Spyro doesn't have the best track record on the Game Boy Advance, but the purple dragon's previous outings weren't terrible either. Nevertheless, Sierra and Krome Studios decided it was time to make some major changes in Spyro's universe. They've thrown those old isometric collect-a-thons out the window, along with Spyro's entire history, and are starting from scratch with The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning. This new game features an all-new origin story and an all-new side-scrolling game engine. Ironically, however, while everything is indeed new, nothing has really improved. The graphics, audio, and gameplay all feel very much out of date. And the combat, which is the focus of the game, is repetitive to the point of exasperation.
Fans probably won't mind the story reset because it keeps the basics of Spyro's origin intact. Once again, we're told that Spyro was sent down the river as an egg and found by a family of dragonflies, who raised him as their own. When he grows up, they reveal to him that he's actually a dragon and send him and Sparx, their biological son, to the dragon realm to find out what happened to Spyro's kind. In this revamped origin, it seems that the disciples of the Dark Master, along with a black dragon named Cynder, have laid waste to the lands of the dragon realm and imprisoned the remaining dragon elders. Thus, it's up to Spyro to vanquish the Dark Master's forces, free the elders, and confront Cynder.
To get to Cynder, you unfortunately have to trudge through six drawn-out side-scrolling levels filled with unimaginative enemies and painfully repetitive combat situations. With the exception of the very last level, the levels don't require much in the way of jumping or exploration. Traveling to the right and beating up enemies with Spyro's tail and flame attacks is, by and large, what you'll end up doing in this game. That's fine, but the enemies are worthless and the combat is shallow. There are trolls and leeches, disciples of all sizes, and giant creatures with names like "dreadwing" and "brute." The worst they ever do, however, is stand still and knock off a hint of Spyro's health with their hammers and projectile attacks while you mash the attack button and watch them crumble in a few hits. Usually, the health crystals they leave behind are more than enough to replenish what little life they take away. Spyro can beat up enemies with his tail attack or use one of his dragon powers to attack from a distance. By the end of the game, you'll be able to swap between four different elements (fire, ice, electricity, and earth). Each element gives Spyro its own projectile attack, a less powerful group attack, and a limited-use fury attack that can rid the entire screen of enemies. The look of the levels and enemies is also patterned after these elements. With so much emphasis on elements, you'd think they'd be incorporated into the game in a meaningful way--but they're not. They don't vary all that much, except for the distances and arcs they travel, and none of the enemies appear to be weak to a particular element. Basically, you can run through the game mashing the attack button without ever switching dragon powers.
At various points, you'll have to complete a minigame or defeat a boss to move ahead. The minigames are nothing special, just an assortment of foot races and shoot-'em-up stages. They also include a generic mine cart run, a maze, and a weak Wack-a-Mole knockoff. The boss battles are only slightly less dull than the fights against standard enemies. Sure, the various golems and dragons are huge and menacing, with the multiplane third-person viewpoint making for some interesting eye candy, but the bosses themselves hardly do anything. Most of the time, you can avoid their attacks simply by staying put on the ground. The reason it takes a long time to knock out bosses is that Spyro's dragon powers are the only thing that can hurt them, and you have to gather up crystals to replenish Spyro's breath meter after every five attacks or so.
The graphics and audio also come across as stale. Spyro and the disciples are large and animate smoothly, but they lack color and appear washed out. Backgrounds look like they were originally made for a Game Boy Color game. They're simplistic, nearly lifeless, and somehow less colorful than the characters. Someone made the artistic decision to colorize the far-off scenery in the scrolling background layer with sepia tones, but it's a decision that doesn't pay off because the monochromatic scenery looks dull and dreary instead of charming. Dreary is also a good way to describe the music. Each level has its own theme and it sounds like real music as opposed to beeps and bloops, but it's all either unassuming or depressing. The sound effects, meanwhile, are decent but forgettable. There's a good variety of pops, explosions, and creature noises, but none of them particularly stand out. On the whole, the presentation, like the gameplay, is uninspired and tiresome.
Mercifully, the game takes only about two or three hours to finish. So, if you're set on finding out what happens to Spyro in his latest adventure, you won't have to suffer long to take in the story. Your reward for completing the game is the ability to play any of the seven different minigames without having to restart the story mode. It's as if the developers knew nobody would want to play through it again.
The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning for the Game Boy Advance is an all-around disappointment. Instead of rekindling people's interest in the Spyro character, it's likely to make them swear off the purple dragon's future adventures. Vivendi and Krome Studios had the right idea in starting the franchise over from scratch, but they could have at least come up with something better than a tired side-scroller that feels five years out of date and barely takes two hours to complete.