of Elijah Wood, Gary Oldman, Christina Ricci and more.
  • Theatrical, powerful, and explosive action.

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