It's one thing to be disheartened when a development team repackages a Game Boy Advance title as a Nintendo DS game, but it's almost even more disheartening when a development team creates an original game that's far worse than versions created on the GBA. Spyro: Shadow Legacy is a unique game in the Vivendi Universal franchise that continues the exploits of the little purple dragon, but this adventure is so bad that the much more limiting titles released on the GBA are far more fun and fulfilling, and clearly had more time to bake in the development oven. This game is sluggish and chuggy, and, by a far margin, the worst entry in the Spyro series.
Spyro the Dragon began its life on the original PlayStation system as a really excellent collect-a-thon platformer featuring an adorable purple dragon that's small in stature but big in heart. The game and character were strong enough to move through several console sequels, and eventually end up in an original set of Game Boy Advance adventures developed by Digital Eclipse. These isometric designs were tailored for the GBA's more limited hardware, but even with the limitations the games were fun and faithful to the original 3D platformers.
Though there hasn't been a real Spyro adventure for more than a couple of years, Sierra feels that the dragon has some legs for an original dual-screen adventure. Amaze Entertainment, already a key player in the handheld realm, went to work on a new design that combines Spyro action elements with a much more RPG flair. Its action is similar to Castlevania in the sense that Spyro can attack with an array of moves that whittle down enemies' hitpoints. He can also upgrade his abilities by leveling up with experience points earned by enemies he takes out, as well as scoring and equipping special medallions acquired throughout the quest.
The game's beginning shows some of the ineptness in the game's design: the adventure begins with a cutscene that starts with storybook text on the upper screen. What does the lower screen display? Uglier subtitles that read out the exactly the same thing as the upper screen text. If that's not brilliant use of the second screen
But it would be unfair to pick apart one silly little instance of Spyro and say it's a bad game. But luckily, the rest of the package is just as sloppy as the game's intro. While many of the visual elements -- like wonderfully rendered backgrounds and nicely modeled 3D sprites -- get a decent thumbs up, any work that went into them is destroyed by an engine that can't handle displaying them. Scrolling is absurdly slow and choppy with some serious first-generation sprite glitching all over the place.
The programming that handles the height mapping on the flat 2D background is inconsistent and has severe overlapping issues in places. And the attack collision between Spyro and the variety of enemies is wonky at best -- players sometimes connect and sometimes miss with no rhyme or reason, and they can even attack through walls and obstacles because of the poor handling. It's difficult to tell which ledges are accessible and which are not due to the drawn perspective as well as the lousy invisible walls mapped to them.
A lot of the engine issues can probably be attributed to an overambitious story that revolves around two versions of the same world. The adventure and most of the puzzles require Spyro to constantly leap back and forth between the real world and a shadow version of the same area in order to solve puzzles and earn experience. Because players swap between these realms on-the-fly, the game has to retain two versions of the area in the limited memory of the Nintendo DS system. The engine is clearly being overtaxed.
But this is only part of the problem. The game's scripting is horrible, with sloppy trigger points that interrupt the action at the most awkward of moments. The button mapping wasn't thought out very well, either; the X button is used for opening doors, swapping between realms, and attacking enemies, so there will be times where players will activate a realm swap or a trigger point while trying to take out an enemy.
The secondary portion of the screen is used for inventory display and selection, so it's utilized modestly for most of the game. But then the team decide to also use it for some clearly unnecessary character and drawing recognition for specific tasks. Want to teleport to another part of the map? Draw a triangle to pull up the map. Need to move an item out of the way? Jot down an equals sign. It's a control element that's completely unnecessary and draws too much attention to itself as a "what are we going to do with the touchscreen?" moment in the design pitch. Even if the development team didn't intend it to, Spyro: Shadow Legacy screams "B title" all the way through.
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