I love Spyro the Dragon. Heck, I’m even wearing a shirt with him on it as I write this. But like most people I only love his first three games, and then kinda love a few others (A Hero’s Tail, Season of Flame). I was really fortunate to avoid the curse of Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly, a game that single-handedly destroyed the Spyro franchise, but I wasn’t lucky enough to avoid the hype I had for The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning.
See, if you don’t know, Spyro’s games are mostly platformer collect-a-thons where you’re tasked with exploring levels and, well, collecting things. The first three games on the PS1 were all great games made by Insomniac Games when they were figuring out who they were as a small game dev studio. The third one, Year of the Dragon, was something I reviewed on here over ten years ago, and what I called the greatest game of all-time.
Enter the Dragonfly was the first Spyro game for the next generation of game consoles after the PS1. It was pretty well-hyped, and, uh, it was terrible. A glitchy, unfinished mess of a game that sold super well because it was released as the game of the holiday season. Spyro fans are fortunate that Spyro never was that popular, otherwise this disaster would be remembered as fondly as Sonic ’06. Anyway, without getting into it, that game ruined Spyro’s reputation. Though A Hero’s Tail was more than competent, and I spent 4000+ words calling it a good game that could be the future of the franchise in a post that I’ve hidden, the holders of the Spyro license decided that Spyro needed a makeover.
Vivendi Games, who later merged with Activision, decided to do that makeover. Everything changed. The gameplay, the atmosphere, and especially the canon. Spyro had 10 games in the same “universe”. Spyro the Dragon, Ripto’s Rage, Year of the Dragon, Enter the Dragonfly, A Hero’s Tail, Season of Ice, Season of Flame, Attack of the Rhynocs, Spyro Orange: The Cortex Conspiracy, and, the most obscure and weird Spyro game out there that I want to one day play and discuss, Spyro: Shadow Legacy, all took place in the same universe. A New Beginning does exactly what the title suggests and makes its own canon.
The setup to A New Beginning is that Spyro is the purple dragon of legend that is born every ten generations that will decide the fate of the Dragon Realms. Before he hatches from his egg, forces under the guidance of the “Dark Master” ransack the temple in which all eggs are kept, and steal as many dragon eggs as they can. One of the only dragon elders to survive, Ignitus, voiced by freaking Gary Oldman, manages to float Spyro’s egg down a river to safety, and puts his faith in Spyro’s survival. Yes, it is basically Jesus’ or Momotaro’s story, but now a dragon.
Anyway, Spyro is found, hatched, named, and raised by a family of dragonflies. He’s brought up to be Sparx’s brother. Sparx, by the way, is voiced by David Spade of all people. Oh, and did I forget to mention that Spyro is voiced by Elijah Wood, aka Frodo? I think the entirety of the game’s budget went to the voice actors, to be honest. It is remarkable that Wood and Oldman stuck around all three games, and just as remarkable they had to replace Sparx’s voice actor in each game. There’s other voice talent here delivering very cliche lines about “the prophecies of the dragons” and “you must banish the darkness” or whatever dialogue they ripped off from Kingdom Hearts for that scenario, but the Elijah Wood pull is telling. The makers of the Legend of Spyro thought they were making the new Lord of the Rings. They aimed for this so hard that they even had a handshake deal to get a movie of the trilogy made and have Peter Jackson direct it. It was supposed to come out Christmas Day, 2008, and was very quietly scrapped when Vivendi Universal saw their ROI for the games. I would’ve seen it opening day, and cried, and we’ll talk about why, later.
Where was I? Oh yeah, the start of the trilogy. In the first cutscene with Spyro, Sparx’s parents break the news to him that he isn’t a dragonfly, but a dragon. Which is funny, but, to be fair, Spyro grew up believing these were his natural parents despite how ridiculous that would be. David Spade, I mean, Sparx, tries to make it a joke, but it comes off very mean-spirited. This is a guy who thought he was your blood brother, and you’re gonna make a joke about how you knew he wasn’t your brother because of the weight difference? Smh.
