Review: If there was a Platform Hero's Guild, and if they held a straw sucking contest, Spyro would suck the most.
Welcome class to Spyro 101: Or, how to ruin a perfectly good platform franchise. I guess you could call it "good." Spyro was getting rave reviews at one point when developer Insomniac Games was behind the wheel. But no longer a Sony-owned franchise, Spyro is in the hands of Vivendi Universal and its second developer choice for its second next-generation spin of the series, Eurocom. When Vivendi swept up Crash Bandicoot and Spyro in the move from the PlayStation over to the PlayStation 2, both these series went to shambles. Spyro in particular, when in the year 2002 developer Check Six Games made one of the most annoying, cutesy, and simple-minded platform titles in the Spyro name. Here we are again a couple years afterward, and apparently handing the reins of power over to a new developer hasn't changed that format much. Not very much at all.
Evil red dragon appears. Evil red dragon plants dark gems with drainage power into the planet's crust. Evil red dragon leaves it up to goodie-goodie Spyro to walk up to these gems and smash each and every one of them. For, it is Spyro the Dragon's job to put a stop to cleverly fiendish (or I should say boorish) schemes such as this, is it not? Well yeah, it his Spyro's job, and he's going to do it. Once again as Spyro, you'll traverse the lands, crush the gems, and beat the bad guys into submission for the sake of all that's good in Spyro's world.
Before I get into any further details through this latest Spyro game, let me just remind you readers with a disclaimer to wake me up if I ever fall asleep writing about this very, very...very, very, very...very, very, VERY...oh wait, where was I? Uh, I think I was about to say outrageous. Right, Spyro: A Hero's Tail is an extremely exhilarating platform game! Filled with fun and adventure, you'll... Oops, actually that's not true. I was thinking of another great game I played that wasn't Spyro. Why? Because it's better to do that than it is to even think about Spyro. Spyro: A Hero's Tail sucks. Like their last outing with Spyro, Vivendi's next attempt (this one) is simply simmered down to about as low as the basis of platform elements as you can get these days. Most challenges are fairly easy to surpass. Some enemies are about as intelligent as a banana resting on a table. Spyro's tale that has this little dragon trekking across the land to hunt for and smash these dark gems is also very unappealing, given that the characters of the story are so...uninspiring.
Simply put, it's the nature of Spyro's fantastical world apparently through the eyes of Vivendi. Trying really hard to pass off this "new Spyro" as a really righteous type of dragon dude is just not kicking it the right way -- if you get my meaning. A little tip to you game maker guys: slapping on a pair of shades and a leather jacket doesn't make a character cool. Spyro doesn't literally wear those items...but in a sense, his attitude is made of the generic metaphorical sunglasses and jacketed figure. What Spyro should have is a spark sprout from his dialogue meetings with the different characters he interacts with. Instead, his words are lame. Does asking a cheetah if he's going to go into the cave and be awesome (with an emphasis on the word awesome) truly sound awesome? I'll tell you what that says to me. That says, "It's time Vivendi hired better script writers." I mean seriously, who spews out garbage like that? For a game character to work, you need them to manifest some kind of personality, just as long as it doesn't blow.
A major contribution as to why Spyro is such a stupid character in this game is his awful vocals in general. Whoever provides the voice of the purple dragon is horrible. HORRIBLE! Developed into a scratchy voice that artificially tries to be enthusiastic, or sarcastic (whatever way you look at it), is just bad talent. The same can be said about any of the voices used in Spyro's world, though. There's Sgt. Byrd, the British penguin who equipped with one of those fake-sounding English accents just sounds like a fraud. There's Blink the Mole and also that cheetah character I mentioned, Hunter, who both supply these spunky but weak roles. Their flat acting needs more air (and again, better writing). Even the high-pitched Sparx is an aggravation when it comes time for this dragonfly to ask Spyro if he can get a dragon egg or light gem for Spyro. Why do these characters even have to ask Spyro? Why don't they just go do what they have to do? Of course Spyro wants these items, morons! And it's not just absorbing in the loathsome voice-overs that stink up the game, but having to endure through the gay assortment of sounds inside. I'm not a fan of listening to easy listening synthesized elevator-type music in general. Why would I want to hear it then when I'm flaming, headbutting, and soaring over chasms to search for treasure? Sometimes the audio isn't so bad, although it's not close to being great either. Scampering feet shuffle when Spyro hustles forward bonking his head into an enemy body. Proper elements such as roaring flames and sparking electricity are keyed in when Spyro executes either of his breath attacks. However, with effects such as cheesy spring sounds when Spyro's head impacts the ground and enemies emitting strangely happy gurgle noises when approached or defeated, things within that nature don't sound quite so kosher.
