Spyro, the little purple dragon originally created by Insomniac Games, has appeared in more than a dozen different games since his debut in 1998. His games span just about every modern platform, but the little guy hasn't aged well at all. It's without surprise, then, that Spyro has found his way to the Nintendo DS in the form of Spyro: Shadow Legacy. Spyro's spotty reputation isn't going to be rectified with this release, because Shadow Legacy lacks any sort of depth or challenge, making it suitable only for very young or otherwise undemanding audiences.
The game begins with Spyro on vacation at a tropical resort, when all of a sudden a strange storm approaches and draws everyone into an alternate dimension known as the shadow realm. Spyro is unaffected by this weirdness, so it's up to him to free the Dragon Elders from their confines in the shadow realm. Once freed, the elders help Spyro develop his magical powers and special abilities, empowering him to save the world and defeat the mysterious evil that has shrouded the land in shadow.
The world is full of dimensional gates that Spyro can use to hop between the shadow realm and the real world. These gates are always conveniently placed to make it abundantly clear exactly when and where you're supposed to switch from one world to the other. The reason you need to do this is that some items and creatures exist only in the shadow realm, and vice versa. The creatures in the shadow realm are predictably more fearsome, and everything is a bit more purple and gray, but otherwise the two worlds are identical. Spyro's abilities do change ever so slightly depending on which realm he's in. He can glide a bit further in the shadow realm, but he can't burn objects like tree stumps or shrubs with his fire breath while he's there. Again, these limitations never hinder your progress, because there's always a dimensional gate nearby when you need one.
The world in Shadow Legacy is divided into four small continents, which are each further divided into habitats for various species, including moles, armadillos, cheetahs, bears, wizards, cavemen, fairies, and, of course, dragons. You travel from spot to spot freeing each of these creatures, at which point you can choose to accept miniquests from them to get extra experience or helpful items. Some of these quests are required to complete the game, and others can be ignored--though the game annoyingly offers no indication of which are required and which are optional. The quests are all simplistic collection tasks that don't take much time or effort to complete. You'll have to find some ice cream for a fairy, collect ingredients to make medicine for a sick cheetah, find bones to build an altar for the cavemen, and so on. If they were more fleshed out, the quests would provide a nice diversion, but as is, they're just too simple and short-lived to be any fun at all.
As you fight off the insectlike creatures in the shadow realm, you earn items, gems, and experience, which makes this game less like a standard Spyro platformer and more like a watered-down action role-playing game. When you earn enough experience, you'll level up, at which point you can visit the temple to learn new skills from the Dragon Elders. There are six elders in all, each with unique specialties such as magic, jumping, and charge skills, and special attacks. There are more than two dozen skills and abilities to learn, but only a few of them are required to progress through the game. Spyro can double-jump, glide, deflect attacks with his wings, use breath attacks, and cast magic spells. The five magic spells (and one secret spell that you can unlock by collecting dragon eggs), are cast by drawing symbols on the touch screen. The teleport spell is handy for quickly traveling about the world, but the rest of the magic spells are rarely useful enough to warrant messing with the touch screen during combat.
Although the gameplay in Shadow Legacy is generally unimpressive, the game does look and sound good. Unfortunately, a few technical problems mar an otherwise solid presentation. The characters aren't very detailed, and the static character portraits are downright ugly, but the creatures all look good in motion. Spyro in particular has quite a few different animations to accompany all of his various special moves and abilities. The backgrounds are all drawn with great detail, and although they stick to standard video game themes like lava-filled caverns and craggy cliffs, they all look good. There is an odd disconnect between the hand-drawn backgrounds and the polygonal characters, though, which results in some awkward collision-detection issues. It's often difficult to determine exactly where Spyro makes contact with the environment, which often makes it difficult to judge height when moving between platforms. There are also times when Spyro will get stuck on or in walls, or seem to stand on thin air. In addition to the collision-detection problems, the game does suffer the occasional slowdown, which is annoying but isn't prevalent enough to severely limit gameplay.
The sound in the game is equally spotty. The music is all well done, and each tune fits its respective stage just fine. There's a tropical reggae beat for the beachside resort, a quiet Eastern melody for the temple area, a twangy banjo tune for the swamp, and so on. Compared to the pleasant but unassuming music, the sound effects can be jarring. The sound effects are all loud and distorted, and you'll hear the same noises repeated constantly throughout the game. After you've heard the annoying wind-whooshing sound of Spyro's dash attack a couple of dozen times, you'll want to turn it off, which you can thankfully do in the options menu.
You can easily complete Spyro: Shadow Legacy in just a few hours, but you can stretch that to six hours if you take the time to complete each side quest and collect all the dragon eggs. Chances are you won't have any problem breezing through the game, and there's no option to change the difficulty, so you won't have any reason to come back to the game once you're finished. Shadow Legacy is obviously geared toward younger audiences, and for them it might actually provide a few hours of easy entertainment. Everyone else will be disappointed with the simplistic, uninspired gameplay in Spyro: Shadow Legacy.