I don’t really remember exactly what happens, but I think Sparx’s parents tell Spyro that there was some note with his egg that told them Spyro has some prophecy to fulfill by going to the Dragon Temple, so Sparx and Spyro set off to do just that. I’m not going to go on a blow-by-blow recounting of the games because I don’t think they’re worth it. But this is your first major gameplay section of The New Beginning, and we can finally discuss why this series sucks.
The focus on the gameplay in The New Beginning is combat. Now, this is not a bad idea on the surface. Spyro is a dragon. Controlling a dragon to kill things sounds really fun! However, the original Spyro games kept the combat to a minimum, with only having boss fights pose any real threat as far as combat went. Part of that was Spyro’s combat moveset in nine of the ten games was very limited to just breathing fire in a short radius, charging into dudes with his horns, and doing a backflip and creating a shockwave on the ground. That last one wasn’t very practical. Point is, enemies in Spyro games were really minor obstacles that were there just to add some variety to levels that would’ve been empty otherwise. Instead, the games focused on level and minigame design to keep things fresh.
The New Beginning, like I said, chose the opposite approach. Oh, there’s a minigame (that kinda sucks), but other than that it’s all combat and no level design. At the very least, the environments aren’t literal corridors like some terrible action games and actually are kind of pretty, but they are extremely linear. I don’t think there’s anything to collect in the first two games which is a sin for a Spyro game.
And the combat itself is really bad. At least in The New Beginning, the best way to beat every fight is to combo into your air juggle and then slam them back down. This is cool the first 15 times you do it, then gets really tedious. And there’s no new moves to learn through the game. There ARE new elemental breaths, as Spyro learns how to spit fire, ice, electricity, and, my favorite, “earth”. The earth breath is some weird beam that unearths boulders from the ground that hurt the enemy and it’s very funny. The breaths are a neat thing, I suppose, but are heavily restricted by the fact that they do very little damage, can only be used for a short time because they’re limited by a shared resource, and that resource regenerates extremely slowly. I get that they couldn’t let you burn enemies to death since it’d take away the rhythm of combat, but it sucks. Also, Spyro doesn’t have a dodge move, so you’re just trying to stun the enemies before they stun you. It’s really poor combat. Again, we’ll talk about the third game in the series when we get there, but The New Beginning and The Eternal Night both share this awful sin of tedious combat.
I mentioned earlier the levels are linear. Not true all the time. I’ve never beat The New Beginning because the third world is set in a jungle, and there’s a section where you have to walk through some trees after defeating a really annoying miniboss that throws dynamite at you, and I never found the exit. I only know what happens in this series because I’ve watched a playthrough of each game on YouTube. Now, you might say this disqualifies me from talking about these games, but I’d say that watching the 6 combined hours of cutscenes from these three games is what qualifies me to talk about them. Because the focus of this series is to be cinematic rather than to be good video games.
And I think this is why I was so disappointed in the Legend of Spyro games. I wanted a new Spyro game, not a trilogy of Lord of the Rings-knockoff movies. I love some stories in video games, but only when I’m expecting that as the main focus or when they’re nice seasoning to a fully-fleshed out game. Ghost Trick is a great example of a game that makes the story its focus, and tells a beautiful story (while also being a pretty fun puzzle game!). Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology ties its story to its gameplay hook of rewinding time, and is also great. Zero Time Dilemma is an absolute mess of a game as a game, but I came to it expecting a story rather than a game. Mario Super Sluggers, of all games, came with a “story mode” that I greatly enjoyed and didn’t expect, but it also had an extremely fun baseball game at its core, so I was fine with it.
