Review by MaxH
The sheer glitchiness of Spyro: ETD is beyond belief. Forgetting that this game is less than a third of the size of its predecessors, and is charmless in comparison to them, it is just unplayable sometimes. Literally. It seems to keep in mind what made the original three games by Insomniac so enjoyable (exploration, variety and inventive design) but it fails to meet the criteria too often. And with the immense amount of bugs that it has, it is merely another average platformer.
The implementation of the story is a joke. Things start off with a reasonable intro movie in which the evil Ripto invades the dragon realms and kidnaps all the dragonflies (Which act as guides to the dragons, a bit like Navi in Zelda:OOT). You (Spyro) and your dragonfly (Sparx, the only one not kidnapped) must set out to rescue all 70 dragonflies and defeat Ripto. After this scene, you will see what seems to be a continuation of the opening movie (Ripto loses the dragonflies, spreading them about the realms, which explains how you can go and collect them) except that it doesn't play until you are about 75% complete with the game. I imagine some people will have COMPLETED this for the first time before they even see it. after this you get a pathetically short and hurriedly written ending, and this is the extended ending I got for completing it 100%. I dread to think what I would have got in the normal ending. Whereas in the earlier games characters friendly and evil would talk with you along the way and give you tidbits about the story and such, you get nothing here.
Luckily the gameplay remains relatively unchanged. Your task is still to collect the hundreds of gems in each levels, and complete various side-tasks and mini-games in order to progress. In each level you will find ten dragonflies, about five of them wandering around randomly, one for getting to the end of the level, and four for extra missions through 'bonus gateways'. There is little precision jumping across narrow platforms to be done here, the emphasis is on using your glide to fly long distances across the level. Enemies also turn up frequently and can be dispatched by either charging them or using one of your breaths.
One change to the series this game makes is offering you extra breath abilities. On top of your standard flame breath, you are given ice breath, electric breath and bubble breath which is used to catch dragonflies. This is a good idea, but hardly anything is made of it. Aside from the odd enemy that can only be killed with ice breath or set of metal poles that must be zapped with electric breath, you are given no chance to use these new powers. There is no sense of experimentation here, everything is so heavily signposted.
So this is a children's game, fair enough, but that's no excuse for the lack of effort put into everything. While much of the level design is good, none of it is interesting. And even just 'interesting' wouldn't be living up to the standards that past Spyro games have set, gamers who have experienced this series before will be expecting 'awe-inspiring'. Here everything just seems to be a few open areas with places to swim connected by tedious corridors. There are more corridors in this game than I'd care to count, even in the outside levels the walls close in together until you are left wandering forward with nowhere else to even look for long stretches of time. The magic of gliding is sidelined so that the game can push you through more corridors, it's infuriating.
And where there is gliding, it is much less glamorous and enjoyable than before. You are required to use your hover move (A small lift at the end of your glide, which is necessary to lift yourself onto ledges most of the time) after gliding such short distances that it sometimes just isn't possible. Everything is too cramped, despite the fact the levels are absolutely huge. And I don't know which idiot it was a Equinoxe and Check Six (Yes, TWO whole development studios were responsible for this) who designed the control layout for the Cube version, but it basically has you twisting your hand in the shape of a duck's head (Remember your days doing shadow puppets) to perform the hover. The difficulty of doing this means you will fail to pull to move off about a third of the time. This is unforgivable, if they had just put the hover move on the same button as the glide (The big, crunchy A button) then you could just tap it again when you were gliding rather than contorting your hand into animal shapes. It boggles the mind that no-one involved in the game thought of this when they were testing it.
However, when it isn't getting these things wrong ETD can be an enjoyable and satisfying platformer. Although the levels are lazily designed in many places, they are fun and offer freedom in others. It is disappointing that there are only nine levels (Compared to the twenty four that were in Spyro 3! These levels may be bigger but they certainly aren't THAT much bigger) but what's there is good. For every disappointment like Crop circle Country (Surely the most dull level ever included in a Spyro game, and basically one big, dark corridor) there is something enjoyable such as Luau Island (A busy, energetic holiday resort full of exotic enemies and vast shimmering lagoons).
While the side tasks can't really compare to those in spyro 2 and 3, they certainly have enough appeal to keep you going. While some of the long, arduous platforming leaping sections the mini-games put you through are unbearable, the game always hides something around the corner to redeem itself. The slide challenges, which see you careering down slopes, weaving in between flags and dodging environmental hazards, are superb fun and probably the only remotely challenging parts of the game. The other tasks such as cannon-shooting, cow abducting (I kid you not) and spitfire-piloting also hold their own. Outside of the pleasing but sedate main adventure, there is enough to remember to make the game seem impressively varied.
