As the title implies, The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning represents a "do over" for the Spyro franchise. Vivendi Games and Amaze Entertainment have completely overhauled the game engine from Spyro: Shadow Legacy, switching the emphasis purely to combat and nixing the collect-a-thon and role-playing aspects that everyone hated. At the same time, they've thrown out Spyro's history and conjured up a new origin story that introduces new allies and enemies into the purple dragon's fantasy world. Some players will find the constant combat overly repetitive and run-of-the-mill. Others will enjoy how the game lets them constantly cut loose with Spyro's fearsome attacks. Regardless of which group you may fall into, if you're a Spyro fan, you'll probably get past the doldrums because of the super-snazzy cinematic cutaways and slick touch-screen boss battles that wait at the end of each area. Indeed, The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning offers you ample payoff for your perseverance.
Over the years, fans have come to know Spyro, his friends, and his enemies fairly well. This new game tosses all of that history out the window and starts over from the beginning. As the game opens, a full-motion video sequence and voice-over tells us the horrible tale of how all the dragon eggs were wiped out by the disciples of an evil being known as Dark Master--all except for one. The red dragon, Ignitus, realized the gravity of the situation and placed the last remaining egg into a makeshift raft, which was sent floating down the river, much like Jochebed sent her son Moses down the river in The Bible. A family of dragonflies found the egg, hatched it, and raised the dragon as one of their own alongside their son. The story then picks up roughly 15 years later. The family reveals to Spyro that he isn't a dragonfly after all but is, in fact, a dragon. Upon learning this news, Spyro and his dragonfly brother, Sparx, set off to the dragon realm to learn more about Spyro's past. When they arrive, they discover a battered Ignitus, who tells them that the Dark Master's disciples have returned along with a new ally, a mysterious black dragon named Cynder. Cynder is laying waste to the various dragon lands and capturing the remaining elder dragons so that she can bring the Dark Master into the real world. Of course, according to prophecy, Spyro is the only one that can stop Cynder and free the elders, which is just what he sets out to do.
Spyro's journey is a trip through six different themed lands. Each land has its own elemental theme, such as grass, electricity, ice, lava, or rock. These themes are old hat, but they're not just for looks. The enemies in each area have attacks that are based on these elements, and many of them are in turn weak to a particular element. At first, you can only make use of Spyro's tail-whip and flame-breath attacks. As you move through each land, however, you'll gain the elemental abilities of the dragons you free, which you can then use against enemies. Spyro's full arsenal of elemental powers spans fire, ice, electricity, and earth. Each element gives Spyro a unique breath attack, some sort of projectile, a shield, and a powerful finishing move, which can all be upgraded by spending the blue crystals that enemies leave behind.
To free the imprisoned dragons and catch up to Cynder, Spyro first has to vanquish all of the disciples in each land and then lay waste to the boss that is guarding each land's temple. Unlike in previous Spyro games, there's no hub world or backtracking. The six lands in The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning and all of their many subsections are presented in order. That also means you don't have to worry about hunting down esoteric items or collecting fairies to gain access to new levels. After you free one land, the game automatically sends you on to the next. This Spyro game is streamlined for combat's sake.
When you're fighting off wave after wave of disciples, the action is shown from a top-down isometric perspective that's similar to what you've no doubt seen in other DS or Game Boy Advance action games. Groups of enemies in each area appear, and you have to eliminate them using Spyro's tail and breath attacks. Individual enemies aren't too tough to handle, but the game likes to surround Spyro with mismatched groups. You can perform tail and breath attacks, as well as conjure up shields, by pressing the buttons. The game also makes use of the touch screen to some extent. You can target individual enemies by tapping them on the touch screen. Certain enemies can't be hurt until you take away their shields or flip them over, which is accomplished by tapping them on the touch screen. Some small enemies can be taken out just by tapping them with the stylus. If you want to break open a plant to grab some more health or pick up the crystals that enemies leave behind, you only need to tap the plants and crystals to do so.
