It might be hard to believe for anyone who has played a Spyro the Dragon game recently, but in the late 1990s, the little purple dragon was the star of some of the better platform games on the original PlayStation. The transition from the PlayStation to the current generation of consoles has not been kind to Spyro, and the series hit rock bottom with 2002's dismal Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly. 2004's A Hero's Tail improved upon Enter the Dragonfly, but it wasn't a great game either, and many felt the series had run its course. But mascots don't die--they just start over. After a two-year break, Spyro is back with The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning. Spyro's got some new moves and the characters are brought to life by some big-name voice talent, but these aren't enough to make the game interesting. Both children and adults alike will have a hard time getting excited about the uninspired level design, bland script, and repetitive nature of the gameplay.
One day, as Spyro and his dragonfly friend Sparx are roaming through the woods, they run into trouble and Sparx is captured. After Spyro saves the day by breathing fire for the first time, the pair returns home, where they tell their parents about what happened. Realizing they can hide the truth no longer, Spyro's "parents" reveal to him that they aren't his birth parents, and that he's not a dragonfly--he is in fact, a dragon. Spyro is determined to find out more about his birthplace and his parents, and with Sparx by his side he sets off in search of the truth. It turns out that the truth is not pretty. An elder dragon named Ignitus reveals that Spyro's homeland has fallen under the control of the Dark Master and his minion, an evil black dragon named Cynder. It is explained that because he's a purple dragon born in the year of the dragon, Spyro is the only one capable of freeing the captured dragons from which the Dark Master draws his power. Although the goal of his quest is to return his homeland to normal, Spyro will learn more about his true identity along the way.
The story may sound interesting enough in this condensed form, but the way it's told in the game is considerably less engaging. The first hour of the game is riddled with slow-paced cutscenes, and you'll spend nearly as much time watching as you will playing. The script is heavy-handed and not at all geared toward the game's younger audience. Even top-notch voice talent can't make things interesting. Elijah Wood provides the voice of Spyro, and while he does a decent job, he's hampered by the dull script. David Spade plays the role of Sparx, Spyro's smart-aleck sidekick. Because this is a game geared toward kids, the snide comments that Spade is known for are so watered down that they're not very funny. Gary Oldman--yes the Gary Oldman--voices the wise old dragon, Ignitus. His delivery is good; however, his dialogue is painfully boring and he rambles on endlessly. Because the inflection of one character's dialogue doesn't always fit the other character's, you get the sense that none of the actors were in the same room when they recorded their lines. This is confirmed in a bonus interview with Elijah Wood, filmed during a recording session, in which he's excited because he was just told who the other actors were.
A New Beginning is a typical 3D platforming game with a heavy emphasis on combat. There aren't many tough jumps (at least until the last level), and there are only a few rudimentary puzzles. None of the levels are very interesting, and they certainly aren't original. There's a snow level, a volcano level, an old castle, some ruins, an outer space level, and the ultimate action cliché--a mine cart chase. There are also two brief on-rails flying sequences. Simply put, they're horrible. Thanks to simple and responsive controls, maneuvering Spyro on land is a breeze, but when he takes to the skies it's a different story. You have little control over what Spyro does when he's flying, and to be honest, it really doesn't matter, because you always seem to make it through, no matter how poorly you felt you did.
The rest of the game sees Spyro taking on hordes of enemies. You'll walk into an area full of bad guys, and you can't leave until they're all dead. There's no rhyme or reason to how many waves of enemies will spawn in any given area, but you generally aren't done after you've killed the first bunch. When he sets out on his adventure Spyro doesn't have much in the way of attacks, but that will quickly change. Fallen enemies drop different-colored gems that give Spyro his power. Gems can also be found by smashing the numerous large crystals found throughout the land. Some gems replenish his health and energy, while others are used to upgrade Spyro's elemental attacks. Over the course of the game he'll learn breath attacks that use the power of fire, ice, electricity, and earth. When his fury meter is full, Spyro will be able to unleash a special attack that does great damage to everyone in the immediate area. All of these attacks can be upgraded by applying gems you've collected to a specific skill, much like in God of War. Each of Spyro's abilities can be upgraded three times. Unlike God of War, you won't need to budget your upgrades, as there are plenty of gems to be found. These attacks can be used in conjunction with Spyro's tail attacks to perform a variety of combos.
New combos are taught to Spyro by the dragons he has freed, in boring, repetitive training sessions after each level. Almost all the combos Spyro learns later in the game are exactly the same as what he learned after the first level, differing only in the elemental attack used to start the combo. While the game purports to have a wide variety of moves, this isn't exactly true, and you'll never really need to use many of the combos. The easiest way to get through the game is to use an elemental attack and then mash on the attack button ad nauseam. Since you simply pick up where you left off when you die, there's really no reason to put any effort into the combat. Certain enemies are supposed to have weaknesses to specific elemental attacks, but using fire almost exclusively for the first three-quarters of the game works just fine. Near the end of the game you'll learn a tornadolike attack that lifts enemies in the air and damages them as they spin. You can jump and attack while they're in the air, but you don't even have to do this if you don't want to--you can just let the tornado do all the work. This method may seem boring, but by the time the game ends you'll have killed thousands of bad guys and your thumb will appreciate the rest. Thankfully the game lasts only about six hours. Other than the interview with Elijah Wood, which unlocks after you beat the game, there's no extra content, and no reason to go back and play the game again.
A New Beginning's graphics are technically sound, though the game's still not much to look at. The camera works fine for running around, but it has an annoying habit of zooming in too close when you're fighting, leaving you prone to being pummeled by unseen foes. The levels have a cartoonish appearance and are bright and colorful. But they're very basic (the volcano level being the one exception) and there's little variety from one area of the level to the next. The frame rate is steady throughout the game, but the draw distance is poor, so you never get the sense that you're exploring some great big mystical world. There are some nice lighting and particle effects, the most impressive of which are used for Spyro's attacks. It's cool to see him light up a room as he sets bad guys ablaze, and it's always fun to breathe an icy cloud onto an enemy. There are some interesting characters to battle, but they're few and far between. It's odd that you'll fight one creature just a few times, while you'll fight the same apelike creatures over and over. Sometimes they'll be different sizes, and sometimes they'll be different colors, but these few varieties comprise most of the enemies you'll fight. As was mentioned earlier, A New Beginning's voice acting is good, but it's hampered by a lousy script. The sound effects aren't anything special and get repetitive very quickly. Thankfully you can turn them down and listen to the game's orchestral soundtrack, which is surprisingly good. In fact, it's best part of the game.
The lack of consistency in the game's design makes it difficult to enjoy and tough to recommend to anyone, regardless of their age. Kids might be drawn to Spyro because he's a cute purple dragon and they might not mind the simple levels and repetitive combat, but they'll probably be turned off by the plodding story, which seems to be geared to a slightly older audience and frequently interrupts play. Anyone old enough to appreciate the story or anyone who remembers Spyro's glory days will likely find the game too simple and be turned off by the story's poor pacing. The developer took no chances with the game and brought nothing new to the table. As a result, there's no reason to take a chance with a purchase--you've played this game before.