Spyro has been around for donkey’s years and ‘back in the day’ I was a big fan — nay, a huge fan. I don’t know why or how the little purple fellah got to me but the first couple of games really felt like a breath of fresh fire in the platform gaming genre. Part of Spyro’s charm I think was its ability to walk that tightrope between the adult and kid’s game. There was always enough humour and subtext there to keep us oldies happy and enough bright and sugary cheerfulness to keep the kiddies engaged. Now, Xbox Live’s latest assemblage of ‘Xbox Originals’ has included the 2006 released The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning. A game, I must confess, I didn’t play on first release.
As in earlier Spyro entries this is very much platforming 101. You progress through six levels in very linear fashion (more so than I remember from previous games) culminating in the inevitable boss fight. Gameplay has been tarted up some with wee Spyro having a variety of new button mashy combat moves as well as four different breath attacks: good ol’ reliable fire, electricity, ice and earth. Spyro can also use furies; these are big power attacks that take out multiple enemies in the area. To unleash furies you have to fill up a meter by collecting gems. These new breath powers and fury attacks are gained when you defeat the various bosses throughout the game. Incidentally, these power moves did look pretty cool with some nice lighting effects going on.
Playing A New Beginning I was expecting to be hit by a wave of nostalgia but instead I found myself swamped by a flood tedium. Every time the gameplay threatened to lurch into life, proceedings ground to a halt as I was forced to watch cut scene after cut scene. Now do you wanna hear the basic plot? I didn’t think so; suffice to say this is a prequel where you find out a bunch of new stuff about Spyro, his parents, his home and his destiny.
Krome Studios obviously spent a few bob on the voice talent as we have Elijah Wood playing the title character, Gary Oldman as wise ol’ dragon Ignitus and hilarious motor mouth David Spade playing hilarious motor mouth Sparx the dragonfly. Bless them all for trying their darndest, particularly Oldman who could, let’s face it, read out the ingredients on an anti-dandruff shampoo bottle and make it sound ennobling. The problem though is in the story — it’s painfully uninspired and the dialogue is as boring as sin. Unfortunately no amount of earnest goodwill or gravitas from the game’s voice talent is going to change that.
As I said earlier the gameplay is very linear (even for a platform game) and the levels and environments reflected this lack of depth. I felt as if I was being constantly pushed forward through a very narrow path despite being, supposedly, in an enormous mythical world.
These criticisms may sound a bit harsh, particularly when you consider the game’s age and the consoles that it was intended for. But then I remember feeling the same way when Enter the Dragonfly was released on the PlayStation 2. The root problem is the Spyro franchise has been on a downward trajectory for some time now, much like the career of M. Night Shyamalan. The games have evolved very little since their initial release — ten years ago! (Man I’m getting old.) Who knows, another chapter in the Spyro saga might yet be written, one that’s new and innovative, ground breaking even. But for what it’s worth, I reckon we learn from The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning and move on — I say we let sleeping dragons lie.