Review by Sprock
All too often, 3-D platform adventures get blamed for being "clone" titles. People overlook the fantastic gameplay it may provide, and write off its redeeming features simply because it borrows fundamentals and formulas from the granddaddy, Mario 64. Spyro the Dragon is a game that succeeds in proving those people wrong. Around the time that Crash was becoming a sensation of his own, Spyro starred in a simple yet delightful platform adventure that traversed numerous worlds and stages that expanded a wide variety of environments. While it may look friendly at first glance, the game still remains surprisingly deep, and was one of the first console games to feature full voice-acting for all of its dialogue. Even after all these years, the original remains one of the finer platform titles to grace the 3-D world, as well as continuing to be the best in its respective series.
Soyro the Dragon tells the tale of friendly dragons inhabited the five worlds of some bizarre parallel universe. The dragons were divided into designated worlds depending on their skill and knowledge. There was also this troll thing named Gnasty Gnorc who nobody liked, because he was mean and stuff. And ugly. Thus, he was cast away to some dank wasteland at the edge of the universe, which he created in his own image. As one may expect, he was not too pleased with his current predicament, and once he saw his name being shambled on television, vowed revenge. By turning all the dragons into stone, he was free to control all five worlds, and keep all the treasure to himself. Apparently, however, he missed the runt of the litter, Spyro, a stubby purple wannabe-punker dragon ready to save his friends and his world, and most of all, his giant wads of treasure.
Spyro has a killer flaming breath on his side, which he uses to barbecue foes and grill them on a skillet. Spyro's glide ability allows him to glide over chasms and low-lying dangers. He also has a handy head-butt technique which enables him to ram solid obstacles and metal crates of treasure. Speaking of treasure, just like in the real world, it's your ticket to the good life. Assorted gems are generally hidden across each stage, each with a different value depending on its color. These gems can be retrieved through various methods, namely roasting enemies, wooden chests, or ramming metal safes. Collecting these gems is not a necessity, but players bent on seeking out every secret the game has to offer have a lot to keep themselves busy and satisfied.
Spyro the Dragon features an impressively complex overworld network. Each world has its own hub filled with secrets and obstacles. The worlds differ vastly in their environments from the war-bound deserts of the Peace Keepers kingdom to the majestic skies of the Dream Weavers kingdom. Generally, most of these obstacles consist of demented sheep which you can roast for a gem or two. Each stage is accessed through a designated archway located somewhere in the overworld. The goal of these stages is primarily find the exit archway somewhere else in the stage and free all the encased dragons. Once released, the dragons will initiate some terribly-acted speech about Gnasty's schemes, secret moves, or pointless rambling that will serve you no benefit whatsoever. Fortunately, you have the option of skipping through all of the dialogue.
Spyro also has a helper on his side. His dragonfly buddy, Sparx, will also follow him wherever he goes, giving occasional advice and picking up items. Basically, Sparx acts as some sort of flying magnet that will draw all nearby treasure toward you. While this may seem like cheap tactic for speed runs, it's actually incredible useful to save you the time of going back and making sure you picked up every last bit of gems. Sparx can even take enemy hits for Spyro, but note that he also has a life meter, and if he gets fried, you're off to fend for yourself. The majority of the time, however, you won't even be conscious of the fact that Sparx is following you.
Unfortunately, the game's bosses leave a lot to be desired. Once all the stages in a world are complete, an archway leading to the area boss will emerge. The majority of these bosses are a pathetic disappointment. Each of them have a dragon egg in their possession that you must retrieve before Gnasty Gnorc opens up his very own IHOP. They are not nearly as much of a battle as they are chasing your foes around some circular path, hoping to fry them before they escape your grasp. Naturally, since Spyro has such an arsenal of abilities at his disposal, it's a shame they did not expand his fights to utilize mastery of those abilities, which is generally a platform tradition. None of these bosses are particularly difficult in the least bit, either, and even the final boss will have you exclaiming That was it?
Many other games of the era had some serious camera angle issues. With Spyro the Dragon, however, it's the complete opposite problem. Rather, the camera is too loose and a pain to keep under control. The game gives you the option of choosing between an active and a passive camera, but since the game moves at a relatively rapid pace and requires broad scanning, the active camera is basically your window of opportunity for suicide. The majority of the game runs on a manual camera, which is a benefit in most cases, but the places where the automatic camera is utilized are where the game fouls up major. This is most noticeable in many of the boss fights, which turns out to be a much bigger challenge than the bosses themselves.
Spyro the Dragon runs at an extremely impressive framerate, featuring practically no slowdown when moving at the maximum allotted frames, an accomplishment that many similar titles of the same era had substantial difficulties with. Likewise, the game handles visuals and textures nicely. The soundtrack is decent enough, consisting of tunes of the extremely catchy variety. Voice work is a different story, however, which features some of the most unfitting voices and cheesy dialogue ever drafted. Insomniac tried to make Spyro sound cool by sticking him with some surfer/punker hybrid voice, but failed miserably.
Spyro the Dragon may not be the perfect platform game, but it displayed some great innovation and potential upon its release. It's a shame that all of its sequels are utterly pathetic, posing as downgrades more than anything, as there was plenty of potential that went to waste. No matter, the original still gets the job done, despite being relatively straightforward and lacking a share of challenge for more experienced players. No, the game does not necessarily teach strong morals about animal protection, and yeah, your kid might think it's humorous to repeatedly set ablaze innocent livestock, but there's a deep game buried beneath, as well.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/29/07
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