Yeah, I've been rambling on about the sounds of the game quite a bit. What you're really dying to know about is how well this Spyro game plays, aren't you? All I can say about that is don't expect to learn about a lot you're going to like. Having mentioned how retarded some enemies are earlier, I'll draw you a clearer image of that right now. There are quite a select number of enemies Spyro can defeat. But not to worry -- many of them are literally harmless. One of the most typical enemy types you'll find is an obese ogre thing. With a hefty body and an extremely goofy face, it stands still in a lot of places smiling and waiting for death. Some of these guys are not armored, and some are. Usually carrying a weapon of some kind (like a mallet or an axe), they like to smack the weapon down when Spyro gets close enough. Unfortunately for them, Spyro can just stand right out of smacking distance and breath fire or some other kind of breath attack on their body and defeat them in a one-ht kill before they'll ever grow the intelligence that if they're really ever going to smack Spyro, they'll need to mobilize themselves. Taking out armored ogre guys on the other hand is a bit different, though. First Spyro must figure out that he he's going to harm these suckers, he's going to have to head butt their armor off. That's easier said than done -- and when that's off, one hit of the breath attack gets them roasted, toasted, or in other words dead.
Spyro: A Hero's Tail is generally a fairly easy game in the sense that there exists some stupid enemies, but sometimes it can be a bit rougher. Gradually as the game moves on, enemies grow up a bit. They'll start launching items from afar and make it a little harder for Spyro to reach their destination and hurt them. Spyro's life management, unlike the bad guys, is determined by Sparx -- the piss yellow dragonfly that changes colors every time Spyro's injured. From yellow, to blue, to green, and then red, Spyro will have a few chances to survive before he dies (and then has to start off again from the last checkpoint save). Spyro can toss items at enemies himself if he wants, although this requires that either he pick up certain tossable grenades by chance from containers, or stock up on enough gems from containers or fallen enemies to stop by one of the many vendor stations to buy assorted goods from a very fruity French bear. This guy sucks too. He'll repetitively spout cringe-worthy lines like, "Go ahead Spyro, if you have money to spend I can relieve you of it!" And then he makes a noise, or says something else that just...really...annoys me. I can't decipher what he says there at the end of the sentence, but it's so freaking bothersome to hear it each and every time I approach his shop (which can be accessed from multiple points in the game using these green pods). With high prices galore, his items range from the elemental balls that can be shot at enemies, to upgrading Sparx's health (thereby allowing Sparx to incur one more hit before Spyro's done), and also keys to unlock special gold chests around every corner. These chests in particular can contain anything really, from jewels, to trajectory balls, to even light gems Spyro needs to access specific progress points.
Like the last Spyro, there's much, much and a bunch of time spent collecting stuff. That's what Spyro does. He has to (and you do too), or otherwise he can't keep going through all the mediocre platform set pieces that are all joined and journeyed through. Platforming across his natural environment, Spyro's world is actually all kind of attached together. Each zone lists a set of tasks for Spyro to tackle, and a map to go with that. Usually Spyro's quest has him searching for all the dark gems that he's got to smash. But it's also by picking up items like dragon eggs, crystals, and meeting with different dragon masters to teach Spyro new abilities (such as being able to swing from pole to pole or blocking incoming attacks) that can get him further into the depths of the game. Along the way there's of course a host of crappy enemies who try to ruin his advancement (i.e., ogre dunces, swooping vultures, armored crabs, web slinging spiders, spear-tossing tribesmen, etc.), and quite a bit of platform or platformless challenges as well. Some platform feats will involve Spyro spinning and leaping from one pole to another, on mountain sides, in insides, and having to time moving hurtful objects like giant rotating fan blades. At other times he'll jump around dangers, or hop into cannon kiosks and aim at encircling vulture and crab enemies going after baby turtles in one instance. One of the more intriguing elements is when Spyro has to warp his body into a gray invincibility shell for a limited time to swim through a pool of "you touch, you die" green muck.
