The best-selling Spyro the Dragon series of lighthearted action adventure games takes a sharp turn for the worse in Universal Interactive's Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly. While it may have some great predecessors, this latest Spyro is an almost unplayable train wreck of a game that has no direction, no technical merit, and little appeal except as a game design house of horrors and a showcase for some good music by Stewart Copeland.
Your goal in Spyro: ETD is to rescue dragonflies. The game's story opens at a party for some of the younger dragons, who are getting paired up with dragonflies that day. The dialogue doesn't make it very clear that this is what is going on; it's more focused on making a joke about Spyro's friend Hunter being scared by a large balloon. It's hard to imagine why he screams after staring up at it for a few seconds. Poor scene blocking aside, the game just wants to establish that there are a lot of dragonflies in one place so it can get on with Spyro's old nemesis Ripto showing up and making all the dragonflies disappear, and it sort of does that in a clumsy way.
There's a theory that every character in a story is actually a part of the writer, and watching Ripto botch things up right from the start is some of the strongest proof of that theory to date. Ripto wants to steal the dragonflies, or maybe kill them, but when he waves his wand they end up scattering across the world instead--either the wand is broken, or he waved it wrong. Theorizing is unnecessary--all it means is that Spyro will have to go find them, because even though dragonflies can fly and are smart enough to communicate, they apparently can't just find their way back to the castle. Ripto escapes, saying that without the dragonflies, the dragons are powerless. Why he's escaping if the dragons are powerless remains another one of the game's mysteries, because the game abruptly cuts to another scene where Spyro finds Sparx and gets the mission to find the other dragonflies before Ripto's minions can find them, or destroy the dragons, or who knows what. One extra-long loading screen later, you will finally be past this mess of a premise setup and in the mess of the actual game.
If this review were limited to one sentence, it would be this: Spyro: ETD has an unacceptable choppiness to its frame rate. Sure, Spyro is bad in other ways, but since it's an action game, the constant and often heavy dips in frame rate stand out more than anything else. Given the other platform games in current release, there really is no need to even consider a game that stutters more often than it is smooth, especially since the gameplay mechanics and goals are mostly unchanged from the previous versions. Spyro can jump, glide, and briefly hover as in previous versions. He can also jump up and flip over to head-butt the ground, which is good for activating switches and not much else. Spyro's useful arsenal is limited to a charging head-butt; fire, ice, and electric breath; and magic bubble breath for capturing dragonflies. Yes, most of the dragonflies actually run away from you, because, the game offers as a nonsensical explanation, they are shy. This shyness for some unknown reason also involves taunting you with a buzzing "nyah-nee-nyah-nee boo boo" as they run away right through your bubble breath.
Yes, Spyro is full of bugs in more ways than one. Collision detection, in addition to making the bubble breath a chore to use, will also do things like let you charge straight through an urn if you just used a breath weapon on it. The boundaries of objects are often larger or smaller than they appear; sometimes your horns will go through an overhead object, and sometimes you'll have to get a bit of extra clearance before you can go under. The sound system is faulty as well. Sound effects often sound a lot closer than they really are. If you're more or less directly above or below something making noise, it doesn't matter how far above or below you are, or even if you're underwater: It still sounds close. There are frequent visual bugs, with polygons stretching to the corner of the screen or large seams between polygons. One odd bug happens when you enter one of the levels by stepping on a platform that rises into the air: If you just barely touch it, it will leave without you on it. Fortunately, you still end up entering the level. These are all minor bugs, but they're too numerous not to mention.
Unfortunately, some bugs will force you to reset the game. Talking to other characters is often a little scary in this regard. Some conversations happen automatically when you're within a certain range of a character. The developers decided that talking to a character required Spyro to move to a specific place and face the character, and you lose control of Spyro when a conversation starts as he moves into place. If you're near other objects or behind the character, you just have to hope the game can get you where you need to go. Otherwise you're caught in an endless loop. Since every level has characters interspersed throughout, you have to be very careful.
The characters themselves range in quality from decent to just amazingly bad. The animation system for the game is smooth; Spyro's tail and wings swish in a natural-looking way. Spyro and Sparx in general are animated well. Some of the other characters, though, look as if the animators liked the animation system so much that they felt every part of the character should move back and forth while the character bounces up and down on its feet. This isn't an exaggeration: The farmer character's eye sockets actually move, and the eyes themselves roll around, while his arms are waving and his lips are flapping in an animation loop that looks more random than designed. A lot of other characters are the same way. There's no lip-synching of the dialogue, and what's worse is that a lot of the characters have disturbing Mick Jagger-feels-sorry-for-you mouths. The end result is actually a little sad to behold: giant mouths opening wide at random on twitching faces while the characters bounce and flail, never really looking at Spyro while talking to him.
Not that good lip-synching would make the dialogue any more tolerable. The voicing, though done by experienced voice actors like Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants) and Billy West (Ren and Stimpy), sounds at times like it was done as straight line reads without any context or direction, and that's probably the case. There are numerous flaws, major and minor. The Asian accents at the dragon dojo are extremely bad. One of the dragonflies, Tetsu, has his name misread as "Testu." It's just generally apparent that the voice coordinator wasn't up to the task and that a lot of talent went unused. It may have been due to a lack of motivation because the dialogue itself is so bad. Everything sounds so clichéd and overdone. For example, one of the characters ends a conversation about UFOs with "The truth is out there, Spyro."
Even the biggest fans of Spyro are going to have a hard time enjoying this game. The leap to the latest generation of consoles leaves them with a slower game, a shorter game (10 hours), and an all-around less enjoyable game, not to mention a buggy one.