The Legend Of Spyro: The Eternal Night was hailed in advance by a Sierra press release as 'the second instalment of The Legend Of Spyro trilogy'. This confused me a little, as I can remember the first Spyro game way back on the PSone, and to my knowledge there have been at least eight Spyro titles so far, so what was with all this 'second in the trilogy' business? Then I twigged - it's not the second 'Spyro' game, it's the second 'The Legend Of Spyro' game.
See, what happened was that the Spyro games that started out as compelling, cutesy, actually quite decent platform adventure titles, gradually - as games console technology advanced and yet they stayed more-or-less the same - pretty-much dropped off the radar as far as most gamers were concerned, with Spyro becoming something of an also-ran next to more successful characters like Sonic, Crash and Mario. Then in 2006, someone came up with the idea of a new, fresher, hipper, re-branded Spyro in 'The Legend Of Spyro: A New Beginning', launching the little purple dragon onto a new audience, and cleverly suggesting both that this was a well-established and well-loved character (a 'legend' no less!) and also that this latest game was actually totally different to the ones that came before it (because it's a 'New Beginning', see?)
For this 'second in the trilogy', Spyro is voiced once again by Elijah 'Frodo in Lord of the Rings' Wood, with Gary Oldman reprising his role as 'Ignitus' from the previous game and Futurama's Billy West voicing Sparx, Spyro's comedy side-kick. Presumably the previous game must've been fairly successful if they've been able to fork out for celebrity voice-talents again, so that must count for something, right?
Plot-wise, the story this time is that after foiling the bad guys (or girls - as it was an enchanted female dragon causing Spyro problems in the last game... women, eh?) young Spyro is kicking back and relaxing in the dragon 'hood' when some unsavoury individuals in the form of minions of the 'Ape King' mount an attack on the 'Temple of Souls'. Needless to say, Spyro's not going to stand for that, and aided by mystery visions sent to him by an old dragon voiced by someone who sounds suspiciously like the bloke who played Gandalf in Lord of the Rings (who presumably got the job because he's mates with Elijah - they stick together these Hollywood types) the little purple dragon sets out to kick some bad guy ass.
What this equates to in terms of gameplay is a lot of jumping (and gliding - he's got wings you know!) between platforms, and hammering the x, square, circle and triangle buttons repeatedly to pull off a variety of colourful attacks, including four new offensive breath ones (insert halitosis joke here), each of which is upgradeable as you play through, and four new melee moves, each one tied to one of four different elements, Fire, Water, Earth and... er, Electricity (I'm not totally certain, but I don't think 'Electricity' is actually an element. But then what do I know?) Also newly introduced to assist Spyro is the concept of 'Dragon Time'. Yes, years after The Matrix first introduced it, and countless films and games galore have already hijacked the idea, until finally everyone got bored of it and said 'enough already', Spyro and co have their own version of 'Bullet time'. Tapping L1 causes the edges of the screen to become stylishly blurred, and all the action on-screen to slow down. This is utilised for such awesome tasks as slowing down moving platforms so Spyro can jump onto them, and getting through doors that close really quickly. Oh, and you can obviously use it to help you batter the bad guys too.
So that's the game description out of the way - what's it play like you say? In a word: average. For me, this is just more of the same. This is possibly because I've simply played far too many platform adventures over the years, or it might be because this game... is actually just more of the same! Yes, Spyro has got a few new powers, and yes, there's a different storyline, but you can't help but get a distinct feeling of déjà vu when you're playing this one. This isn't helped by the fact that what seems like every minute or so the action is interrupted by a cut-scene that advances the story, and should you die, you jump back to the beginning of the most recent section, and must watch the same cut-scene all over again, with absolutely NO way to skip it. Why is this?! Did the game designers think that anyone who let Spyro die deserved to be punished in some way? Or maybe they thought the in-game jokes were so good that people would still find them funny the second (or third, or fourth) time? (Just to clear that up: they're not that good.) Whatever the reason, it quickly becomes annoying, and doesn't do anything to make your average gamer want to dive back in for 'just one more go'.
It might sound like I'm being over-critical. And maybe I am. But frankly, gamers deserve more for their money these days, and there are far better games out there. I'm not even necessarily talking about new titles either - when it comes to platform adventures, you'd get better value if you picked up second hand versions of any (or all) of the Ratchet & Clank games, for example, any of which is light years ahead in both gameplay and presentation to what we're being offered here. Hell, I'd even go so far as to say that I prefer the very first Spyro game back on the PSone!
I guess what I'm basically saying then, is that for me, this new 're-imagining' of Spyro the Dragon simply doesn't cut it. No doubt I'm not exactly the intended audience for this (although for the record, I'm quite a fan of dragons, and as I already mentioned, I liked the original Spyro title) as I've a suspicion this will be marketed towards the younger end of the gaming market, but that's no excuse: I've said it before and I'll say it again: just because they're young, it doesn't mean that kids like - or will put up with - sub-par games!