Though the lovable little Spyro hasn't exactly been incognito in the past few years, it's certainly been a long time since we've seen him in a game that was worth getting excited about. After making a sterling debut on the original PlayStation back in 1998, the series has had its ups and downs. With the release of the upcoming The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning, the development team at Krome Studios is looking to give players a fresh new look at Spyro by taking it all the way back to the beginning. We got a chance to play a work-in-progress version of the game at a recent Sierra press event and came away impressed with the game's direction.
As you might guess from the title, The Legend of Spyro is an origin tale for the little dragon, one that tells not only of Spyro's upbringing among a family of dragonflies, but also of his special destiny as a purple dragon who is able to conquer the four elements of the world--fire, ice, earth, and electricity. The story begins with Ignitus, a huge red dragon (who is voiced by actor Gary Oldman). Under threat by unseen, malevolent forces, Ignitus is caring for a solitary purple egg. After making a narrow escape from an attack, Ignitus places the egg in a river, which carries it downstream until it lands in a swamp.
It's in this faraway marsh that Spyro is raised by a family of dragonflies--indeed, for much of his young life, Spyro thinks of himself not as a dragon but as a dragonfly. It's only when playing chase with his best friend Sparks (who is voiced by David Spade) that Spyro learns of his ability to breathe fire--the first clue that he is something more than a simple dragonfly. Suddenly waking up to the wider world around him, Spyro leaves the swamp to find the place he was born, with Sparks in tow.
Spyro's gameplay is a mixture of platform adventure and simplistic combat, though it's nice to see that the melee attacks are a bit more in-depth than simply whipping Spyro's tail and breathing fire at enemies. This is partly thanks to the fairly robust combo system, which, among other slick moves, lets you toss enemies into the air and then attack them as they come down, and partly thanks to the multitude of powers that Spyro will earn over the course of the game. As a purple dragon, so the story goes, Spyro has far more potential power than a typical dragon, and as the game progresses, he'll earn new powers across all four elements, which he can access at any time. Each elemental power set is accessible by pressing the directional pad.
There are a few cool things about the elemental powers. First, you earn new powers for each element over time; eventually, you'll have some truly devastating attacks that you can unleash on the hordes of monsters Spyro will face. Second, the attacks are split up between long-range and short-range breath attacks, both of which have different uses. Finally, while every type of elemental attack causes damage, some are better used in some situations than others. For example, ice attacks are especially good for crowd control--you can turn enemies into snowballs with one attack, while the other packs a nice punch and will slow your opponents down in the process. As a result, in any given fight, you might find yourself switching between several different sets of Spyro's powers.
As you fight, you'll have three gauges you'll want to keep an eye out for: a green health bar; a red breath energy meter, which determines how often you can use your specialized attacks; and a circular third gauge that, once it's completely filled, can be used to let loose with Spyro's biggest attacks in the game. Gems you collect after defeating enemies (or breaking apart crystals found on each level) are used to replenish these meters as you progress through the game.
Though we didn't get to see every level in the game, we were able to skip ahead to check out some of the other environments Spyro will explore, including a volcanic series of underground caves, with plenty of fiery lava pits to avoid, and a mountainous, icy stage, which featured some truly nasty-looking bat creatures that we had to defeat. The developers behind the game have tried to imbue the enemies that Spyro faces in the game with a bit more menace than you might expect from the series. Of course, there's nothing too scary here--this is still a kid-friendly game--but if those giant bats are any indication, Spyro will battle some tough-looking opposition.
The development team is quick to point out the Hollywood talent that are lending their voices to the game, including the aforementioned Oldman and Spade, as well as Elijah Wood, who provides the voice for the title character. All three actors were at the top of the producers' dream list of actors to play the parts; in fact, after all three agreed to the roles in the game, the production team had to scramble to make sure the budget allowed for the actors' paychecks. While we didn't get to check out a ton of the voice work in our time with the game, based on name alone, it looks like it should be money well spent.
Though the graphical design in The Legend of Spyro isn't a drastic departure from previous games in the series, this game certainly is impressive looking, especially with regard to the amount of action happening on the screen at any given moment. During heated battles, it's not unusual for Spyro to be surrounded by numerous enemies, while he whips his tail and lets loose with his colorful and dynamic breath attacks. Special effects such as lightning attacks or flames when Spyro lets loose with a blast are especially cool, and none of it seems to come at the cost of frame rate. With imaginative environments and plenty of action onscreen, this is certainly the best-looking Spyro game to date.
With its kid-friendly approach, easy control scheme, and intent on rebooting the Spyro franchise, we're looking forward to seeing the full amount of what The Legend of Spyro has to offer fans of the series. The game is due for release in early October.