Reviewed: November 12, 2006
Released: October 10, 2006
Earlier this holiday season, I had the distinct pleasure of reviewing the veritable rebirth of the waning Spyro franchise. With the Spyro license having recently been picked up by Sierra, the new publishers – along with the highly underrated Krome Studios – cast our favorite dragon in a darker, grittier world that was more attuned to the older set than the kid-friendly fare that generally accompanies our purple hero.
With amazing production value, beautiful graphics, and top-notch voice work from the likes of Elijah Wood, Gary Oldman, and David Spade, Spyro: A New Beginning for the consoles was about the closest thing to the classic Soul Reaver epic to come along in years.
Now I get a chance to look at the DS version of The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning. Sadly, while Spyro’s “new beginning” on the DS definitely shows improvement over his previous handheld appearances, the game falls prey to fundamental gameplay issues resulting in a rather lackluster and, at times, frustrating title.
Spyro’s handheld story follows rather close to the console epics released earlier this season. The story starts with Spyro finding out that he is not just a fast dragonfly as his adopted brother Sparx likes to tease him about – he’s an honest-to-goodness dragon who was discovered along the banks of a river by his two miniscule parents.
Spyro and Sparx set out to find the secret of Spyro’s past, where they meet an aged dragon named Ignitus who recognizes Spyro by his purple hue. He tells the brothers of how the dragon’s world fell under the dark forces of Cynder the dragon and her minions, and how Spyro himself was saved during the final assault, when Ignitus himself sent him floating down the river in a Moses-like story climax.
Spyro and Sparx, with the help of the elder Ignitus, set out to defeat the evil Cynder and reclaim the destroyed lands for the good dragons in an adventure that traverses the tried-and-true platformer environments (ice, fire, water, etc.). But with one big problem; an awkwardly isometric point-of-view.
Instead of opting for a traditional 2D side-scrolling adventure (like we would expect on the GBA), or even a fully polygonal 3D platformer (perfected by Mario 64 DS), the developers tried to emulate a 3D design by using an isometric layout. An off-kilter bird-eye view, if you will. And while this does add a certain amount of depth to the visuals, it really doesn’t help in determining the differences in heights between objects onscreen.
While issues with the perspective would normally be saved for the graphics portion of the review, when these issues are integral to the gameplay and directly affect it for the worse, it is worth mentioning. And not being able to tell if a platform is higher or lower (or how much therein) than the character – in a character based platformer like Spyro – is really not a good thing for gameplay.
Couple the awkward view with the outdated and wonky control scheme, and simple jobs like navigating a level are all too frustrating. Speaking of the control scheme, A New Beginning’s attempt at utilizing the DS’s touchscreen is admirable, but ultimately broken. By mapping Spyro’s tail attacks and breath attacks separately – one to the face buttons and the other to the touch screen – combat quickly becomes a befuddled mess of fumbling between the using stylus and pressing the face buttons.
And when I say fumbling – I mean that even a skilled chopstick artist will find himself dropping the stylus more than once during the adventure. Frankly, it becomes easier to simply stick with one attack method (tail or breath, I pick the latter) and trudge your way through the game like that. The enemies are all quite generic, and each takes a predetermined number of hits to fell. As a result, the game degrades to a simple button-mashing (or stylus mashing) affair rather quickly.
Still, the story is interesting, and the darker theme does add a nice twist to the usually kid-friendly dragon.
As mentioned earlier, the biggest downfall for A New Beginning on the DS, is the awkward point of view that makes navigating the complex levels overly difficult. It is often hard to determine which surfaces are higher or lower in respect to Spyro, so deciding whether or not to jump is often quite arbitrary. Sierra was able to pull off a solid 3D platformer look on the DS with their recent Eragon release, and it would have been nice to see Spyro sporting the same.
Other than the treacherous viewpoint, Spyro looks just fine on the handheld. Considering how small each object appears onscreen, there is an impressive level of detail. The lighting effects are actually quite impressive, and the areas are quite lush.
The animations could have been a bit more fluid, especially during the combat, when things tend to get a bit clunky. And it would have been nice to see a bit more oomph to Spyro’s trademark breath attacks – the visual effects tend to be a bit underwhelming compared to those in the console version.
While the cover art for the DS version of A New Beginning touts the same voice acting as the console versions, the hardware limitations of the DS results in only a fragment of what the disc-based versions offered. While this may be a tad misleading ethically, it still is pretty darn cool to hear actual discernable voices in the cutscenes.
The soundtrack is similarly pared down from the heavily-orchestrated fare featured on the console releases, but still does a great job of getting the whole fantasy theme across to the gamer. All of this was definitely done at the expense of the sound effects, which are mediocre at best.
Spyro’s newest quest on the DS is not horrible by any means; it just is not all that impressive compared to the competition. Considering that there are so many good 2D and 3D platformers already on the system, there isn’t much need to throw in the frustration of A New Beginning.
I would wholeheartedly suggest that any Spyro fan check out any of the console releases of A New Beginning before delving into this frustrating release.