The Legend of Spyro (or The New Beginning, who cares) makes story its focus, and does a horrendous job telling that story during the first two games. A New Beginning has all of its importance at the start, really. Spyro is sent on his quest to see four dragon sages after meeting with Gary Oldman’s Dragon in order to fulfill the prophecy as the purple dragon who changes the world’s fate. And, so he does. There’s minor and major obstacles on the way, but nothing earth-shattering happens at all until the final boss when you fight Cynder, the dark dragon who is the pawn of the Dark Master. Spyro beats her, frees her from the Dark Master, and she becomes Spyro-sized because she was one of the dragons captured on the raid that was supposed to get Spyro’s egg. I don’t remember if her being a black dragon made her more suited to being the Dark Master’s disciple. I will say that it’s very strange that Cynder goes on to be a good guy after this. Considering that she’s been “evil” ever since she hatched from her egg, her sudden face turn (to use a pro wrestling term) seems nearly impossible! It’s not like the good guys even did anything good to her! You beat her up in the one direct interaction you have with her before she decides “okay, guess I’m good now”! This isn’t how you solve bullying, either, for those taking notes.
The good news is that Cynder does question herself at the start of the second game. She leaves Spyro and the Dragon Temple (which is where Spyro hangs out between games in order to learn how he can save the world I guess) to find her place in the world. If you thought the midgame of A New Beginning was filler, ooh boy you should not be excited for The Eternal Night. After Cynder leaves, the temple gets attacked by apes under the supervision of Gaul, the next puppet of the Dark Master. Spyro is urged to find a tree that he saw in his dreams and then he simultaneously goes looking for a dragon that also appeared in his dreams. This is not compelling motivation, writers. In his hazy search, he finds the tree, which hilariously turns out to be an evil tree that Spyro then defeats but manages to get captured by airship pirates in the aftermath. Really dumb.
The pirates for god knows what reason have a gladiatorial combat arena that Cynder also got forced into. They of course force them to fight. I really want to stress how stupid this setup is: Spyro found a tree he saw in his dreams, the tree was evil, he beat the tree, got captured by airship pirates WHO RUN A GLADIATORIAL COMBAT ARENA DURING THE END OF THE WORLD, and then has to fight Cynder of all people in the arena. This is so dumb.
And it doesn’t stop! Spyro makes it out of the combat arena because the evil apes attack the airship they’re on to take Cynder back and use her in some elaborate ceremony to cause the Eternal Night at the Well of Souls which will bring back the Dark Master. Some great writing there, guys. On par with Eragon. Spyro just so happens to find that dragon from his dreams and, thankfully, he doesn’t turn out to be evil. Progress! This Chronicler asks Spyro to just let Cynder die and to learn dragon magic so he can combat the Dark Master (who was the first purple dragon), but Spyro goes anyway. Spyro makes it to Gaul and Cynder, who refuses to turn to the dark side and attacks Gaul. Gaul, with all of his monkey magic, fights Spyro.
During the fight, the lunar alignment happens, and, I quote, “the evil energy it generates is channeled through Spyro, which turns him into his dark self”. Dark Spyro! He lives up to his name by immediately using his new power to turn Gaul into stone, and then shatter that stone into a million pieces. Now THAT is edgy. Dark Spyro decides to get even more power from the lunar alignment, but Cynder pushes him out of the path of the beam so he is saved from total corruption. That said, the Well of Souls starts crumbling, and Spyro decides the best thing to do is use that stone power to encase himself, Sparx, and Cynder in protective stone and wait out, uh, some amount of time until it’s safe. A couple of things: 1. Yes, this is a ripoff of Avatar. 2. I really gotta know how Spyro figured out the exact length of time to coat himself in amber.
Anyway, that’s how The Eternal Night ends. I get the feeling that the developers made the environments first and then really quickly tried to tie a story together, because this was an absolute mess from start to right before the credits song. It sucks. The credits song is the only thing worth salvaging: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMDVheA6PUk
Dawn of the Dragon came out during the 10 year anniversary of the Spyro franchise. It is the third game in the New Beginning trilogy, and it is by far the best in terms of gameplay and story. Only three years passed since Spyro trapped himself and Cynder and Sparx (who managed to get a new voice since being trapped in stone), but the world has changed. The writer of the Wikipedia plot summary really wants you to know that, with those three years passing, Spyro and Cynder are now teenagers. I don’t know how much growth you can have, emotionally or physically, while trapped in rock, but I guess by literal years that’s true. Thanks.