Review by Robo_Mike

"Prepare for an exciting journey with Spyro and Cynder; now, if only it lasted longer..."

The Legend of Spyro trilogy comes to a close with its third outing on the DS, Dawn of the Dragon. Tantalus, the new developer for the DS version didn't follow in the footsteps of the previous developer. Meaning no more 3D platforming reminiscent of classic Spyro, no more stupid battles, and no more mirror reflecting puzzles.

Instead, we have a 2D sidescroller (like Eternal Night for the GBA) with the occasional 3D flight sequence from console versions of A New Beginning. While that sounds like a step backward, it is a good move.

***

Controls on the game are quite solid. The directional pad moves the character around (and also controls combos and attacks), B is jump, A is a normal melee attack, X is elemental melee attack, Y is an elemental "breath" attack. R switches between elements and L switches between characters.

In this game, buttons are responsive, motion is rather fluid, and the character goes exactly where you tell them to, unless they're getting hit of course.

The 2d platforming is spiced up with the addition of double jumps, gliding and wall jumping. There's just a minor inconvenience that Spyro and Cynder need to jump twice before rebounding off a wall but it's nothing much. I also think the game is zoomed in a little bit too much, making certain parts hard to navigate (er, since when did I have difficulty walking downhill in a sidescrolling game?), but the angle is manageable and does what it's supposed to do: focus on the player character.

The game has its usual share of the moving platforms to jump across, mine shafts to climb (with wall jump), and ground that crumbles as your character walks across them. No parts stand out as overly difficult. There's just a two moving platform sequence over a lava pit that requires a fair bit of timing, but nothing the average player can't handle without a bit of practice.

Speaking of player character, DotD is the first Legend of Spyro game where Cynder, former damsel in distress, joins Spyro in a journey to kick serious enemy rear, after being in compromising situations in the previous two games. Luckily, the developers did Cynder justice and she doesn't disappoint as a character. She's a force to be reckoned with in battle... plus, you'll find out she's a integral part of the story...

Fighting is a lot of fun in DotD DS. The game gives you three options to dispatch the enemy with: normal attacks, charged normal attacks and elemental "breath" attacks.

Beating up on an enemy can be fairly simple, you can just jam on the A "attack" button until the enemy dies (or the X if you wish to do the elemental melee attacks, which are the same, except they are affected by elements). But that's hardly fun isn't it? Thankfully this game lets you alter attacks and perform multi-hit combos. Pressing down or up with A lets Spyro/Cynder trip their opponents or launch them into the air. Speaking of launch, you can jump up into the air and continue the combo too.

You can also perform "finishing moves" that end the combo but do a lot of damage (more if you rack up more combo hits). While it may sound hard to control because finishing moves are done if you press up+A or down+A a couple of times, it is actually very intuitive and with practice, you've got the finisher waiting at your fingertips as you desire.

By pressing the L button, you can "tag out" to the other dragon. I mention this in the combo section because you can tag out to the other dragon during a combo. They attack on the way in, and also continue the combo. This can make for pretty fun and interesting attack sequences.

Not only is racking up hits on the enemy totally satisfying, but also rewards you with more experience points. Unlike the previous DS Spyro game, where I recommended skipping enemies, there is no reason not to fight the enemy this time unless you're already maxed out in levels or running low on life.

You can also do elementally-charged melee attacks... they are totally the same as normal attacks, except they do more damage if they are against an enemy weak against them, or no damage if against an immune enemy.

Speaking of levels, the experience Spyro and Cynder pick up are used to upgrade their breath attacks. Each of the two dragons are in command of four elements: Spyro has fire, ice, earth and lightning... while Cynder has fear, shadow, poison and wind. Unfortunately, like previous games, this one also suffers from an imbalanced element repertoire. Spyro's best is fire and Cynder's is poison. Max those out first, because there's no reason to use any other element unless enemies are immune to fire or poison. Sadly, enemy element immunity is the only thing that forces variety of element use.

While we're on elements, there are also doors or barriers that are only passable if you use the correct element on them. It's usually intuitive (fire burns down the wooden gate, for instance), but sometimes what element works is downright weird when you figure it out. Unfortunately, that's as far as puzzles in this game go.

In between 2-d sidescroller levels, there are some 3-d "shoot-em-up" flight sequences as well. They are autoscrolling, and the player controls Spyro's or Cynder's position on screen. It's necessary to move around because archers and golems shoot at Spys from the ground, while flying enemies shoot their own projectiles while trying to ram our heroes out of the sky.

Attacking here is done differently for each character. Spyro shoots a fireball at enemies with a tap, while Cynder shoots a beam of acid at any enemies you hold the stylus over. While these attacks do drain the breath meter, a dragon can swap out when they're... uh, out of breath... to be replaced by the other, well-rested one.

Graphics are overall pretty good on the DS. The landscapes are pretty interesting (the floating islands comes to mind), and the levels mostly have interesting elements to look at as Cynder or Spyro runs by. The music is decidedly average: it sets the mood for the level and the challenges you'll have to face, but none of the tracks are noteworthy, let alone something you'll be humming on the bus or train.

All-in-all that would've made a honesty-goodness great game. That is, if it were longer. Spyro: DotD DS will last around 5-10 hours in the hands of an average player, maybe a bit more with younger players, but it's not at a difficulty they can't overcome with a little practice on the controls. And once you see the ending, that's it. No unlockables, no harder difficulty mode.

That's quite sad, because this game is good. I wanted it to be longer, and I wanted to score the game higher.

***

Dawn of the Dragon DS is fun to platform and battle through, the change of gameplay style is refreshing and challenging, and the game is difficult enough without being too hard. However, it's a bit short, and with the lack of additional difficulty levels, unlockables or multiple endings... replay value is lackluster.

And I won't even gripe about the ending this time.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/03/08

Game Release: The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon (US, 10/21/08)


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