Review by c_rake
"This breezy platformer delivers some leisurely entertainment, but its omission of challenge leaves a lot to be desired"
Don't you just hate it when, while being interviewed for a television program of some sort, you suddenly turn to stone? Ask anyone in the Dragon Realms and I'm sure they'd respond with a resounding "yes," since the premise of Insomniac's easy-going platformer Spyro the Dragon explores that premise.
It all started on what seemed to be just another ordinary day. Some dragons were off taking questions from some interviewers about recent events concerning a brute by the name of Gnasty Norc. During said questionnaire, the dragons said some... hurtful words about Gnasty, who, of course, was watching at the time, which then prompted him to transform all the dragons into statues as a punishment of sorts. He also had his minions go and steal away all the treasure the dragons possessed. Unluckily for Gnasty, however, is that someone wasn't effected by his spell: a young dragon named Spyro, to be precise, who's now tasked with fixing this mess to restore order to the land.
The scene in which all that is quickly explained is biggest bit of exposition you'll see in Spyro the Dragon. Story isn't much of a focus here, you see, since it's primary purpose is to provide a set-up for all the jumping and scorching action contained within. The most you get in story progression are the speeches the sealed dragons give upon release, which occasionally touch on situation with Gnasty and flesh out a bit of the world. They also offer up a bit of light humor here and there as well.
Since the story is simple at best, it's only logical for the gameplay to follow suit. If you've ever played a platformer from the late '90s you'll know exactly what to expect here. Seeking out various collectibles is the prime activity in Spyro the Dragon, as searching for green, wiggling statues that need breaking and sparkling gemstones of myriad colors that need retrieval not only serve as the primary objective but also as the form of progression. Permission to move between home worlds (the game's hubs which house the main levels) is only granted upon fulfilling a certain criteria, such as freeing a particular number of dragons or obtaining a certain amount of gems. These tasks aren't hard to achieve, however, since both objectives don't take much effort to find -- you'll probably exceed the criteria without trying -- thus removing any plodding feel that's usually a side-effect of this style of play.
Linear level design is to thank for that. Though the occasional detour tries to add some illusion of freedom of exploration, especially when most contain numerous winding paths, levels are all very straightforward. Each is a simple "get to X point of the level while grabbing any and all collectibles you find along the way" type of platforming romp. Some levels open up to allow more exploration -- a welcome change -- but their size still keeps the tight leash of straightforwardness attached. Doesn't help either that alternate pathways almost always lead back to the central route. It's disappointing because more freedom to explore would have better complemented Spyro's flight prowess.
Instead, his only chances to really shine are limited to timed challenges that present a number of goals to achieve before time expires. Here, unlike everywhere else, Spyro is able to freely fly about as he pleases as opposed to simply gliding from one settlement to another. The objectives are usually to fly through rings (I know -- ugh), sink enemies flying in aircrafts, and torching certain objects, say, the lights lighthouses, among others. They're diversions at best that are mildly challenging and lend a brief, entertaining change of pace from collection-duty.
At least it doesn't ever drag on, though. Spyro's very breezy and easy-going in regards to its gameplay. Platforming is light on challenge, opting to ignore the standardized difficulty-inducing items (basically anything that relies on split-second timing for jumps and the like) and instead installing a multitude of leisurely flights. It's a relaxing approach. There isn't much a thrill to gliding across small gaps, granted, but it's still a lot of fun to fly about instead leaping everywhere.
Leaping about is, however, something you'll need to do occasionally during battle (mostly to dodge). Combat is simple, with Spyro's array of combative abilities consisting of only a couple moves: charging (to send smaller foes flying) and blowing fire (to torch larger, more solid foes). His foes' tactics are small in number as well. They're not very aggressive, often opting to sit still and await their demise rather than meet Spyro's charge with attacks of their own, rendering them a non-menacing presence as a result; mere minor annoyances is a better way to describe them. The bosses pose a slightly larger threat, if only because of the size advantage, though they're lacking offense tends make them feel like all the other fights against the usual crop of foes except prolonged.
The same can't be said about the length, however, as the game reaches its conclusion in under 10 hours, leaving you to achieve an %100 completion rating but not much else. There's at least some fun to be had in this breezy platformer romp, with its platforming being well designed despite it lacking in challenge and the like, but its breezy nature also ends up being a slight detriment toward staying engaging. It's certainly inviting, what with its effortless collection tendencies and combat -- the former being especially welcome -- but the fact remains that it simply doesn't lend itself well toward keeping the player's interest.
If you're looking for a quick, easy-going platformer then Spyro the Dragon certainly fits the bill. Those looking for less breezy games will want to look elsewhere, though.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 12/14/10
Game Release: Spyro the Dragon (Greatest Hits) (US, 08/23/99)
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