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ISSUE 120 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/10/2006

Sixth 'Spyro' video game falls flat

By April Wright
Variety Editor

Friday, November 10, 2006

I remember when I first played "Spyro the Dragon" back in 1998 on my Playstation. It was solidly the best game ever. I had finally found a game that appealed to my need for clever banter as well as likeable characters. I'd found a game with mechanics easy enough to be fun, but challenging enough to keep my 11-year-old self up on caffeine binges looking for the last gems in a level. The sequels, "Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer" and "Spyro: Year of the Dragon," continued the little purple dragon's legacy of excellence.

But then something happened.

One of Playstation's most successful platform gaming franchises fell apart. Original developers Insomniac turned the series over to a succession of other companies, and the Spyro games lost their charm. "Enter the Dragonfly," the fourth Spyro game, was a buggy, disorganized mess. "A Hero's Tail," the next game, made some improvements in gameplay mechanics and writing.

"The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning" set out to wipe the egg from the face of the franchise. Unfortunately, new developers Krome Studios didn't succeed as well as anticipated.

The hugely hyped game follows a young Spyro the dragon as he discovers his powers and goes on a quest to restore the dragon kingdom to its original glory by defeating the chief enemy of the game, Cynder, another dragon.

The series instituted some changes with "A New Beginning." The most obvious is the casting switch-up. Even for those unfamiliar with the series, there is no missing the voice actors in the game. Gary Oldman is phenomenal as Ignitus, Spyro's mentor. David Spade is annoying as all hell as Spyro's dragonfly buddy, Sparx, who in previous games had spoken in a cute voice obscured by a high-pitched insect buzz. Elijah Wood now voices Spyro. While Wood is just fine in the role, the earnestness of his voice changes the persona of Spyro from previous games, in which he appeared more mischievous and spunky.

The look of the game has changed considerably, too. In the first five games, the landscapes were filled with quaint castles and cartoonish natural features. Because of the process used to develop the game, all the objects in the worlds had a somewhat blocky, polygonal appearance. That's gone now; the game has taken on a smooth, colorful appearance reminiscent of "World of Warcraft." It's a nice-looking game, but I don't particularly want to be reminded of a massive, life-consuming behemoth of a game when I sit down to play a light-hearted game about a little purple dragon.

Previous Spyro games emphasized platforming, a style of gaming in which the player jumps from place to place, fighting enemies and collecting objects to win the game. "A New Beginning" is combat-centric. In my opinion, there's far too much combat. Once you've defeated all the enemies in an area, more teleport in. There is probably about two minutes of play in the whole game that don't involve fighting someone. Add the new combo moves and ridiculous amount of attacks to remember, and the all the fun gets sucked right out of the game.

The game features a much more linear progression than ever. In all of the other Spyro games, players were given a choice of what worlds they wanted to complete first. There was also the option to replay the worlds at will. "A New Beginning" forces players through training in the use of new skills, with each one dumping the player off in a new world in which to hone their skill. The lack of choice or ability to return and replay stages is frustrating.

The game is also incredibly short. It contains only about six hours of gameplay. For the $40 price tag, many other games (including most in the Spyro family) provide a longer, more satisfying gaming experience.

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