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Reviewed: The Legend of Spyro - Dawn of the Dragon
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: December 10th, 2008
Page: 2


Dawn of the Dragon (hereby simply referred to as DotD) starts out with a bit of a "flashback" - a brief audio tidbit of the two main characters screaming in a titanic battle, and then opens up showing them sealed into a giant crystal. A bunch of orcs show up, break them out of the crystal, and stick a magical pair of collars around their necks ("eevil" collars made of green snakes, just in case there was any doubt). The initial area starts out with the two dragons breaking the spot they're anchored to, beating up on the orcs, and then figuring out that they need to stick close because the collars are magically connected.

In other words, this is the storyline reason why the co-op gameplay design won't let the characters get more than a screen-edge apart from each other; they're tied together. Don't worry, this actually works reasonably well.

DotD is based around cooperative gameplay, but not "separated" cooperative gameplay. Switching between single-player and co-op mode is as simple as flicking a switch in the pause menu; in single mode, there's a button to change characters, and in multiplayer, 1st and 2nd player get Spyro and Cynder respectively. Aside from that, the puzzles in the game aren't actually two-player; they're more of a "one player or the other is carrying the solution" variety. Cynder has a burrowing ability that gets through certain doors, Spyro has a boulder roll to get through others... both can use the chain to "swing" from the other, or to tug them along while holding tight to certain objects. A number of the puzzles involve the single-player method of "set one dragon in place and forget", and the two-player cooperative method of "learn to let the other person control things for a while." For an E-level game, this isn't a bad thing, just as being tied together keeps cooperative gamers focused and quickly (within 2 hours for a couple of older, more "experienced" gamers) makes it clear that communicating and coordinating attacks and motion will work a heck of a lot better than trying to act independently.

The best-looking areas of the game are
 definitely the forest levels.

This may not be what it appears.

Prerendered cutscenes - they don't quite
 match the rest of the graphics.

In terms of controls, the game's solid, but the "unlimited flying" mode leaves something to be desired, mainly altitude control. Rather than being "flying", Spyro and Cynder seem to just glide along at a set level above the ground/water/magma, unless they're on a specific path meant to be followed that requires their going up. It's a concession to the idea that they somehow had to put jumping/climbing puzzles into a game where the main characters are dragons and have fully functional wings, and it really doesn't serve the game well.

Storyline-wise, the same problem crops up over and over; characters ignore the obvious solutions to a problem in favor of much more convoluted excuses to send Spyro and Cynder through a specific level. For the E-10 crowd, no big deal; for any accompanying adult gamers, head-slap moments abound. For example: I'm a dragon. I have wings. I have a wide open space in which to theoretically fly and gain altitude. Why, oh why, am I desperately trying to climb up a vine-covered cliff rather than simply flapping my wings a few times and reaching the top easily. The same, alas, is true for most of the boss battles; the game severely limits the abilities of the dragons, or their range of motion (the old "invisible edge of the world" problem), in order to make the fight harder than it should be. There are also indications that several smaller parts of the design team weren't sure what game they were making, because fights shift from straight beatdowns, to Devil-May-Cry/Megaman-style pattern bosses, to Quicktime Cutscene Fights (think God of War), and at least once all three modes pop up during the same boss fight.

Graphically, DotD's almost stellar; there are definite indications that certain levels and enemies weren't properly upgraded (remembering that the game's even got a PS2 port, something that probably held the level space and design constraints back quite a bit) from the past title, but for the most part the look works and everything is pretty. Musically, someone pulled out the stops - it's got a grand orchestral suite, nothing understated at all. In voice, for the most part they did pretty well, with Elijah Wood reprising Spyro, Christina Ricci as Cynder, Blair Underwood as Hunter, the highly distorted voice of Mark Hamill as The Dark Master Malefor, Gary Oldman as Ignitus, and a reasonably good other cast as well. In one odd alteration, Wayne Brady takes over as Sparx from Billy West, who previously took the role away from David Spade... they just can't decide what they want to do with the dragonfly.

The writing staff also needs a swift kick: Since Sparx is now officially the source of comic relief, what with Spyro having to be "mature" and growing up, he was given a bunch of one-liners. Each and every one of these falls completely flat and proves annoying enough to make anyone over the age of 12 wish one of those dragons would just snap him out of the sky and gobble him down. Oh, and don't forget the moles with British accents. A bit of confusion and possible hilarity comes out of merely listening to them speak.

 

This guy is not coming by just to
 say "hello."

British moles!

Alas, Spyro's not contemplating
 simply eating this annoying dragonfly.

If you're looking for an added challenge (besides scouring levels for armor bits and life/magic gem upgrades), there are also the added "elite" enemies. These offer a weird spot in the game. First of all, they're much harder than anything else in the game, including normal boss fights. Second, some of them are not avoidable, at least if you want to end the game fully powered-up (and trust me, trying to move on when underpowered can be awkward). They're nominally found by "going back" in the game, sometimes along the original path, sometimes down side-paths. They've also got a mechanic that even the game's tutorial won't tell you about, which is that they are invincible until hit enough times with a specific elemental attack (helpfully telegraphed by the matching-colored mask they wear). Only once the mask is knocked off can they be harmed. Throughout the game, helpful info like that is lucked into by trial and error; black crystals (which must be destroyed because they're "evil") suck away your magical power, "elite" enemies have to be hit with an element to make them vulnerable, "flight" lacks proper up/down altitude controls... and this isn't limited to just the game mechanics, either. At many times, DotD's neurotic camera system is not just unhelpful, but actively trying to get the player(s) killed (by hiding enemies off-screen) or hiding the appropriate path to move through the level. The inability to control altitude also makes fighting aerial enemies - who can, it seems, control their own height - far more trying than it needs to be.

DotD's writers have one fatal flaw; they've played their own games too many times, they themselves know the story, and they see no need to put in flashbacks or other storyline information beyond "hey, isn't that the evil dragon Cynder" commentaries directed at Cynder to explain What Has Gone Before. Yes, it's true that most of this is covered in the previous two games (which were Playstation-2 only), but it's for that very reason that some more plot development and recap would be in order - with this game expanding the franchise out to more consoles, there are going to be a sizable chunk of "new players" coming in to the world who are going to be very confused and may not have the previous system or titles available. Especially jarring is the Ignitus' big moment in the sun, which comes out of the blue and has no major reason or plot rationale (within the scope of the game itself, that is) to be as crazy and meaningful as Spyro makes it seem.

If you've got a young kid or better yet, two kids who you'd like to see play together, DotD is going to be a stellar choice. It accomplishes everything an E-10 rated game needs to; solid moral foundation, good "life lessons" about teamwork, and fun, entertaining gameplay and graphics for that level of gamer. Unfortunately, from an adult perspective I'd have to call it a tad underwhelming. In fitting Spyro to the mold, they've made him "grow up", and he's lost a lot of the character value of the wisecracking little dragon to his "newfound maturity", especially while literally shackled to his girlfriend. Older gamers, tread cautiously and keep it for the E-10 crowd.


Added:  Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Score:
Page: 2/3

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