We could have never thought that assuming the role of a purple dragon and going around freeing other dragons could ever actually take off, but in 1998 when Spyro debuted for the PSOne we were proven wrong. The game was fresh, fun and innovative and was one of the top platformers on the PSOne. When Insomniac finished up with the franchise Vivendi picked up the rights to the game and thereafter Spyro went multiplatform and has since appeared on the Playstation 2, Gamecube, Gameboy Advance and even on mobile phones. So, the appearance of Spyro on the Nintendo DS isn't a surprise, but the way it plays out was definitely different to what you'll be expecting. So, is Spyro: Shadow Legacy worthy of a purchase or would you be better off with another title for your Nintendo DS?
If i started off this review by pointing out the game was a platformer then most people would probably roll their eyes like i'd pointed out the most obvious of truths. Surprisingly though, the game is actually best described as a RPG for children, as the game has seriously deviated from being just a standard platformer. The game starts off fairly standard though; Spyro's community is thrown into turmoil when members of the community mysteriously warp into an alternative dimension known as the shadow realm. The shadow realm is an alternate dimension that is darker and a mirrored world of Spyro's. With no visible humans in the world it is left to Spyro to find out who is behind the plot.
This storyline paves the way for the light/dark world. Spyro is able to navigate between both worlds quite frequently, with enemies only appearing in the dark world. This concept manages to generally work, as you have to venture to the dark world to defeat all the enemies. In fact, it's likely that most of the action will take place in the darkworld because that's where all the enemies are. What is disappointing though, is that the two worlds are basically identical to each other, except that the dark world is uglier; with basic black levels and splashes of red on a door or post every now and then.
As well as the normal attacks Spyro has been taking a few lessons from Harry Potter and is now able to cast spells. The RPG elements really come into play with the touchscreen, as you need to use symbol recognition from the touch screen to cast the spells. Realistically it's a very gimmicky way of casting a spell and often feels a little tacked on. Spyro himself is also able to gain experience points which can then be used to increase the power of your skills and spells. If you're not able to beat an opponent then you're left with no choice but to go around looking for other opponants to defeat to increase your power. Rather than hearts, rainbows or any kind of health bar at all, Spyro actually has hit points (seeing the RPG connection now?) which are demonstrated on the bottom screen. The hit points can be increased quite easily though.
Aside from helping you to cast spells and displaying your health, the touchscreen also displays your inventory, shows a map (which doesn't help at all) and shows all your experience information. The touchscreen is fairly useless, but does help to reduce the clutter on the top screen which has to be a positive. Unfortunately the main single player mode is the only gameplay mode. We would have appreciated some kind of multiplayer option or maybe even some Spyro mini games, so we're a little disappointed that there is only one mode in the entire game.
The game does take a little getting used to because it is radically different to the Gameboy Advance incarnations. It's really surprising how different this game is to the previous handheld incarnations gameplay wise. The viewpoint of the game is still isometric though which keeps the game in the 2D platformer category. The problem with keeping the game in 2D is that it is often hard to tell when you need to jump when moving along and this can become a little frustrating.
There are other problems with the gameplay as well, there are times where Spyro will get stuck between an enemy and an object and you'll have no choice but to save and reload the game. There are also times where the game cannot recognise other environments, and because of the 2D nature of the title it is often difficult to tell if you're able to navigate to an area. At times it is also difficult to tell where you're meant to go, which isn't helped at all by the map. However, casting a spell is fairly easy and whilst it isn't an innovative use of the Nintendo DS screen, it does work fairly well. There are three boss levels throughout the entire game and they are definitely the highlight of the the single player adventure. Whilst the game does take a little while to get going, after a few hours into the adventure the smaller problems are fairly quickly forgotten about.
Graphically the game is fairly impressive, whilst the game is mainly a 2D adventure, the boss battles are incredible and whilst the shadow realms look a little bland, the light world looks great and the artwork just has to be seen to be believed. The artwork is unique and a lot of detail appears to have been put into all areas of the game to ensure it looks good.
The music in the game is fairly basic but does become more atmospheric in the intense parts of the game. There is no real voice work in the game either, and the storyline is basically presented through some basic cut-scenes which is a little disappointing.
The single player adventure of Shadow Legacy will take about twelve hours to complete in its entirity. Unfortunately there is no multiplayer mode and no unlockables whatsoever which doesn't help to extend the lifespan of the game. However, for a handheld game to have a lifespan of twelve hours is impressive, it's just disappointing that once the adventure is over there is no reason to come back to the game.
Overall Spyro: Shadow Legacy is a fairly disappointing title. Risks have been taken and ultimately most of them end up failing and this reminds us of how fun Spyro used to be. The 2D game play is quickly becoming out of date in this series and the Nintendo DS could easily provide the processing power for a 3D Spyro adventure. Anyone who played the previous Gameboy Advance Spyro titles and thinks they will just be able to immerse themselves in this game without any problems should realise that the titles are very different to each other. The game isn't terrible, but it isn't exactly memorable either.