Everyone's favorite purple dragon arrives on the DS at long last! Warning: high levels of sarcasm detected.
Excepting the original PlayStation games, Spyro's outings have mostly been marked by their mediocrity. Spyro: Shadow Legacy (Spyro SL) takes the series in a new direction by adding framerate problems, a weak collision system, and useless touch screen elements. Additionally, Spyro SL is yet another one of those light/dark world games, meaning tedious retreading of structurally identical areas featuring an alternate palette.
The gameplay is theoretically sound, but in practice, it's quite boring. Spyro SL tasks you with repeatedly killing a series of monsters in a bland environment to free other dragons (who are always imprisoned in cages that show the number of nearby enemies that must be killed in order to free them). With better controls and monster design, this might have been fun, but in its current state it's about as much fun as mowing the lawn or washing the dishes. In fact, I think I'd rather do housework than play Spyro SL, because at least then I feel like I've accomplished something. In any case, the already tepid gameplay is worsened by sluggish controls and poor collision detection. For example, I knocked one enemy off a table and proceeded to attack it on the ground only to find that it wouldn't take damage. After dying a few times, I realized that it was actually still on the table (meaning I couldn't hit it from the ground).
In addition to a number of attacks, you also have magic. The developers might as well have created a menu and let you choose a spell to cast, but of course they had to make a symbol recognition system using the touch screen instead. The symbol recognition is very forgiving at least, but since the game requires you to use the d-pad and face buttons, drawing symbols in the first place is annoying (you'll have to grab your stylus or attempt to use your fingernail). Spyro SL also has experience points, which you can use to increase the power of your skills and spells. It feels more like a burden than a reward though. Most experience points are rewarded by completing quests, but if you find yourself just shy of raising a level, you'll have to chip away by killing individual monsters.
Graphically, the game ranges from nice looking to downright ugly. I'm not entirely sold on the art style to begin with, but I must admit that the detailed hand drawn areas have their moments. Unfortunately, the dark world is boring and hideous. Even in the beautiful Metroid Prime 2, the dark world tended to look the same no matter where you were, thanks to the consistent colors. However, Retro skillfully spiced things up by changing the geometry and carefully adding color in places. Spyro's dark world is ham-handed in comparison. Just about everything is colored black and white with a hint of purple, but certain movable elements (wooden gates) retain their normal color. What's worse is that all the enemies are in the dark world so you'll be spending much of your time there. Most of the game's moving elements use the DS's 3D hardware. Unfortunately, this has the effect of creating framerate stuttering in various places (including the very first room).
The sound in Spyro SL is acceptable, and the music is even somewhat inspired. The music is mostly of the atmospheric variety and does a good job of rounding out the game's environments. The problem is that Spyro SL's music often ends up being just as boring as the game. An exciting game can risk atmospheric music, but a game with any boring parts really needs exciting music to carry it through the weaker spots. However, this is ultimately the fault of the game designers and programmers for making a boring game.
In conclusion, Spyro is a half-finished game designed so poorly that it probably shouldn't have been started in the first place. Only the most stubborn Spyro fan should even consider picking this up and even then, I implore you to wait until it's on clearance.