EVERYONE KNOWS SPYRO, but not many people over eight-years-old seem to care. But his long-running career of average gemcollecting platformers is about to take a turn for the better in Legend of Spyro A New Beginning.
Since the game was announced, Krome Studios has promised that this will be the game to take Spyro to the top.
The polish is evident the moment you turn the game on. We were truly surprised to see some gorgeous lighting, fire and explosion effects. We wandered through dark caves lit only by the ambient glow of Sparx (your dragonfly sidekick) as he flew through the darkness. We swooped through the clouds in a flying level, shooting missiles that left a trail of thick black smoke behind them and struck their targets with a spectacular explosion. Then we poked around in a beautiful snow-covered ice world. All very nice.
All the worlds are so vivid and so detailed that they're instantly more fun to explore than the comparatively bland-looking landscapes of previous incarnations. The characters and enemies also look loads better. Spyro was always a bit stiff and lifeless but now he's full of expression and character as he interacts with his allies during cut scenes. Every enemy you fight has been brilliantly animated, responding to pain when Spyro dishes out the violence. Even when they're killed, some enemies will lean up to take one last breath in desperation, before collapsing in a heap.
Previous games had you searching for endless lists of items and gems, but A New Beginning is far more focused on action and combat. But before you get into any of that, you're bombarded with cut scenes that set the scene for the game, which takes much more of an epic tone than you'd expect from a game like this.
It tells the story of the beginning of Spyro's life. He grew up in a land of dragonflies, believing he was one of them. But one day he discovered his true nature - a dragon - and set out to search for his true home. What he found was a war-torn wasteland, after his home was invaded and his people enslaved. It turns out that some ancient prophecy spoke of the coming of a purple dragon who would harness a special power to defeat evil, and return peace to the land. Even though he's only a couple of feet tall and looks like a child's toy, Spyro is the man. Or dragon, in this case.
For his quest, Spyro has some new fighting skills, including easily executed combos that have you smashing enemies up into the air, then leaping up and delivering a further four blows in slow slow-motion, Matrix-style.
His flame breath is back too, but the improved effects make it loads more satisfying to use - unleash Spyro's fire and the whole screen lights up as flames engulf your enemies. If you want something with more impact, Spyro can
spit fireballs, that send groups of enemies flying when they blow up. Later in the game you can acquire new breath powers, like Electricity Stream, which allows you to zap enemies with a high-voltage charge. Spyro can even unleash a Fury attack that wipes out the whole screen.
The combat is certainly a lot better, but our only problem is that far too often the game locks you in an area and forces you to fight wave after wave of enemies before allowing you to continue. We could imagine this becoming quite tedious in later levels. But there's also a fair share of thoughtprovoking puzzles to get stuck into. In one stage we had to set some statues on fire to open doors (like a Zelda game), while during another we had to hit a tree to make snowballs fall from its leaves, in order to load the them up into a giant catapult and shoot them at the wall.
A New Beginning is most certainly going to be the best game of the Spyro series. Whether it'll take him up there with the likes of Conker remains to be seen. But it's looking like a fun and stunning-looking platformer that could be well worth a look.