Price: $39.99 - $49.99
Platform(s): PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii
Developer: Etranges Libellules
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
ESRB: E 10+
Spyro, my old friend, what have they done to you? I remember when you first busted out on the scene, you were a plucky dragon facing off against an evil sorceress who commanded an army of rhino things. Now, it seems that you've seen a few too many epic fantasy movies and read the Big Book of Genre Cliches and taken every word to heart. You also forgot how to be fun.
I want to be a fair reviewer, with as little bias as possible, so I went into this game looking at it two different ways. The first way was simply as a gamer who remembers getting the first Spyro game for his original Playstation, and the other was to realize that I'm not the target audience, and instead try to view it from the perspective of an 11 year-old boy. It's been quite a few years since then, but I think I can still remember what it was like.
The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon is the third and final game in the "Legend of Spyro" trilogy that started with A New Beginning and was continued in The Eternal Night. It is a complete series reboot, so the previous five games hold no sway in this trilogy. The point of the reboot was due to the drastic change in gameplay from the original titles; simply starting over from scratch when changing so much just makes more sense (see also: The new Bond movies). The original Spyro games were fairly light-hearted games with colorful envrionments and a throwaway story that didn't really bother anybody; the new Spyro games are much more dark and serious, which really doesn't seem to fit the character.
Dawn of the Dragon takes place during a war between the forces of the aptly named "Dark Master" and the good species of the planet, which includes dragons, cheetah-people, and moles. The war looks like it's something out of the Lord of the Rings movies, and there's even a cut-scene where the evil forces are staging an assault on the Dragon City, which looks remarkably similar to Helm's Deep, and even the framing of the oncoming enemies looks ripped from the movie. Copying from the best isn't really a bad thing, but the entire game seems to take liberally from every fantasy movie of the past few years when dealing with the story. When I think Spyro, I have never thought of epic battles between thousands of evil foes and a few good creatures.
To keep up with this epic, fantasy-style story, the developers shifted the focus away from exploration and platforming to combat. That's not to say there's no platforming (don't worry, I'll get to that later), but you can tell that combat is where they wanted the focus of the game to be. Combat in the older Spyro games, for comparison, was pretty close to the combat in a Mario game, specifically, you could jump on enemies heads and shoot fire. Dawn of the Dragon has employed a more hack-n-slash approach. You've got at your command a weak attack, a strong attack, combos featuring both of those, and magic. You'd think with all those options you'd be fine, but most of your gametime will be spent mashing on the B button because using the strong attack just takes too much effort (on the Wii, you're required to shake the controller downward to do a special attack). The game throws groups of enemies ranging from 5 to 15 towards you at a time, and while you're attempting to kill one of the enemies, the others gather around you. The few things that really bothered me about the combat system is that the only way I could tell I was actually hitting an enemy was that the combo meter on the side would go up for each hit that connected. The enemies showed no animation that would give me the hint that I was aiming at the right spot. Speaking of the enemies, it took entirely too long to kill each one. On average, it probably took at least ten hits to kill each standard enemy that would come at you in giant groups...but without any sort of on-screen indicator of the enemies' health, it may have taken a few additional hits to put them down for good.
Aside from the combat, the only other part in Dawn of the Dragon is the exploration offered in each of the levels, and unfortunately, it's a very painful experience. The camera is really horrible, and some of the jumping/gliding mechanics are an exercise in platforming-torture. There would be times where it looked like you would be able to fly over to a certain platform, but as you glided closer, you would hit an invisible wall placed by the developers telling you "that's not how you get up here." You could try and climb the vines that are hanging around some platforms, but you'll probably end up falling a few times. This is problem extends further into nuisance-territory when trying to reach some areas, as the camera whips around and switches the direction in which you happen to be flying. Jumping around gets even more fun (i.e., that was just sarcarsm. It's not fun,) when you have to transport a magic rock to the end of a timed platforming gauntlet. In case you were wondering, yes, the magic rock does hinder your ability to jump and fly greatly.
The developers did see fit to include a drop-in, drop-out co-op mode for two people, for the entire game. This is a great idea until you realize that if you thought some of those jumps were hard on your own, just wait until you have to do it with somebody else, effectively doubling your chances of not making it, and quadrupling your aggravation. Thankfully, getting it back to one-player is just as easy as pressing pause and changing the slider, so you could always cheat the system by doing the jumps on your own and then switching control back to the second player when you're done. Having another person with you is usually a good idea, because at least this way you'll be playing a very mediocre game in the company of somebody else playing a mediocre game (thus, it equals some semblance of fun).
I promise, I went into The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon with a very open mind and I really wanted to enjoy it, because I remembered how great the PSOne games were. Instead, I ended up with a boring, aggravating, and repetitive action platformer. In fact, this experience makes me want to go back and replay the first Spyro to see if it really was as good as I remember, or if my 11 year-old self was just way more forgiving. Thankfully, it's available on the PSN for six dollars.