The glitches can often ruin things though. I have avoided talking about them until now, but you will notice them THROUGHOUT your time playing the game. While I have not had my game lock up on me, I have seen various complaints on this site's message board that it does happen, and not infrequently. It seems I am one of the lucky ones. I will, however, list what I consider to be the most important problems, and a few odd ones off the top of my head:
- At several points in the game, the floor on which I was walking turned invisible. The only way to remedy this is to wander around until you fall into a bottomless pit by mistake and die.
- When you approach a character you will immediately enter 'conversation mode', meaning you stand there listening to character speak, unable to move until they are finished. Sometimes though, a character will NOT start speaking and you will sit there, frozen to the spot, for several minutes. The solution to this, as I discovered on either the PS2 or GC spyro message board, is to open up the lid of your Gamecube, wait for the 'please shut lid' message to appear and then close it again. The character will now start speaking. This happens with at least half of the characters in the game
- Sometimes when you jump out of water from under the surface you will continue to swim. In the air.
- When you kill an enemy or walk past a portal with a swirling sound effect, you will hear the enemy's death cry or swirly effect until you die. This happens a lot.
- The slowdown, while not technically a glitch, is horrendous. The game will constantly dip in and out of smoothness at random. I doubt anything in the game runs much beyond fifteen frames per second.
- Collision detection on some things is unreal. the swinging pendulums in Thieves' Den seem to have twenty foot invisible walls around them.
- When shooting your bubble breath to catch dragonflies, the fly will almost always be able to fly through your breath several times before being caught.
- Sometimes speech samples (Like advice from an older dragon you rescued five minutes previously) will play at totally random times in a level, say after smashing a pot.
- Occasionally after completing a task, the character who promised you a dragonfly will not give you one or any indication that they were going to. You must exit and re-enter the level to complete the task again!
Well, you get the point. ETD is a complete mess and obviously needed at least another three or four months in development. This is a huge shame as a lot of effort has obviously gone into recreating the serene, mystical atmosphere and style that the series has spent years creating. While it may be a lesser imitation of a popular formula, it certainly isn't a bad attempt. Without its technical failings, ETD could be a lot more fun.
One thing that will spur you on through the glitches is the level of enthusiasm used in much of the design. The previously mentioned Luau island and other levels such as the snow one are so beautifully animated and are so unashamedly colourful that you can't help but have fun exploring them. While things haven't taken as great a leap from PSone to next gen consoles as you would have hoped, everything is still glossy and detailed enough to keep you satisfied. The character animation is excellent, and the biggest notable improvement over the PSone games. Nearly every part of every character can move very expressively and as a result all of the characters are lively and cartoonish in a very exaggerated sort of way. It can be very charming, but is a little over-used. Some of the characters have every single one of their features wobbling and bouncing in every possible direction while the characters themselves jump up and down and jerk and flick around in various directions. This looks totally ridiculous. The water effects also deserve a mention. While water seems to be rippling at random places when it shouldn't be (Just to show off the rippling effects?) it is still very impressive and very 'wet' looking.
The sound is not always up to the series' high standards. While the music by Stewart Copeland can often be very good, it seems a lot more like a random collection of chanting and sound effects than music in many of the levels. But when he gets it right, the music can be so enchanting and haunting that it will genuinely enhance the playing experience. It's a shame this doesn't happen in all of the levels. The sound effects are lifted perfectly from the other Spyro games and include all the smashes and twinkles that you will have come to know if you've played these games before (when the game isn't forgetting to actually make them that is). The voice acting is just as good as before, but since the main characters appear about once each there is less to enjoy of it. The script is also a lot less fun and mischievous than the other games as well, nearly all of the jokes made are groansome.
As I said, this is about a third of the size of previous Spyro games, and it took me about seven hours to finish it 100%. This is just one of the disappointments on offer, there are plenty more. While the glitches often get in the way of things, it is sad to know that even without them, this wouldn't be anywhere near as good as the other spyro games. While it is enjoyable in many places and often an authentic recreation of the Spyro universe, it is too often just a mundane platformer with a lot of glitches. Even for Spyro fans, it probably isn't worth it.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 01/14/03, Updated 01/14/03
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