If you're a fan of Spyro the Dragon, then you'll already have heard that in The Dawn of the Dragon, the latest in the decade long Spyro series, the cute purple winged one finally grows up, a game developer Etranges Libellules is attempting to make as fun for the hardcore as it is for the kids it's traditionally been targeted at. But you don't know how it's doing all that stuff, right? Well wonder no longer. Following a trip to Etranges Libellules' Lyon studio in France we scored exclusive hands-on time with levels you won't read about elsewhere, landed exclusive video footage and exclusive screens. Now, we've got the answers to those questions and more.
God of War, Shadow of the Colossus, The Legend of Zelda and Jak & Daxter - all games the 'hardcore' know and love. They're also games we see elements of in The Dawn of the Dragon, however improbably. "When you see all the next gen games they are really dark and all the same but they are really well done," says Edith Protiere, executive producer, as we begin our play test. "We wanted to have that level of quality but have a very colourful environment. But not too cartooney."
The Dawn of the Dragon, apart from sounding like a particularly bad 70s martial arts film, is actually the final game in a Legend of Spyro trilogy (the original PlayStation only trilogy was developed by Resistance developer Insomniac - now seems like a very long time ago indeed). Fans will know that at the end of the last game, The Eternal Night, Spyro and Cynder were left frozen in crystal underneath a collapsed mountain following the death of Gual. The Dawn of the Dragon picks up the story 10 years later. The two dragons are helped by Hunter, a cheetah voiced by actor Blair Underwood, who explains what's become of the Dragon World during their slumber. Not only that, but the dastardly duo are charged with saving it once and for all from the Dark Master Malefor.
The game is part redemption story - Cynder used to be a bad girl dragon remember - and part climactic showdown with the big bad dude - the last level sees Spyro and Cynder travel to Malifor's home to sort him out. "We're telling a story with emotion," Edith explains. "At the end the Spyro story is finished. Some known characters will die."
We're playing the 'next gen' versions - Xbox 360 and PS3 - and not only does Spyro look older but the gorgeous HD graphics give everything a more modern look. We're thinking Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, that kind of saturated but high quality feel. But it's not just the graphical improvements which will pique the interest of the more discerning gamer, it's the new free flying mode, the enjoyable two-player co-op play and the God of War - that's right, we said God of War - style combat that'll get you hyped.
Let's start with the free form flying - Spyro and Cynder are able to fly wherever they want when above ground - the game will see a mix of indoor levels and open environments. "Our flying works differently to many games with flying," says Edith. "Superman or Lair were not very good. We understood why."
Certainly the flying in Superman and Lair were "not very good", but it's still a confident, bullish claim. Indeed, creating enjoyable flying in a game is a feat many developers have struggled with, something Edith acknowledges early on in our chat: "When you come to level design if you can fly and go everywhere what do you do? And co-op flying was a big concern."
Thankfully flying feels great, especially when you have the freedom of the open environments to explore. There's a wonderful sense of freedom, almost as if you can feel the air flowing through your hair, and there's a small element of open worldness to it all too. Pressing A or X will set you off, but you have to almost rhythmically time your subsequent presses to keep you in the air and build up momentum. It takes a while to get used to but once you do it feels great. And, of course, on the PS3 version you'll be able to use the Sixaxis controller's motion-sensing technology to fly, Lair style, if you fancy that.