Review by mozepy
"A Spyro game for Spyro fans!"
This is my first review besides the one I wrote for the Demo. I don't usually write reviews because my focus is more on content than opinion. The reviews so far have been written from a general gaming trend perspective and not from a Spyro fan perspective. I figured there needs to be a review by someone who knows the genre, the series and the fan base. What most reviewers don't realize is that a large segment of Spyro fans are over 25. So you find many reviewers saying "it's fun for the kids". Though this game is getting ratings only slightly better than "Enter the Dragonfly" the fans are raving about it. I will take it upon myself to nit-pick a little on some things that many will never notice but they have been noticed by others without any prompting from me.
The Spyro game fans have been waiting 4 years for is finally out. In "Spyro: A Hero's Tail" Red the Dragon has been mining Dark Gems and using Gnorc armies to spread them throughout the Dragon Realms. These Dark Gems cause darkness and decay wherever they are placed. They cause Dragon whipping plants to grow, black ooze to cover the ground and objects and cause spooky music to play. Destroying them with a horn dive lightens things up a bit and often opens new paths to travel. The effects of the Dark Gems are quite localized. Destroying all the gems in a realm will lighten the sky but it's not as dramatic as it could be. The effect of the Dark Gems is augmented slightly by numerous dark shards scattered through out the realms. These only need a simple charge to shatter and double as gem containers.
"A Hero's Tail" is actually worthy of the current generation a game consoles. It's virtually glitch free, has smooth as silk animation and frame rate. Loading times are nonexistent or well disguised. Plus the game is huge. 14 monstrous levels, 16+ mini games and 4 boss battles. The levels are beautifully decorated with all kinds of eye candy, they all fit together nicely and give the impression of being from the same world. This is the first Spyro to be on 3 consoles (PS2, Gamecube and Xbox). I've followed the game industry long enough to know the multiplatform mistake. With ETD being on PS2 and GameCube it makes sense for it to be on those 2 but why Xbox? If you want to beat Insomniac copy their philosophy, which includes working on one platform.
Gems are now infinite and reduced to mere currency. Though the various gem containers are gone for good once opened, enemies come back and continue to drop gems. I don't know if I like that myself. When you can buy one time use items like ammo and temporary power ups you need to have unlimited money. But while playing once I came across a Gnorc guarding some gems. I tried to get them but he knocked me off the cliff 3 times. I gave up thinking "they're only gems". This would not have happened in the early Spyros cause you would need those gems to finish the game. I don't like the use of words like "Ammo" and "Magazine" in reference to Spyro's Breath weapons. It's totally out of character for the game.
As for other collectables there are 100 Light Gems, which are used to power some of the Professor's inventions and open some secret areas. There are also 80 Dragon Eggs to collect. These are divided into sets of 10. When you collect an entire set a special feature is unlocked. These include Concept Art, character models, different skins for Spyro, and the ability to play minigames from the front end so you can try to beat your time. Getting 100% also unlocks an extra ending.
The voice acting is well done, and the lip sync is much better than in the predecessor. The writing is excellent and humorous at times. Most of the returning characters, though their voices are different, are consistent with how know them from Previous games. Spyro, Hunter, Zoe, The Professor, Sgt Byrd and Sparx are appropriately voiced and their character is spot on. Others (Bentley, Gnasty Gnorc, and the Dragon Elders) do not seem to be the same people. Of course we can blame this on the effect of the Dark Gems.
Controlling Spyro has changed significantly. First the Charge and Flame Buttons have been swapped (on the PS2). This can be hard for long time Spyro fans to get use to. The option to change the controller configuration is and obvious oversight. Moving Spyro is done with the left analog stick only and the d-pad is now used for breath selection. This should not be too difficult if you have played any recent games that require you to use analog for movement. When you start the game, before you have the Double Jump ability, gliding can be started while falling after a bit and is only good for delaying death when falling into a bottomless pit. After getting "Double Jump" gliding becomes very versatile. If you hold the jump button after a double jump Spyro will slowly flutter down, however if you are pushing the stick he will glide in that direction. If at anytime you release the stick he will flutter in place as he slowly descends straight down. Releasing the jump button causes him to drop straight down. These new controls make it easier to avoid overshooting small platforms. And if you barely undershoot a platform Spyro now has a ledge grab. Spyro also acquires a pole spin ability (like Jak) and wall kick (Like Ratchet, though it's been around much longer).
Besides Spyro there are four other playable characters. 3 of which were playable in Previous games and one brand new. It does seem that the movement of the other payables is not as well tuned as Spyro's but they are still quit fun.
