At first glance, Spyro 2: Season of Flame seems identical to Spyro: Season of Ice, the first Game Boy Advance game starring the popular purple dragon. It uses the same isometric viewpoint and has the same basic collecting goals, and the story once again sees Spyro battling it out against Ripto and the Rhynocs. Despite these similarities, the sequel improves upon its predecessor literally in every aspect.
Season of Flame picks up where Season of Ice left off, with Spyro returning home, only to find that the Rhynocs have stolen all the fireflies in his absence. Now, Spyro and his dragonfly pal, Sparx, have to rescue all 100 of the missing fireflies before the dragon realm turns to ice. One positive by-product of this predicament is that Spyro now has the ability to breathe ice in addition to fire. This change is incorporated heavily into the game thanks to the addition of a multitude of monsters that vulnerable to one or the other, as well as various elemental puzzles.
By and large, the addition of ice breath to Spyro's repertoire greatly diversifies what would otherwise be a carbon copy of last year's game. The goals in each stage remain the same: Gather treasures, slay Rhynocs, and perform good deeds to reclaim the missing fireflies. Achieving these goals, however, now depends on your ability to select the most appropriate skill for the corresponding task. You can bash into most Rhynocs, but there are some that you should freeze first and others that you should just downright torch. Likewise, although Spyro's flame breath is still useful for removing bramble bushes, his ice breath now allows you to reach other normally inaccessible areas by freezing shallow water.
One of the biggest problems with last year's game was that each stage pretty much had the same goals and pacing as all the rest. The graphics changed from level to level, but you were still just systematically bashing or igniting every creature and decoration in sight. Fortunately, Spyro 2: Season of Flame can't be subjected to the same criticisms. In some missions, you have to slay Rhynocs and activate a set number of decorations within each level. Other missions require you to toss bombs into the water in order to deactivate them or jump across floating platforms to retrieve lost items. Once in a while, Spyro even develops the ability to breathe lightning. Furthermore, most stages also have some kind of minigame challenge to complete, such as playing hockey against a bully or chasing down a runaway thief.
Another nice aspect of Spyro 2 is that not all of the game's 22 stages actually feature Spyro. Every now and then you'll get to play as one of his friends. Sheila is a kangaroo who can jump really high and is able to smash enemies by stomping on them. Her levels look similar to the rest of the game's levels, but they play much differently since movement is restricted to four basic diagonal directions. As a result, Sheila's stages play a lot like the classic arcade game Q*Bert, albeit with a stamina gauge and objects to smash. The other friend you can control is Agent 9, a space-age monkey who carries a laser pistol and wears a suit of armor. What separates his levels from all the rest is the fact that they are played in a 2D side-scrolling perspective. Much like in the arcade classic Contra, you have to shoot Rhynocs and leap across dangerous gaps in order to recover the firefly at the end of the level. The stages you'll explore as Agent 9 tend to be rather large and offer multiple paths.
The only area where Spyro 2: Season of Flame doesn't differ much from Spyro: Season of Ice is in the visuals. That's not necessarily a negative, however, as the game's predecessor was quite pleasing from a graphical standpoint. Just like in the first game, the scenery and characters are crisp, and the isometric viewpoint works very well on the tiny GBA screen. Though, there are a few improvements here and there, such as a greater variety of Rhynoc enemies and more animation present in background scenery. The 2D stages featuring Agent 9 are pretty impressive as well, mostly due to the abundance of parallax scrolling in the background, but also because the characters have a computer-generated look that makes the GBA seem more powerful than it actually is.
The game's audio further enhances its presentation. The music is uplifting, fast-paced, and catchy, and there is a wide variety of crisp sound effects. More impressive, though, is the staggering abundance of speech samples. Whether it's Spyro's cry as he falls off a cliff or the groan of a Rhynoc as it disappears, you'll actually hear exclamations like these as performed by live voice actors. Although a far cry from the voice tracks found in most console games, these cute and somewhat unintelligible vocal effects are remarkable for a handheld adventure game.
Spyro 2: Season of Flame is an attractive package, and it offers considerable amount of value for good measure. There are three different hub realms, each of which contains six or seven massive areas to explore. Although some areas are locked until you gather the requisite number of fireflies, you're pretty much free to complete the levels in whatever order you prefer and can revisit any area as often as you like. Additionally, there are two bonus games that become available as you progress deeper into the game. One of these is Sparx panic, a modern-day revamp of the classic Asteroids, but with insects instead of meteors. The other is dragon draughts, which plays like an aggressive game of checkers.
If you're absolutely burnt out on action adventure games, especially those with an emphasis on collecting, Spyro 2: Season of Flame probably isn't going to change your outlook. Nevertheless, it's a sequel that does everything a sequel should. It looks better, it sounds better, it plays better, and it's ultimately more enjoyable than the original.