Able to jump around and pound, soar from one plateau to another, and utilize his different breath attacks (fire, electricity, water, and ice breath -- which can both harm enemies and access things for Spyro, like electrically powered seashells), Spyro also now gets a little newness injected into his game. Firstly, there's a perspective adjustment that now allows Spyro and his cohorts to view environments in first-person. Secondly, there's the addition of Spyro's team. Not just alone in his principles any longer, Spyro will come across five friends of his, which lend their expertise to platform levels tailored in their unique method of doing stuff. Initially after a dragon egg and then later a light gem, for their troubles, each encounter with Spyro's social circle (made up of Hunter the Cheetah, Blink the Mole, Sparx the Dragonfly, and Sgt. Byrd the Penguin) will yield the controls over to these guys who will then set out to perform certain duties through one exercise and then a second (the first trial completed gives Spyro a dragon egg, and then a replayed one will go in for the light gem). For example, Blink's methods take place in cavernous settings where he's to use his laser blasting, wall clinging, and bomb setting properties to hunt for and destroy a set of 5 dark gems the first trip through the cave. Head in for a second round, and he'll have to locate and demolish all 10.
Spending time with the other bunch of banana heads, Hunter is equipped with a bow weapon and is able to pick off enemies with arrows from far off in first-person -- making them all the more simpler to eliminate than it is with Spyro. Why not just program them to jump off cliffs on their own next time? It'd save time with thinking up ways for them to perish. Sgt. Byrd's runs are exactly like certain past Spyro objectives where he would be able to swoop through a number of rings, destroy a specific number of enemies, and suck up feathers amongst other things, all in a limited clock countdown. Only, it's Byrd's turn. His challenge actions are actually more fun though, because he flies around with a rocket pack and uses missiles. Lastly, Sparx's direction is always to reach the end of a tunnel from its starting point in a shooter mini-game. Blasting dangling enemy spiders, colorful bats (or bugs...I forget which), and dodging tumbling rocks and other hazards like opening and shutting doorways is Spark's irksome deal. By that I mean troublesomely impossible odds are afoot in Spyro's world, which is part of what actually makes the game "difficult" at times. Irritating hit detection traps characters like Sparx often like if you're trying to squeeze through a spinning fan at the last second. Instead of getting injured once, he'll lose all his life instead just because the game won't let him move on. This happens with Spyro too, with spiked pendulums for instance. The game should allow Spyro to continue once the swinging object of death crashes into him. But no, it makes it hard for Spyro to successfully unwrap himself from a moving object that just cannot be defeated. Aside from that argument though, the addition of five extra characters does make this Spyro game a little more appetizing (by mixing things up) when you get sick of Spyro all together.
Next to the word "ugly" in the dictionary, a screen from Spyro: A Hero's Tail is depicted. Actually that's a lie. But it should be true, at least in terms of video game quality. When you're playing a game, do you really want to view a smudged up and simplified colorful environment that's structure is settled at the base of barrel that determines graphical superiority? I didn't think so. In plain sight, Spyro's just a tacky game all over. You glance over the grassy, mountainy, watery, and even cloudy type of levels, and these environments don't stick out with a rich assessment of texturing overlays. In fact, most objects and living creatures are hardly modified to attract any sort of appealing attention. Ogre enemies -- I hate you, and I hate staring at your stupid looking grinning faces! Spyro is very smooth as silk. He's just a purple dragon with a body that's few lines are tracked on his wings and his horns. Elsewhere, there's very little to be found. At least his breath doesn't stink. Breathe fire for example, and the wavy orange hue seriously lights up quite deliciously when Spyro's animated face scrunches up in this heated moment. There are other aspects of lighting where a sun may beam through openings in the walls, to individual roaring torches shimmering along a darkened cave's passage. It's these kind of extra details that help prove there's at least some juicy power in this tank that's running a barrage of otherwise undeveloped visual elements.