You literally can't go a year without seeing a new Spyro game on the Game Boy Advance, and like clockwork, Spyro: Attack of the Rhynocs is here to take over where Spyro: Season of Flame left off. If you enjoyed the last two games, chances are you'll like this one as well, because it's more of the same--only bigger and better. For those of you who are just now getting acquainted with the series, Attack of the Rhynocs is a great place to start. It's a lighthearted action adventure through 12 colorful worlds full of all of the puzzles, power-ups, and items you'd expect to see in an adventure game, with the kind of colorful graphics and smooth animation that are essential to bringing a puffy purple dragon to life.
Compared to other action games, Attack of the Rhynocs doesn't necessarily do anything new or groundbreaking. What it does do well, however, is bring together a bunch of fun gameplay ideas into a single package. The game is made up of 12 interconnected worlds that you can move back and forth between at any time. A single world is typically composed of four or five smaller areas, a minigame section, and a boss battle. The isometric viewpoint, similar to that found in Banjo Kazooie or Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, gives the game a nice 3D look and makes it possible to include jump and platform puzzles that go off in all directions. Spyro has a healthy selection of abilities. You can jump, glide, and hover between disconnected portions of a level, and you can use his fire, wind, and ice breath attacks against rampaging rhynocs or to trigger switches that unlock doors and activate paths that aren't normally visible. Sometimes the tilted perspective makes it tough to gauge a jump or to aim at an enemy, but these instances aren't all that frustrating since the game puts you back where you entered the level whenever you run out of health. Each of Spyro's breath attacks can be upgraded three times, but he also has a couple of new abilities in this game, such as a lightning wind attack and a diving butt-slam.
Spyro games have always had an emphasis on collecting, and Attack of the Rhynocs is completely unabashed in this regard. Right from the get-go, the opening story of the game explains how you need to gather 12 hearts from other worlds in order to close a rip in time caused by the professor's broken peephole machine. Within each world, there are dozens upon dozens of items--such as toys, keys, flowers, books, and machine parts--to collect and roughly 900 gems to gather. Ultimately, you'll end up exchanging many of these gems and items for other items you're trying to find, and every so often, the rhynocs will split an item into pieces and scatter the parts across numerous worlds just to make things difficult. Thankfully, the game doesn't just throw all of these requirements at you in one fell swoop. Your list of things to do gradually grows as you meet and talk to the various friendly characters located in each world. Once you've finished all of the missions in a world, you'll get one of the hearts you need. As you can see, you have to enjoy collect-a-thons at least a little bit to really get into Attack of the Rhynocs, but if that is indeed your sort of thing, you'll have a blast.
As you get further along, you'll also get the chance to participate in a number of minigames that help break up the monotony of taking on one mission after another. Some of these games involve Spyro and feature the same isometric viewpoint used in regular areas. The various tasks include foot races, time-based challenges, Wack-a-Mole-style hammering stages, and shooting events that scroll along in a fashion that's eerily similar to two popular isometric shooters of yore, Zaxxon and Viewpoint. The other two minigames that crop up regularly feature Spyro's friends, Agent 9 and Sgt. Byrd, and also borrow heavily from the classic games of days gone by. The Agent 9 game plays like a cross between Bionic Commando and Metal Gear Solid. Enemies will cry out for help if they spot you, so you need to use your vacuum gun to suck them up or use the grappling hook to swing over them. Sgt. Byrd's game, Byrd Rescue, is set up like a button-masher's rendition of Choplifter. You have to rapidly press the buttons in order to flap Byrd's wings so that he can pick up and drop off the captive penguins sitting at the bottom of the screen. The Byrd Rescue minigame is also available from the main menu as a stand-alone option, with support for two-player competitive and co-operative play using a link cable.
Developer Digital Eclipse has come up with some new tricks for the game's graphics and audio. Cartoon-style cinematic sequences have been put together using flat 2D images, which accomplish the look and feel of a brief Saturday-morning cartoon skit. What's most surprising is that characters actually speak up during these cinematic scenes and talk to you in their alien dialects through the GBA's speaker. Spyro, Sparx, the bosses, and the rest of the other characters also have a good variety of different vocalizations for their various attacks and reactions. Besides these new features, Attack of the Rhynocs just takes the engine from Spyro 2 and does more with it. The isometric worlds are livelier, to the point that things like rainy thunderclouds and mole-infested top hats often have an impact on how the game plays. The number of enemies that are visible onscreen at any given moment is twice that of both previous games. Bosses are much larger in this installment as well. Kids will get a kick out of the giant faces and wacky expressions that the bosses exhibit whenever they meet the business end of Spyro's flame, while older players will simply appreciate the fact that the bosses in this Spyro game actually fill the entire screen. As for the audio, the sound effects are still as crisp as ever, and the music is still fast-paced and catchy.
Overall, Spyro: Attack of the Rhynocs does everything a sequel ought to do. It takes everything that was good in Spyro: Season of Ice and Spyro: Season of Flame, adds in a few new puzzles and abilities, and brings all of these aspects together into an adventure that's larger and more pleasing to the senses than either of those previous games.