Ah, Spyro the Dragon… Back many a year ago, Spyro the dragon was first released on the original Playstation. Sporting a rather good graphic engine for the time, entertaining voice acting, and an overall fun game, it was a success on the system that spawned two sequels and two Gameboy Advanced titles.
It’s unfortunate that their first attempt on the Gamecube is nothing more than a washed out port of the PS2 version with all the bugs. Keep in mind that this is basically a comparison review, as I’ll be comparing the PS2 and Gamecube titles against each other as I go through this review. The overall scores though base this game against other Gamecube games, so keep this in mind as you look at them.
First off, let me be blunt – Spyro looks rather good in his latest incarnation. Sporting a much higher level of detail than he ever did, the game makes a good attempt at pushing the hardware. Little effects like water rippling and plants moving out of your way as you run through them are seen, drawing you into the world somewhat.
Seeing the game in motion is a completely different story. Either this game needed another 3 months in development or the folks over at Universal have absolutely no idea how to program their games. To put it nicely, the frame rate flies up and down more often than your average rollercoaster. You’ll be looking at 60fps when there isn’t much of anything on the screen, and 20 (that’s right, 20) frames per second when the game gets busy (which is most of the time). On the Gamecube this is absolutely unacceptable. I know that the system can handle highly detailed titles (look at Metroid Prime or Star Fox Adventures for an example), so it isn’t that, so I blame the developer.
Unlike the PS2 version, Spyro and friends just don’t look as detailed however. For no real reasons why (as a more powerful system, the Gamecube should be able to push more polygons around), the textures themselves just don’t look as detailed as they do on the PS2. Some animations are missing (or are glitched), and special effects like the game counting the gems you gathered aren’t displayed at all. Also worth noting as problems is the water and how it moves. The water effect looks like crap compared to the PS2 version, and you won’t see the water move at all until you get within 10 feet of it. I’ve also had the wonderful experience of the game refusing to load in floor textures. Needless to say this makes it very difficult to guess where you’re going as you’re walking on nothing but a huge black spot in the once colorful world. Once again this makes the game scream that it’s a lousy port and nothing more.
One thing that always emphasized the Spyro series was the music and voices. Once again the original cast and crew of Spyro provide their vocal support to give life to these characters, and once again they do a rather good job, but not as well as in previous games. Some of the voices seem strained at times, and they just don’t sound right from time to time as well. If this is a fault of the game or of my surround setup I’m not quite sure, but something doesn’t seem right.
The music is once again the same entertaining little ditty that follows well with the lightheartedness of the series. It’s nothing new, and you won’t remember it once you finish the game, but it’s nothing to complain about either.
Compared to the PS2 version however, something has gone wrong with the voices. For the most part they are extremely loud, forcing you to turn down the volume on your TV or risk having your ears blown out by their talking. And with no volume adjustment that will modify the voices without killing the overall sound, you don’t have a decent solution for this problem.
For the most part nothing has been changed about the controls from previous titles in the Spyro series. The controls were perfect for the title, so they didn’t need to change them at all.
Short of one thing anyway. This time around instead of using the L and R buttons up top to manually control the camera you’re forced to use the C-Stick to move it around. While it gives you more control over the camera, it is a pain in the rear to use. In the old games, you could run, jump, and then breathe fire all while turning the camera around to whatever angle you needed it to be at. This time around, you can either adjust the camera or do the above, not both at the same time. You’ll get over it eventually, but changing this little thing around greatly hurt the ease of the game.
Also due to the rapidly changing framerate (see Graphics above), controlling Spyro is not very easy anymore due to some minor input lag. You’ll once again get used to it, but it is yet another problem with this game.
Two additions to the Gamecube version though are both good and bad. Pressing the C-Stick up or down quickly brings the camera directly behind Spyro. I’m not sure if you could do this in the PS2 version or not, but in this game it helps a bit. However, due to a lack of buttons on the Gamecube controller, your defensive move (pressing L and R at the same time) not only changes your current breath weapon, but it brings up your current inventory as well (as both are also mapped to the L and R buttons). Yet another stupid design decision from the crew that made this game.
Once again you’ll have the same simplistic gameplay that has been there throughout the series – run around and collect gems while smashing or killing everything in your way. It’s nothing to write home about, but the series has always been this way, so why change it around?
Unfortunately they did. And like all the other changes from before, it hurts the game. Your overall goal is to collect Dragonflies. While some of these Dragonflies are perfectly happy to be caught, others fly around forcing you to chase them while trying to capture them with your bubble breath (which is only used to capture these things). Not only does this bubble breath have an absurdly short range, but once again due to the frame rate issues, catching these things is a pain in the rear. Compared to the PS2 version though, capturing these Dragonflies seems a tad easier. They seem to move slower, which makes them much easier to catch. If only the range on that weapon you are forced to use was a tad longer…
Another problem worth noting is the absurd loading times in the game. Each and every level requires you sit at a roughly 25 second ‘Now Loading’ screen. You read that right – 25 seconds. The worst part is that every stage has one or two bonus areas, each that require the loading. Unlike the PS2 version (that had 45 second loading times), this doesn’t kill the game outright, but it is a large annoyance. When faced with games that have no loading time at all (the aforementioned Metroid Prime and Star Fox Adventures), having to sit around and wait is very annoying.This game is not worth your $50 in its current condition. Major frame rate issues, questionable gameplay changes, terrible loading times, and an overall feeling that the developers just didn’t give a darn make this game worth $20 at best. If you insist on playing this piece of junk, either wait for it to hit the bargain bin after 2 months or go rent the game at your local rental chain.