Like a Chinese New Year festival: flashy, fun, & short
Before Insomniac had a splash hit with Ratchet and Clank, they had another rivetting brainchild in a little purple dragon named Spyro. Unfortunately, after three games, Insomniac somehow lost the series to Vivendi, and from there Spyro's been passed on from developer to developer like a foster child no one wanted. But Spyro's last hurrah with his parent company is still among the best in the classic 3D platforming genre. The bad news is, that by this time, its formula is really showing its age.
The story behind Spyro: Year of the Dragon is just as quirky as the rest of the games: A millennium ago, an evil Sorceress exiled the dragons from what is now known as the Forgotten Realms, but in doing so, ensured the death of those realms' magic. Now, a thousand years after, the Sorceress has returned to wreck the titular celebration for the welcoming of the Dragons' new eggs (apparently, they're going with the Stork theory of reproduction), and steal all the Dragon eggs to restore the magic of their former homeland. Naturally, you primarily play as the purple dragon with an attitude himself, but he's not alone in his endeavors: in select levels and areas, you also play as up to six characters, including newcomers Sheila the Kangaroo, Sgt. James Byrd the commando flying penguin, Bentley the erudite Yeti, and Agent 9 the space monkey. You can also play as your old pal Hunter the Cheetah, and even commandeer your living health bar Sparx in his own shooter missions.
The controls are just as solid as before, with every character having their own set of moves, but the gameplay doesn't really change all that much; all you do is dash, glide, and swim your way to collecting eggs and gems. Many of the tasks your handed, however, leave absolutely no room for error, forcing you to play near-flawlessly to progress. This is especially poignant in the so-called Speedway levels, which requires a rediculous amount of concentration to get all the targets within the time limit. There's also a nasty bug in the first speedway of the first releases of the game that prevents you from acquiring the second egg altogether if you miss out on it the first time you enter the level. This kills any sort of full-completion run, so be warned.
The graphics are colorful, but are really lacking in texture, and the characters, while pretty and humorous, tend to be blocky and have borderline-hilariously awful voice acting. The biggest hit to the fun factor here, though, is that despite the myriad of minigames, enemies, and hidden locations to find and dink around with in the huge levels, you don't really find a sense of permeance in your tasks; you can chat with the local innocents, but it all feels deadeningly impersonal. You don't even get to talk with the bosses before you fight them, only with your allies ABOUT the bosses and how to beat them, which further detaches your personal feeling of worth and accomplishment from the game.
Overall, it's an awesome and well-done throwback to a simpler time in gaming history, but the lack of personal interest in the action and replay value after you complete the game in its entirety really won't make you want to pick it up again after you've played it. Although it's infinitely preferrable to the newer games, if anything, Spyro: Year of the Dragon should've been a transitional game for Spyro to shift into a more mature and less repetitive gameplay style.Read full review