The first you will probably meet is Sgt. (James) Byrd who takes over the Speedways for Spyro. James now has a jetpack so he much more maneuverable than in his wing flapping days. In addition to his trademark rocket launchers he also has bombs. Both weapons can lock on to a target though the bombs don't lock on as well as they did in the demo, presumably to add challenge. You can be flying straight for an arch or a ring and at the same time take out birds and Gnorcs on the side. The times in the speedways are not as tight as the Spyro ones in previous games. You have time to find targets.
If you are ready for some spelunking you need to meet Blink the Mole who is the Professor's nephew. His voice is done by Tara Strong whole does Dil Pickles on "Rugrats: All Grown Up". His mini-games could be called maxi-games, as his levels are quite large. Blink hates being above ground so all his games are in caves. He has a laser beam to take out most enemies but also has bombs for the tough guys and for destroying dark shards. Blink can hang on to certain surfaces and dig holes to find gems and new areas. He also has double jump and butt bounce ability.
Spyro is small but not small enough to fit through cracks in the wall so this sound like a job for Sparx. Sparx' mini games are like the speedways in "Season of Ice" though not as hard. Sparx has some sort of energy gun similar to the one he had in Spyro 3, which is good enough to take out the waves of enemies that come toward him. He can get power ups like rapid fire, missiles and smartbombs that are useful when things get tough. There are also obstacles to avoid like falling rocks and slamming doors.
And then there is Hunter the cheetah, probably the most fun. He has a bow and arrows and he knows how to use them. Hunter doesn't have mini-games but instead has a section of one level and a whole level to himself where he plays an important part in the story. He can snipe most enemies from a distance with standard arrows, which are unlimited. He can also pick up exploding arrows, which now look like arrows and not the red balls seen in the demo. I just wish Hunter had more screen time.
A Hero's Tail is almost a nostalgia fest for long time fans who will notice quite a few elements from previous Spyros especially Spyro 1. Gnasty Gnorc is Back and Gnorcs are back. The Vases that first appeared in Spyro 2 have been replaced with metal chests like those in Spyro 1. There are several Dragon elders to find who will teach Spyro new abilities. The elders have the same names as elders found in Spyro 1 though they have little in common with their namesakes. There is even a shepherd.
Music - Appropriate and unobtrusive as opposed to Stewart Copeland's work, which I find to be appropriate and pleasantly obtrusive. It sounds like an obvious attempt to imitate the style of Copeland's music. Each piece does fit with the level it is used in.
Sound - Must be good cause I really didn't notice it. Sound should just seem a natural result of action and it does. I did notice a sound that was used for a particular enemy in Spyro 1 that was reused for a diferent enemy in this game. The sound did fit well, nothing like the pigs that sounded like The Professor in "Enter the Dragonfly".
Story - About as good as Spyro 1, not quite a good as Spyro 2 or 3. I would have liked more details on Red and his history. The ending is a little short. If the Multiplatform error is avoided time and resources can be devoted to extra polish. Some of the returning NPCs are not who we remember. I hope Eurocom does their homework or they could just ask me.
Level Design & Continuity - Second only to Spyro 1. The levels are Large and beautiful and fit together well. There are plenty of secret places where items are hidden, though the hardest to get to only have gems. There are several places where detail is lacking. I personally like to get lost occasionally and I do.
Gameplay - Second only to Spyro 3. Enemies are more difficult than Spyro 1. The game is good for at least 20 hours of gameplay. With 5 playable characters (2 less than Spyro 3) there is a lot to do. There are several mini-games but there could use more variety. For example, most of Spyro's mini-games involve a gun turret. Also there is no chance for Spyro the fly. Though the object of Sparx', Blink's and Sgt. Byrd's mini-games are to find Eggs and Light Gems we never see them find them, they just seem to have them when they are done. Spyro's aqua bomb ammo does not seem to have a use.
Quality - Very few glitches, Great frame rate and smooth animation. Loading times are perfect. It does not save some of the options properly. I had a glitch while fighting Red and a lockup while loading once. (almost every game I have ever played has locked up or crashed at least once) Much better than "Enter the Dragonfly", and on par with most current console games.
Inventory & Atlas - The Inventory system is simple and not as detailed as it could be. It lacks descriptions of where you found individual items (unlike Spyro 2-4). You can tell that you have 5 out of 6 eggs but have no indication of where you found them, what you did to get them, or what color they where. The task list is helpful but some items are hidden in chests so there are no tasks connected with them. The Map system is useful and better than the one in Spyro 2 but lacks detail.
I have finished the game 100%. I must say this game is the best post Insomniac Spyro game. It even exceeds the Insomniac games in some ways. The game is good for at least 20 hours of gameplay, maybe as much as 30. I find myself wanting to play it again from the beginning. I think Eurocom should be aloud to take the series further and make it their own. Thanks for an excellent addition to the Spyro Saga!
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 11/16/04
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