Not even Elijah Wood can rescue this game from its frustrating 3D platforming.
I haven’t played Spyro since the glory days on the PS1, back when Insomniac was in charge and the series was well-respected. The series has since sunk lower and lower on the quality scale (from the reviews I’ve read over the years), but I was ready to give the little purple dragon another chance. Enter The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon! A quick Wikipedia search will reveal that The Legend of Spyro is a trilogy meant to be a re-boot of the series after Enter the Dragonfly and A Hero’s Tail did so poorly.
I can’t speak from authority for the first two Legend games, but I can tell you that Dawn of the Dragon is Lord of the Rings with flying reptiles for hobbits and cat-people instead of elves. No, that’s not a good thing. Spyro and his enemy-turned-friend, Cynder, are out to stop the Dark Master from being summoned and enshrouding the world in darkness. Like Sauron of Tolkien’s trilogy, the Dark Master sits atop a volcano. He can also summon giant fire demons…er…Earth Golems…and he commands a large army of goblins and bugs. The dramatic music, fantasy landscape, and big-name voice cast only increase the similarities between Legend of Spyro and Lord of the Rings, especially since Elijah Wood provides the voice for our titular hero. Christina Ricci, who was good in Casper, The Addams Family, and not much else, voices Cynder. Wayne Brady (remember him?) lends his vocal chords to Sparx, a golden dragonfly whose only purpose is to be annoying and provide incredibly flat comic relief. Commissioner Gordon—I mean, Gary Oldman—is Ignitus, an ancient dragon and Spyro’s version of Obi-Wan. Mark Hamill is unrecognizable as the Dark Master himself.
The game is divided roughly into two halves: Frustrating platforming and mind-numbing combat. Let’s go over the platforming first. Both characters are onscreen at once. Much like Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, the player can freely switch between them, and the NPC will be controlled by AI. Aside from elemental differences that I’ll go into later, playing as Spyro or Cynder makes no difference. However, they cannot get too far from each-other, as the dragons are tethered together by an energy rope. As you can imagine, the AI dragon often gets “stuck” during platforming segments, requiring you to switch between the two dragons to position them correctly, which leads to a lot of trial-and-error frustration. The dragons can double-jump, climb walls, swing from their energy tether to far-away areas, and fly. Except they can’t fly very well, and the level design is rarely built around the flight mechanic. And when the developers want you to do straight platforming, they force it. Inconvenient wind tunnels and your AI partner’s refusal to likewise take to the skies really limit the feeling of freedom that flight should instantly bring When flying is available, it’s fairly enjoyable, but it’s not encouraged as often as it could’ve been.
Because success is a combination of effect button-mashing and blind luck, combat never manages to feel fun. Spyro and Cynder have access to their own unique sets of elemental special attacks. Spyro gets traditional stuff like Fire, Ice, and Electricity, while Cynder has more interesting attacks like Poison, Shadow, and Wind. These special attacks use MP and can be upgraded by collecting blue crystal shards. In case you’re wondering, red crystals replenish health, and green crystals give you MP Spamming your magic attacks is a good way to win fights, but your MP runs out fairly quickly. Instead, you have to rely on the B button to do most of the work in association with jumping (A) and grabbing (A+B). Because you are often swarmed by small enemies, it’s tough to really target any one creature, and combat quickly becomes an exercise in blind flailing. You can block attacks by tilting the Nunchuk up (yes, the whole thing) , which I found distracting. But hey, what about your buddy Sparx? You know, that golden dragonfly! Surely he provides a targeting system like Navi and Tatl do, right? NO! Even though he’s always on screen, his role is one of passivism.
At least the game looks good, right? No, sorry, it strikes out there, too. I don't know about the PS3 or Xbox360 versions, but the Wii game looks unrefined. Character animations are stiff, character models have a certain blockiness about them, and cut-scenes are obviously rendered outside the game engine yet fail to impress. I was especially shocked that all of the cat-people in the game (that I encountered) are the exact same model, but with different color schemes. Even in the cut-scenes! Enemies are blandly designed and animate poorly. There are some areas where the world sprawls out before Spyro and Friends, and you say “whoa,” but then you remember that scenes like this were done far better in Twilight Princess, and if I remember correctly, that was a Wii launch game.
This legend ultimately isn’t very legendary, stumbling in way too many places to get a good grade. You’re better off replaying Twilight Princess if you want something epic, or watching Lord of the Rings if you want something with Frodo Baggins in it!