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The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon
Score: 65%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Etranges Libellules
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2 (Local)
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Platformer (3D)

Graphics & Sound:
The fall of a beloved videogame icon is perhaps the greatest tragedy in the gaming world - the more revered the series or character, the more devastating the fall is. I was a fan of the Spyro the Dragon series back during the purple dragon's glory days on the PlayStation. I enjoyed its simple yet charming approach to gameplay, and I knew then that franchise creator Insomniac Games would go far in the industry. I've been proven right in that respect; their two current flagship franchises (Ratchet & Clank and Resistance) have been well received critically and commercially. But what of the little purple dragon who helped the company get airborne? If The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon is any indication, those who make the new Spyro games seem overeager to break away from the franchise's roots. Unfortunately for Dawn of the Dragon, this results in an extremely derivative and otherwise unimpressive conclusion to an unremarkable trilogy.

The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon's visual presentation is above par for the trilogy, and this can be credited to the fact that it's a next-gen title. The environments are appropriately colorful and the character models look believable enough. The biggest problem with the visuals lies in a constantly stuttering framerate. The framerate often struggles in parts where it really shouldn't - I'm talking about sequences in which there isn't much going on in the game world. The odd few quirks aside, however, Dawn of the Dragon is a very pretty game that is easy on the eyes.

The sound design in Dawn of the Dragon is easily the best part of the entire experience. The soundtrack feels inspired by the Don Bluth animated films of the 1980s (such as The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go To Heaven), and those who are familiar with these films know that this kind of music succeeds in evoking a sense of natural wonder. In addition to the stellar soundtrack, much of the A-list talent from the first two games of the trilogy is back. Elijah Wood and the legendary Gary Oldman have returned; there are also a few additions and replacements - Christina Ricci and Wayne Brady replace the actors who previously voiced Cynder and Sparx. Even Mark Hamill takes his turn as the trilogy's ubervillain Malefor. Some of the voicework in The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon is dull, but I don't blame the actors; when the lines sound bad, it's the fault of the writers.

The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon takes place three years after the events of The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night; Spyro and his foe-turned-ally Cynder are released from a crystal that has acted as a protective force for the duo. They wake from their hibernation and team up to take down Malefor, the Dark Master. The story will likely satisfy those who enjoyed the first two games of the new trilogy, but to everyone else, it will feel cliched and predictable (Tolkien, anyone?) nearly every step of the way.

From a gameplay standpoint, The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon looks fun to play. It shares almost nothing in common with the games of the original Insomniac trilogy. There are platforming elements present here, and most of them are handled fairly well, provided the camera doesn't get in the way of your progress. The most radical departure this game takes is the fact that the scavenger hunt/platform/puzzle approach has been forgone in favor of combo-based combat action. It's alright, but there is an influence at work here that is impossible for most PlayStation gamers to miss. Dawn of the Dragon's combat system (and much of the rest of the game) borrows elements from genre paragon God of War until there is almost nothing left to be borrowed. I'm not kidding. Where the combat systems in the first Spyro games focused on headbutting enemies and setting them on fire, Dawn of the Dragon has Spyro and Cynder exploring on four legs while fighting primarily on only two. Being that they are quadrupeds, this looks and feels just plain weird. The combat system is very combo-heavy and features a diverse arsenal of moves, but it's ultimately unsatisfying for a number of reasons. Usually, the game provides its challenge by throwing a huge number of foes at you. This wouldn't be as much of a problem if the majority of the enemies followed a more interesting pattern than simply ganging up on Spyro and Cynder. What's worse is that when you hit your enemies, there's no oomph to the blows you're landing; this makes you feel less like a legendary purple dragon and more like a wimp. The combat is somewhat fun at first, but it never evolves over the course of the game, causing it to eventually feel like a chore.

The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon isn't a hard game if you know what you're doing, which is kind of a problem, because the game doesn't really do a good job of letting you know what you need to do. This makes it very easy to get lost in some of the open-world environments. This can be frustrating, especially since you're only told where to go once.

The combat difficulty scales as the game progresses, but it isn't terribly hard - as long as you stay away from the abominations known as the elite enemies. These frustrating exercises in trial-and-error offer their own rewards, but the treasure is never worth the trouble.

When you're not fighting enemies, you'll sometimes fight the camera. Occasionally, it works the way you'll want it to; when Spyro goes airborne to finish off an enemy, the camera dynamically zooms in on the action. This works to great effect, although its execution looks too familiar for comfort. At times, the camera is fixed in a dynamic spot - again, like God of War. Sometimes it's completely controllable, but when it's not, it becomes frustrating. Sometimes the camera faces the wrong way when you're trying to complete a dangerous bit of platforming, and that's rarely forgivable. More often than not, it feels as if the game is saying "I know what you need to be looking at" when, in reality, it very clearly does not.

Dawn of the Dragon is not a long game, and once you finish the game, the only replay value it offers is the temptation of earning better armor (by taking on those horrible elites). There is no Trophy support for the PlayStation 3 release to sate the appetite of completionists. Most importantly, though, the game's just not fun enough to warrant a second playthrough.

Game Mechanics:
The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon's core mechanics lack originality in almost every facet; from theory to execution, a whole lot of it has been lifted straight out of God of War. This includes, but is not limited to: quick-time events, context-sensitive combat moves, collectables that increase health and magic capacity, four magic abilities (eight if you count Cynder) that can be accessed by each D-pad button, and skills that can be upgraded by pouring red orbs (oops, I mean crystals) into slots in the Menu. Let's get one thing straight, here: God of War is an excellent game, and I can understand borrowing some elements to make a game better. However, none of it feels fresh or exciting, and this makes the game feel unoriginal to a fault.

Dawn of the Dragon allows you to switch between Spyro and Cynder on the fly, and the need for cooperation is explained by a device around their necks that chain them together. There are some interesting twists to this scenario, including using the electric-like chain to swing your partner up to areas he/she can't otherwise get to alone. These additional mechanics, and the game by extension, are at their best during local cooperative play. If you are playing alone, you'll need to switch between characters to get past the parts that require the use of these mechanics.

The developers seem to be touting the flight mechanic in this game, and I don't understand why; it's neither thrilling nor intuitive. Yes, you can take to the air at any point in the game, but you rarely feel the sense of speed associated with flight. To add insult to injury, you can't control Spyro's altitude - the game decides how high up you should be at all times. The PlayStation 3 version has SIXAXIS support for flight, but it feels like Lair on a much smaller scale (no, that is not a compliment).

If you consider yourself a fan of Spyro the Dragon and have not yet played any of the games since Year of the Dragon, I would stay away from the new trilogy (actually, I'd even go as far to say all Spyro games that are not on the original PlayStation). If you're a diehard Spyro fan or enjoyed the previous two games in the series, you're going to like this game; this is the best game in the Legend of Spyro trilogy. If you're an interested skeptic, rent the first installment in the trilogy to make sure this game is for you. However, if you're a purist who is worried about seeing Spyro's image sullied, keep your distance.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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