Review by WishingTikal
"Different, but finally something Spyro can be proud of"
The Spyro series have gone a long way and underwent a lot of changes, sometimes for the best, but other times, not. The first Spyro game on PlayStation was so great because it was simple and easy to play. You could just run around freely and not think about anything. The sheer act of collecting gems and gliding around was immensely fun. The two following Spyro games were huge improvements, bringing in mini-games and more characters. It kinda distracted the series from its roots, but was still fun.
Enter the Dragonfly, the following installment by a new company was closer to the original idea and managed to recreate the magical atmosphere of the first (which the two others were missing), but while the game was enjoyable, it was destroyed by the horrible framerate and awful programming. A Hero's Tail was handed over to another company, and is a pleasant surprise. It's not the best Spyro game, and it's actually very different from the first, but it's one the best platformers you can get on Gamecube, if not the best.
After Enter the Dragonfly, which I still enjoyed, I wasn't expecting much of A Hero's Tail. However, it was surprisingly a lot of fun. In A Hero's Tail, Red and his minions have scattered Dark Gems all around the Dragon Realms and it's up to Spyro and his friends to find them and destroyed them before the land turns into darkness. Aside from the Dark Gems, Spyro also needs to collect Light Gems and Dragon Eggs. If you collect all the Dragon Eggs, you will unlock concept arts and two new playable characters (Flame and Ember) to play the game with instead of Spyro. Nothing much, but a neat little extra worth mentioning.
The game features 14 massive levels and four bosses (not a lot to Spyro's standards, but still more than last time around). Spyro starts off with the fire breath, but after each boss battle, you'll gain a new breath; ice, water and electricity. While the fire breath can light up fireworks, the water breath can activate waterwheels and the ice breath can freeze water. It's up to you to choose the right breath power to defeat certain enemies and solve puzzles. In each level, you'll need to explore and find secret areas where you'll either find Dark Gems, Light Gems or Dragon Eggs, each cleverly hidden. In later levels, Spyro also learns new moves and you must to return to previous levels to access new areas that weren't accessible before by using your newly acquired powers.
You can also find and collect gems as in previous Spyro games, but those aren't mandatory as they're used as currency to buy upgrades, keys and ammo in MoneyBag's shop. There is no Atlas anymore to keep track of what you've collected, which is kind of disappointing, but you still look around and explore to find everything. While gems are laying around, some of the Light Gems and Dragon Eggs are only obtainable from mini-games played as different characters such as Sparx, Blink, Sgt Byrd and Hunter. Those levels are actually quite fun, especially Hunter's. Sparx has shooting levels, Blink has some sort of puzzle/platforming levels, Hunter has pure platforming, and Byrd replaces Spyro at the flying levels from the original Spyro games.
A Hero's Tail is very different from the previous Spyro games, but I think it was a change for the best, as the gameplay was getting a bit old, as showed by Enter the Dragonfly, which did exactly what Spyro the Dragon did and still bombed. Spyro needed a new formula, and A Hero's Tail is just what it needed. It's still a platformer about running around, ramming into enemies, flaming stuff, exploring, jumping, gliding and collecting gems, but now it's also a lot more. There are more puzzles, more varied tasks and more new abilities. It's not quite as fast and fun as the PlayStation titles, but it's still a great entry in the series. This is the direction the game should have went and continued into instead of turning into a beat 'em up as of lately.
Probably the best thing about A Hero's Tail that is actually a really cool idea is the switch from darkness to light. Before destroying the Dark Gems, you'll see that everything around the Dark Gems is turned into darkness. After you destroy the gem, the level will revert to light. You'll see, for example, a dead tree with no leaves turn back into a beautiful tree with growing leaves. This concept is done very nicely, as it applies to all Dark Gems in the game. You'll see the changes made to the environment as you get rid of the gems. Even though the game's atmosphere is pretty good thanks to that, it still doesn't really feel like a true Spyro game. You'll visit sunny beaches, tribal jungles, underwater ruins, cloudy futuristic worlds, ice and lava lands, but there's isn't really any fantasy worlds, which is a shame for a Spyro game.
A Hero's Tail has a more cartoony look than Enter the Dragonfly, which fits Spyro pretty good. At first glance, you'll see nice and colorful environments, not as pretty as Enter the Dragonfly, but the artstyle is very imaginary and Spyro-like. Spyro still moves too slowly for my tastes, but the framerate is very good this time around. The game has really nice effects, like stunning shimmering. The water looks kind of bland from outside, but the underwater looks really neat. Overall I liked Enter the Dragonfly's visual style better but A Hero's Tail looks a lot more clean and has some very pretty artwork.
The music is actually very pleasant in A Hero's Tail. Each area has a very fitting and catchy music and each object you pick up makes a different sound. The voice-acting is also pretty good. The theme song is probably the best, with some fantasy medieval melody.
A Hero's Tail is a truly great game for platformer lovers and even Spyro fans. Of course it's not what fans were expecting, but at least it's better than Enter the Dragonfly. The series have taken a different direction, and the truth is that what Spyro once was cannot work anymore in today's new generation of platformers. The games were too simple; Enter the Dragonfly tried and failed. Spyro has to remain a platformer, but if it ever does come back to platforming, it should definitely continue upon what A Hero's Tail did to the series. It was a big change, but a good one, and actually pretty close to what Ripto's Rage and Year of the Dragon did a few years back.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/10/05, Updated 03/17/10
Game Release: Spyro: A Hero's Tail (US, 11/03/04)
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