IGN Review of Spyro: The Eternal Night
Earlier this month, I reviewed Sierra's latest Crash Bandicoot game on the Nintendo DS, commending the development team on returning to the character's PlayStation roots and bringing back a lot of fun elements to create an impressive handheld Crash experience. Seems that team was also put to the task of doing the same for the company's other character, Spyro the Dragon. Unfortunately, I don't have as much glowing praise for this project as I did for the Bandicoot's. The game may attempt the original Insomniac 3D action platforming style and may mirror a few of the key elements that made the PlayStation games great, but the final product is very stiff and awkward and calls attention to the fact that it wasn't quite finished before it shipped.
The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night is the third Nintendo DS game starring the purple dragon. His premiere DS game, Spyro: Shadow Legacy was an awkward mess of a hybrid top-down action adventure that was rectified in the impressively decent "reboot" of the series for the handheld: The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning. Both of those Nintendo DS renditions, as well as the portable rendition of The Eternal Night have been handled by the same development studio: Amaze. Instead of offering a third game that compromises the 3D console design in a 2D presentation, the team instead went in a new direction, or rather, in its original direction: full 3D action platforming. Just like Amaze's Nintendo DS version of Crash of the Titans, Spyro on the Nintendo has been taken back to its roots.
Clearly to have both games in development the studio needed two completely separate teams to work on the projects. For anyone who plays both games this year will see the striking contrast between the two projects: where Crash is a complete and coherent game, Spyro is a bit of a mess.
The Eternal Night uses the same plotline of the console game, which is a tale that picks up after the events of A New Beginning. As cool as it is to get such a deep and poetic storyline as The Eternal Night, it's just so hard to follow the way it's told on the Nintendo DS. A portion of it's handled via voiceover played on top of scrolling artwork, but the rest utilizes confusing talking head dialogue that jumps all over the place. But all you really need to know is this: Spyro is a little dragon who had big powers in the previous game, but loses them for this one. He has to work through the game's action/platforming design to get them back so he can kick butt. Got it?
This Spyro game at least gives off good first impressions because of its new approach to the Spyro game design on the handheld. It's fully 3D, and features the same platforming focus of the classic Spyro the Dragon created by Insomniac. It was at least a breath of fresh air to see that the handheld game had broken out of its top-down design of the past two games.
But while the style of the PlayStation games was mimicked, it misses the target in a lot of areas. The 3D engine, for example, is a little weak, especially in comparison to Amaze's Crash of the Titans. Granted, Spyro has a free-floating camera that can be repositioned anywhere compared to Crash's "on rails," but it's clear that the developers had to work with more limitations and didn't come through with as impressive a product. Draw distance is shockingly short, which is made obvious when the designers get cute and do a flyby of the level at the start of each challenge. And character models are a little sloppy due to their low polygon nature.
We could forgive the weak visuals because, honestly, they aren't all that terrible. But what we can't forgive is the weak visuals on top of an even weaker camera system. The camera is supposed to follow Spyro and make it easier for players to keep track of their guy because, obviously, they're in control of him. But the camera loves to switch locations, and in many cases it'll simply go spazzy if Spyro finds himself standing on a camera triggerpoint. And if players end up going to a location where the camera can't follow, they can actually get Spyro to walk through walls. No joke. There are so many of these glitches it's clear the game was pulled out of development a little too early for comfort.
The gameplay isn't half bad, but it could have been better. Level designs are pretty good and offer a decent amount of platform jumping and gliding, and interspersed as Control is extremely stiff and rigid, especially compared to previous Spyro games. The designers try to spruce up the action with some completely unnecessary touch screen elements that, honestly, bring the flow to a grinding halt. Flicking an enemy up in the air and leaping after him kicks the game to a silly touch-screen controlled combo system where the game stops to tell players to get out their stylus, and then follow along with the on-screen arrows to swipe the screen in the direction it says. And if you want to activate a power-up just to boost your dragon's abilities, you have to play a game of Simon for about thirty seconds first. And let's not forget the game features the same lightbeam puzzles from last year's game, but this time forcing players into fetch quests to obtain the prisms before playing them.
While the gameplay leaps around from decent to awkward and back again, boss battles are consistently the pits. Players occasionally face off against giant dragons, but the patterns given to these dragons feel completely arbitrary. Sometimes Spyro can attack them and other times they'll be invincible for absolutely no rhyme or reason.
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