Up until now, I had never played a Spyro game, but I figure that any series that's been around as long as this one has to be doing something right. Then I noticed that the newest one, The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night, had a version on nearly every system available including the GBA. Frankly, I'm surprised by the fact that they still make games for the GBA, but this game reminds me of the systems enduring qualities – simple, enjoyable gameplay, fun and colorful graphics, and affordability (about $20 for this game). A dying system? No, just one that's overlooked by gamers who are driven to keep on the cutting edge. But that leaves plenty of casual gamers to pick this game up on the cheap.
This game picks up from A New Beginning, in which Spyro learns he has a sibling. Her name is Cynder and she was formerly controlled by The Dark Master. And though Spyro has freed her from his clutches, she is now drawn to a new evil named Gaul. Spyro chases her across the world along side his fairy friend, Sparx. But Spyro seems to be having an unusual bout of dragon narcolepsy, as he constantly falls asleep at inopportune moments. During these sudden siestas, Spyro is contacted by a mysterious black dragon who unlocks visions of the enemy's plans and guides the little purple guy through several temples to unlock his hidden powers.
In other words, the mysterious black dragon gives you a tutorial on how to use all of your abilities in the game. Unlike most tutorials, you actually feel like your advancing through the game as you do it. In quick succession, you unlock the basic powers of double jump, dive attack, gliding and combo attacks. For simple sidescrolling platformer, there is a surprising amount you can do with combos. Though the controls are not too complicated, you can mix together many variations of ground, air and breathe attacks.
The game is very straightforward, taking you from one section to the next as you progress with little opportunity to backtrack. Occasionally, sleep brings you to the temple where you can revisit any boss you've beaten and practice your combos on an invincible dummy. Even though each stage has a different (and not particularly original) theme such as a forest, pirate ship or cave, they all feel the same. That's because other than some aesthetic differences, the enemies on each stage are the same. Sometimes it looks like a pirate, sometimes it's a giant bug, but it still fights the same. In fact, the game regularly falls back on the old, same monster, different color ploy. In these cases, the monster might have a different elemental weakness, but early on in the game you don't even have enough elements for it to matter. This is a big weakness of the game, because it takes away the anticipation of seeing what you'll fight next. It also means that you'll be applying the same exact tactics over and over.
The environments offer a little more diversity. Backgrounds are filled with color and a variety of animations that make everything seem alive. The foreground is similarly bright and vivacious – though there isn't much to interact with other than the enemies. It's pretty much a game of fighting your way from one side of the stage to the other while not letting enemies surround you. That in particular can prove frustrating as you don't always have room to get around enemies. In fact, I often felt a stage was too cramped, and that enemies took too long to defeat. Enemies have too much health and it makes getting through a stage grindingly slow until you unlock more powerful attacks.
Bosses don't offer a much better experience. On your first try, they usually seem insurmountable and bludgeon you with a frustratingly simple pattern. Then you discover one move that works without getting you hurt. After that you just repeat it over and over. They don't change strategy and they don't do anything unexpected. It's a little disappointing that it didn't take me more than two tries to beat any boss in the game.
Enemies and objects sometimes drop blue crystals that you can collect. These can be cashed in to power up one of your four elemental breath weapons. Each leveling of a weapon gives you a substantial boost in the power and usability of that attack. A ball of fire becomes a steady stream, a jutting spike becomes a long line of upturned stones. Whichever you chose to power up considerably affects how you can deal with monsters.
To expedite the powering up process, the game gives you extra blue crystals if you defeat enemies with long combos. It's good to be rewarded for doing something well. And since you need a lot of these crystals to power anything up, it keeps you looking for longer and longer chains of attacks, mixing in different breath weapons as you learn them.
While the game gives the player a wide variety of powers, the only one that this game will really test is your patience. Not that the game is oppressively hard, it's just monotonous at times. Most of the levels are uninspired and give you little incentive to do anything but get to the other side as fast as you can.
This can be fine for a younger or more inexperienced player, but veterans will be left wanting more. Some stages do offer you several paths to take to the goal at least, so if you find that one way is giving you too much trouble you can usually find another way around it.
While the GBA version of this game isn't quite on par with it's siblings on the Wii, DS and PS2, it's still a simple and enjoyable game from start to finish. Now and again I appreciate playing a simple sidescroller. No frills – just a whole lot of attacks and a mess of enemies to burn in your wake.