Review by WishingTikal
"Could have been good, if only"
It's so easy to take back a dead franchise and to make a game out of it, considering you know it's going to sell well if it once was a successful series, but it's harder to bring back to life a dead franchise. Spyro had its days of fame, but we all know his success died the day other companies got their hands on the license. None we able to recreate Spyro's universe like it once was. The last attempt at resurrecting Spyro is Amaze Entertainment's, but if anything, they only knocked him back into its grave.
The game's weak presentation goes on with the weak storyline, where you are told Spyro was on vacation when he learned that the Dragon Elders were captured and trapped in an evil dimension called the Shadow Realm. It's as simple as that and Spyro goes on a quest to save the land once again.
You were probably told that this game is an RPG, but I'll clarify things up by saying it's not one. It does feature one RPG element, the leveling-up system, but that's all. The rest, items management and fetch quests were already featured in previous Spyro games. Just like the other Spyro games, it's a platformer, but without the collecting part. And even then, the RPG aspect of the game seems a bit thrown in, as it doesn't really add anything to the game. Had the leveling-up system not been there, the game still would have been the exact same.
The game world consists of three main islands, which Spyro will need to explore in order to free all of the inhabitants who got trapped in the Shadow Realm. It's fun freeing the villagers the first time around, but once you realize that's what you need to do throughout the whole game, it gets to you how boring that main quest is. To free the inhabitants of each village on the islands, you'll need to look around a bit to find them (but most are in plain sight) and you'll then need to fight some enemies to free them. Once you've freed all the villagers in a village, it's time for the side quests. They'll each ask you to find something for them or do something for them, always the same thing, but with different items to find. Once you get used to the quest's pattern -free the villagers, ask them for fetch quests- it gets extremely repetitive.
I seriously question the creativity of the game developers. Did they really make this game because they had an idea in mind for it, or simply because they felt there needed to be a Spyro game on DS? Everything in the game feels so thrown it, rushed. Even the addition of the Shadow Realm (what the game concept revolves around) feels like an afterthought. To free the villagers, you'll need to switch to the Shadow Realm via Dimension Portals, found pretty much everywhere on the islands. While the real world is colorful and vivid, the Shadow Realm is darker and more gloomy. In that dimension, you can access areas blocked in the real world and vice versa, in addition to the enemies being more powerful and uglier.
The Shadow Realm is however not used to its full potential. I would even go as far as saying the game would have been better off without it. They could have focused their efforts in ameliorating the gameplay as it was instead of trying to throw in the Shadow Realm. To make things worst, there's only one music track for the whole Shadow Realm, whatever area you are in, and the graphics in the Shadow Realm are all the same, a purple-ish washed out version of the ones in the normal realm. To put it up clearly, the Shadow Realm is boring, and it only serves to hurt the game even more.
The Shadow Realm unfortunately isn't the only thing that feels thrown it; the leveling-up system is too. Somebody would need to explain me what was the point of having Spyro level-up, considering it really doesn't add anything to the game. There is no stats management whatsoever and most of the skills Spyro learns are barely used. There are a few different moves, basically horn attacks, tail attacks, charge attacks, and of course, breath attacks, which you need to use to defeat the enemies, just like in past Spyro games. Defeating enemies will award you Experience Points, and the cumulative total of a certain number of EXP will gain you a level. Once you've raised one level, you can choose to learn a new attack, or power, accordingly.
You can also learn spells, and that's where the touchscreen is brought to use. Although the whole game is played with the pad and buttons with the action on the top screen, the bottom screen displays the menu at all time. In there, you can find a map with the side quests, your inventory, a list of your attacks, and the spell screen. In this screen, you can draw specific symbols with the stylus, each casting a different spell. The most interesting one is the move spell, which allows you to move objects during gameplay, like a boulder blocking your way, for instance. It's a neat idea, probably the only good one in the whole game.
Fortunately, Spyro: SL does have a few things at its advantage. The adventure is accompanied by a soundtrack that simply sounds fantastic. Some of the tunes in there really are of great quality. There's even one tune that seems like it came straight out of a Lord of the Rings movie (pay attention to the Fairy Realm music if you ever play the game). You can hear the instruments, the sound is clean, crisp. I'm glad I played the game just for that alone. Too bad the sounds Spyro and the enemies make aren't as good as the music though.
Visually, Spyro: SL feels very "fantasy", with beautiful hand-drawn 2D graphics shown from top perspective. Details are all over the place, with a lot of attention paid to vegetation. Though not imaginative, they do look creative when it comes to little touches like swirls in the water and grass. The problem with these types of graphics though, is that the perspective is very flawed. Everything is flat, so you never know where you're landing while gliding, and it also results in small graphical glitches. The game is not all 2D though, as the boss battles are fully 3D, with everything modeled with precision. Though rare, I actually liked these 3D sequences and wished the whole game would have been like it, considering the 3D in Spyro: SL is really good, for a game designed in 2D mostly. The in-game 3D character models also are of a good caliber.
Music and graphics aside, Spyro: SL is disappointing. It doesn't feel like a Spyro game, and the whole concept feels rushed. It had potential and promised a great adventure, but it ends up feeling incomplete, unfinished. Need I say more? Now please, let Spyro rest in peace.
Replay Value 3
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 11/10/05, Updated 04/16/07
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