Review by dark52

"A great return for everyone's favourite dragon."

Once one of the most popular platformers on the PlayStation, Spyro has since dropped off most gamer's radar. While it could be said that this is because of bigger and better platformers out there nowadays, surely there's still a place for the little dragon?

With the dawn of a new generation of consoles and no longer having his original creators, Spyro suffered greatly at the hands of VU's choice of company to make their first console version of the game without Insomniac. Suffering from poor loading times, terrible glitches and just being all out not fun, Enter the Dragonfly made well to destroy all of Spyro's fans, there was little to salvage from the mess to even resemble a fun game. However since then VU Games have made a better choice of who to develop such a game. They brought in Eurocom who have experience in actually making and finishing games, which is always good if you're trusting them to make you lots of money. And luckily, it's paid off this time.

Whilst no-one could argue that these are the best graphics out there, they are still very pretty and nice to look at. Smooth character models and enjoyable scenery make for a fun romp around anytime you play. There are very few parts of the game which graphically don't work. Spyro's new breaths have evolved from previous games. He can hold it for longer now and instead of a fan effect, it's more of a tube of flame/electricity/ice/water which gives a different experience to the game in the way you use it, though not majorly so.

There's no revolution in gameplay from previous Spyro titles, it's the same really; run around, flame enemies, collect a few items, save the world. Though that's not to say it's not fun. Because it is. The game fits together so well, that you're hard pressed to find spots where the game suddenly becomes horrible to play, its fun all the time.

Added features such as powerups for your breath attacks don't really fit in though, and only seem to be useful at all on very rare occasions when you can't be bothered jumping somewhere just to be knocked off into the abyss below by a waiting Gnorc. Whilst a lot of the collecting of the previous titles has been removed, they have added a reasonable amount to keep it going.

Removing the gem collecting wasn't the best choice as that was one of the factors that made the originals so fun to play, yet frustrating at times too if you wanted to complete the game to it's fullest. Here you can for the most part just ignore gems as they have become unlimited, whilst this is useful if you're into using the powerups it's otherwise completely pointless since there is nothing of real value to spend these infinite gems on.

If you have ever played Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly, you'll realise that loading times in this sort of game are intolerable. Often you had to wait several minutes just to play a 3 second mini-game and then wait again as you exit back to the main level. However, with A Hero's Tail, loading times have been almost completely eliminated.

They are still there, but you won't notice any between individual levels as the game generally loads the next part of the world up before you reach it, though on occasion you might find yourself in darkness before it actually loads. I've only had this occur in a part of the third realm where there is a large door separating one level's map from the others. This isn't a problem, more of a slight annoyance if you're in a hurry to go through. You'll see a loading screen when you teleport anywhere, either in the same realm or to a different realm, when you die and when you access one of the mini-games. They're all very short and always finish loading, which is nice.

One of the larger changes in this game is the characters. The only one that seems unchanged is, well, no-one. All of the characters have been redesigned and none have retained their old voices. Once you've got past the initial surprise of their new looks and voices, you get used to them, all of which fit quite well. The only one who has been changed way too much is Bentley. You'll only ever see him once however, but he has certainly lost the charms that he had in Year of the Dragon.

A great fix from Enter the Dragonfly, the mouths now almost perfectly match what the voices are saying. No more crazy exaggerated lip movement this is good stuff. Smooth and not tiring to watch.

The mini-games are now divided up into different characters. Sgt. Byrd takes the flying levels, Sparx the shooting levels, Spyro the turret levels, Hunter gets whole levels rather then mini-games, and Blink, the newest addition to the cast, gets a similar style to Hunter yet they are still mini-games.

Sgt. Byrd's flying levels are very similar to the original game's flying levels, just with Sgt. Byrd instead of Spyro. One slight annoyance is the fact that you need to hold down the button to fly constantly, though this can be an advantage if you want to manoeuvre around by stopping the boosters for a second, which isn't often. Another slight annoyance with these is the fact that Sgt. Byrd when walking is extremely slow, just like a penguin ought to be really though it is annoying if you just need to walk through one final archway.

Sparx's shooting mini-games are generally easy with just the odd difficult part when there are several of the large creatures on screen who just don't seem to want to die. The only real problem with Sparx's games is that he can sometimes get in the way of where you're shooting preventing you from seeing properly.

Hunter doesn't have mini-games, infact you only use him twice in the whole game. It's a shame really as he is well made and designed. Whilst a little slow to fire arrows at times, this really isn't ever a problem as most of the time it would be easier just to smash things with his punch instead. Unlike Spyro, Hunter's powerups are actually reasonably useful and are not much different from the non-powered up version making it less of a hassle to get used to.

And finally Blink. Very similar in style to Hunter except that instead of arrows he uses lasers and being a mole, his levels are exclusively underground with large spiders. Your task as Blink is to destroy a few Dark Gem Shards lying about the place. Occasionally there are parts that are annoying, though this is mostly due to the fact that he looks like he should be able to jump further then he can coupled with almost every missed jump resulting in a loss of life.

The Story eh? Well an evil dragon who goes by the name of Red, has planted 40 Dark Gems across the Dragon Realms in order to corrupt them. It's up to Spyro to rid the world of them and him. During the game you won't really take much notice of any storyline really. It's just Spyro going around collecting things in order to fight some boss; the story only once gets in the way of that.

The cut-scenes are few and far between, normally limited to the start or end of a realm in order to introduce it a little. Though if you've played the game through already and just want to get on with the game they could be annoying as they are non-skippable. Thankfully though if you're just going through if for a first time and want to watch the cut-scenes you'll only ever have to watch them once thanks to the auto-save features of the game which are a little too protective of you at times.

Another thing that is non-skippable is the dialogues between Spyro and whatever creature it is he's talking with. Unlike other games where you could press a button and they'd stop talking and the writing would zoom to the end, here you get to watch both without a choice, with the game also forcing along the conversation whereas you could have previously left it at one screen of writing if you missed something. It's annoying if you ever talk to someone by mistake, as there's no quick way out.

This is definitely one of the better Spyro games, and my favourite game overall of 2004 beating the likes of San Andreas in my opinion, but that's a whole different review that I haven't written and most likely won't. Here playing as Spyro its fun all the way. The game lasted me nearly 20 hours of play before getting 100% the first time through, which is a decent enough length of time for any game.

The game's obviously not perfect by any means, but if you can ignore the odd imperfection then this game is a great purchase, and if you enjoyed the original trilogy from Insomniac, chances are you'll like this one too. Same goes if you liked Enter the Dragonfly, except that you'll love this one even more. Highly recommended gaming for everyone and anyone.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/11/05

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