It's nice that there are so many different enemies and so many different ways to get rid of them. Cutting loose with Spyro's abilities is something fans have wanted to do for a long time. Unfortunately, this game may be guilty of letting you cut loose too much. The number of enemies you have to fight on the way to each boss is insane. For example, if one group of baddies appears, after you dispatch them, the next group appears. This continues until the gate opens, and you move into the next area, where you'll face subsequent groups of enemies. After passing through multiple gates and multiple areas in each land, you stop caring about what elements the enemies are weak to and what attacks you're using to fight them. You just end up mashing the A button in the hope that the boss isn't too far off. There are some nifty touch-screen mirror puzzles that break up the monotony here and there, but the levels should be half as long or implement some midpoint boss encounters instead.
Once you get into a boss battle, however, you tend to forget that the journey leading up to it was so repetitive. Boss battles are on-rails 3D dogfights that involve Spyro and one of the Dark Master's guardians. The characters and environments are fully 3D, the characters are huge, and the viewpoint constantly shifts to show the characters from the most cinematic vantage point. To attack the boss, you have to tap the targets that appear on the touch screen. Each time you tap, Spyro will launch a fireball at the boss. When the boss tosses objects at Spyro or launches its own fireballs, you have to tap them on the touch screen to make them dissipate before they reach Spyro. Some bosses have attacks that fill a particular side of the screen, which you need to avoid by steering Spyro with the directional pad. All the while, the camera is constantly swooping, buildings are falling apart, and fireballs are flying everywhere. It's just as intense to watch as it is to participate in boss battles.
The cinematic scenes that play before and after each boss fight are similarly impressive. These brief video sequences show Spyro dogfighting with the various guardians and having conversations with Sparx, as well as the dragon elders. They're put together with high-quality computer graphics and employ the recorded voices of a number of actual Hollywood actors, including Elijah Wood and Gary Oldman. We've seen full-motion video this slick in games made for TV-based consoles and the PSP, but this is a welcome first for the Nintendo DS. The likeable characters and performances will especially please Spyro fans.
The in-game graphics and audio are not as glam, but they're solid nonetheless. The backgrounds in the top-down view are sharp, and the polygonal characters are reasonably detailed. Spyro's various attacks often bring about puffy explosions, and some enemies break apart into multiple pieces when defeated. Sometimes the frame rate stutters when there are too many enemies onscreen, but it's never more than a minor annoyance. The characters in the 3D boss battles are huge, detailed, and fluidly animated. The accompanying backdrops, by contrast, vary in quality. Some are intricate polygonal structures that are decorated with any number of fanciful turrets and statues. Others are merely plain enclosures or tunnels that don't look like much at all. Practically speaking, you'll usually be too busy tapping targets, dodging obstacles, and watching dragon fights to care about the artistic merits of the surroundings. Every level has its own music, so you'll hear a good mix of sound effects and creature noises during each battle. The music is sometimes over the top in the drama department, but it's never too out of place.
From the main menu, you'll find an adventure mode and an extras menu. The adventure mode is the main quest and clocks in around eight hours or so, which is a good length for a handheld game. Any upgrades and abilities you acquire carry over to subsequent replays. You'll unlock something special for beating the game on the hardest difficulty, so being able to bulk up on the easier settings first is a plus. The extras menu contains an arcade mode, 40 stand-alone mirror puzzles, and cheats that you can enable in all game modes. The arcade mode is simply the main quest with all of the puzzles and cinematic scenes removed. Spyro starts off with all four base-level elemental skills, and you get two lives to score as many points as possible. The 40 stand-alone mirror puzzles may sound like an afterthought, but they're a welcome bonus for anyone who enjoys spatial puzzles. If you think it would be fun to rearrange mirrors in order to maneuver beams of light around a maze, then you'll love these puzzles. It's just a shame that the developers didn't include a boss rush mode to let you constantly revisit those wonderful boss battles. Despite that forgetful omission, Spyro fans will still be able to sink their teeth into a good amount of stuff.
Overall, The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning for the Nintendo DS is a solid effort. The combat can get painfully repetitive, but the intense boss battles and slick video scenes go a long way toward making up for it.