With tons of Hollywood actors lending their voice, well textured and vibrant graphics, and a pretty decent soundtrack, The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon has some lofty production values but unfortunately the gameplay falls flat.
Back in the PSOne era, there were two mascots that stood out: Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. Both introduced new ways to appreciate 3D platforming and became system sellers. In the years that would follow, both mascots eventually jumped to multiple consoles and even portables. It was during this transition that Spyro’s quality of gaming started to diminish. Dawn of the Dragon is the third part of the Legend trilogy, sequel to A New Beginning and The Eternal Night. While this review is of the PS3 version, Xbox fans will probably be left in the dark since the second game in this trilogy never reached Microsoft’s hardware.
Beginning with a Lord of the Rings style opening scene, it is not hard to see where the developers drew their inspiration from. Elijah Wood, Christina Ricci, and even Wayne Brady are just some of the handful of Hollywood talent lending their voices to the game. The game opens with Spryo and “bad dragon turned good” Cynder being freed from their frozen state by a mysterious cheetah named Hunter. After escaping a giant monster that was ripped right out LotR, the two purple dragons are destined to spend the game together as they are chained to each other via a magical snake collar.
Being tethered together introduces some interesting gameplay mechanics, but makes many parts of the game almost seem random. For example, the entire game can be played co-op with another human player, but the camera must remain close enough so both dragons can stay on screen at one time. However, this collar mechanic doesn’t always seem to be functional at every moment during the game. There are times when the camera will pan out far enough, but one dragon will get stuck in a part of the environment forcing you to take control of the other dragon or run closer to your buddy. Simultaneously activating switches or swinging from each other while mounted on a wall may have its functionality, but as a whole it is more annoying since there is an inconsistency when the collar is actually turned on.
Unlike previous Spyro games, the player now has the ability to take off and fly at will. This sounds like it would make gameplay a lot more exciting, but just like the tethering mechanic, it is highly inconsistent and frustrating. During some parts of the stage, either dragon is free to fly wherever the player chooses, while other parts only allow the player to merely glide around. The game gives no indication which type of flying option is available at any given time, making flight one of the worst aspects of this game. If the game wants you to jump and platform your way through a level, then the game engine will immediately knock your dragon back to the surface of the earth. To make matters worse, there is not a quick and easy way to land once/if you have taken flight. The player is left to just eventually glide back down to the earth, which could very well result in some rough landings. Shouldn’t there be an ability, like a ground pound, to fix this problem?
Combat is nothing more than a repetitive joke. Using the same one hit combo will work in just about every instance in this game, but on occasion, you might want to use one of the special abilities, like the fireball, to knock out the baddies. But for some reason, Spryo’s attacks just seem a little more fluid and a little stronger, often leaving Cynder’s leveling up abilities neglected. As a quick comparison, this game has taken a lot of inspiration from the God of War series. While nowhere near as great as those games were, Spyro’s fighting, platforming, and even the level up screen look as though Kratos had a small hand in developing this game.
This game has some camera issues as well. Using mostly preset camera angles (again, like God of War), there are many times where there is a clear view that is not properly displayed. On the other hand, there are times when rotating the camera 360 degrees can be user controlled, mostly reserved for wide open spaces. This inconsistency, again, works to the player’s disadvantage because there is no indication as to when the player has control over the camera. One other issue with the camera system is the horrendous amount of dropped frames in the frame rate whenever the game is in motion. When standing still, the game looks great and even has a decent amount of draw distance. However, as soon as you start rotating that second analog stick, the game starts to chug along, clearly pointing out the flaws in the game’s engine. There are also hiccups and slow down when in combat too. This is a complete shame because the graphics do contain a higher than average amount of detail. Too bad they just can’t be enjoyed when, you know, you actually play the game.
Dawn of the Dragon contains some large environments, but finding which way to go is a huge problem. Without any map or breadcrumb trail to lead you, the game makes aimlessly walking around a requirement. Combine this fact with the inconsistency with the dragon’s flight, and navigating the world is a lot more cumbersome than it ever should be.
Perhaps the best part about this game is the soundtrack and voice acting. Just about all voices are a recognizable celebrity and the musical score is definitely played more on a higher note. Maybe this is because of the obvious LotR and God of War similarities.
The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon is one of those games you really want to love to play, but it is impossible to ignore all the flaws in the programming and design. It is not often you see a game with such high production values suck so terribly in the gameplay department. Since this was the last game in the trilogy, perhaps it is time for yet another developer to try their hand at creating a new Spyro game that contains the same fun factor as when everyone first played it back on PSOne. Until then, be weary of Dawn of the Dragon.