Back in the days of the original Playstation, a little platformer that could called Spyro the Dragon was released, featuring the titular purple dragon as he went galavanting (as dragons do) across the land to save it from some absurdly-named evil guy. I think his named was something like Gnort. Online sources tell me it was, in fact, Gnasty Gnorc. Right. Anyway, so the purple guy has been around for some time. A reimagining, known as The Legend of Spyro, was released in 2006 and revealed a new Spyro, one that was actually based in a world with a plot and characters. Dawn of the Dragon is the third and final game in that series.
History lessons. Aren't they fun?
The game begins where the previous left off: with Spyro and his rival Cynder (from previous games) trapped in a large crystal. Some enemies release them, and before they're driven off, attach odd serpentine collars around the dragons' necks. These collars prevent the two from getting too far from each other, and I'm sure it would make for a wacky sitcom if a great malevolent evil wasn't rising and threatening to destroy all of the land. In terms of control, you can play a single player game and switch between the two characters at will, or play a two-player game and each control a dragon.
The game plays out like a standard action-platformer. You jump, you fight, you collect some bonuses while moving forward. The platforming is fairly simple, but there are elements that are thrown in to make it varied. Sometimes these elements can also be a little frustrating (running alongside the walls, while required, was also very hit-or-miss). Some of the controls feel a little awkward, but they tend to get the job done.
The game also introduces a new concept of being able to fly whenever you want. Keep in mind that this does not mean 'wherever' you want. In fact, flying in Dawn of the Dragon is probably one of the most restricted and poorly-implemented forms of locomotion I've seen in a platformer. Flying is easy - press jump three times. However, your maximum height is completely controlled by your location, and is at best completely arbitrary and at worst quite confined . You could be ten feet above the ground in one location, move a couple spaces to your left, and then suddenly plummet to the ground. This often means that, if you see a platform somewhere that looks like you can reach it by flying or climbing up a set of vines, chances are you'll be climbing. You might be soaring above it at one point, but if the level design wants you to climb those vines, you'll fall to the ground quicker than Newton's apple, finding yourself unable to reach this destination without some serious legwork. In a game with flying dragons. I don't get it. Oh yes, did I mention that invisible walls are abound everywhere?
Oh, and it the controls feel pretty muddy as well for the platforming in general, flying included. Flying controls do present problems, however. For example, to go higher, you press the jump button. To go down, you hold the jump button. But you don't go down, you merely stop going up, so you glide down. To actually go down, you let go of the jump button after holding it. Or after jumping twice. Are you following this? Intuitive is not a word I'd use.
I'll say one good thing about the flying (and then I'll be quiet because I've already dedicated a few paragraphs to this single thing), and that's that it creates some interesting levels, both in gameplay and visual departments. There are levels spanning large canyons, where you're flying over chasms between platforms, or through waterfalls that descend into darkness. I am also reminded of a level particularly close to the beginning of the game that takes place in a forested valley, filled with rivers, trees, caves, all that foresty-valley-stuff, and being able to fly above it all and simply soar above the trees was amazing. And the level that took place underneath a massive, hunched over creature where you flew around its form was also nice to see. But it doesn't all make up for the clunky and restrained flying mechanics.
Combat feels like something out of God of War. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the game doesn't manage to convey a sense of strength in the creatures you're controlling. There are combos you can execute using a combination of the weak and strong attacks, but the only thing that seems to be worthwhile is grabbing enemies and smashing them into the ground around you. Or into other enemies. Enemies that you can grab just have to be repeatedly hit by pressing the same button over and over again, making for some repetitive fighting as bad guys seem to live just a little longer than it seems they should.
Killing enemies gives you experience, which (in a user interface that looks exceedingly similar to God of War) you can use to improve your elemental attacks. Both Spyro and Cynder have their own elements, Spyro's being that of fire, ice, lightning, and earth, and Cynder's being poison, fear, shadow, and wind. The attacks help you in combat, although, again, it seems like they take too long to kill even the simplest enemies, and can be upgraded to get you different attacks to use. Frankly I just upgraded them to unlock some concept art, the amount of fire blasted from Spyro's mouth is so high that draining your mana bar to kill a couple enemies was not uncommon. Cynder's poison was delightfully useful, if only because you could poison and enemy and watch it perish without laying a single hand (claw) on it.
While levels have a beginning and an end, you can also run around and find other goodies. These include crystals that raise your maximum health and mana, crystals that bequeath bonus experience, powerful enemies that take a lot of hits to kill (and are exceedingly powerful), and armour. Armour is character-specific which means each piece is specific to a character, though the armour does the same for either dragon. You can select a single piece to wear on your head, your torso, and your feet, and they all confer different benefits like improved attack or regenerating health. I'm not sure how much of a benefit it actually had, things seemed the same as usual with or without pieces equipped. Better safe than sorry, I always say.
Dawn of the Dragon is a mediocre-to-decent platformer with a lot of flaws and good presentation. But problems show. Not small problems, either, but big gameplay issues that crop up constantly. Flying, a major aspect of the game, is severely flawed. Combat is weak. Good voice actors like Gary Oldman and Elijah Wood make cutscenes alright, but the rest of the game suffers from a bevy of issues. If you've been following the Legend of the Dragon series, then you'll want to pick up this game anyway. If you're new to it all, however, this is not the game for you, nor anyone looking for a platformer that's worth the purchase. Rental, maybe, but not more.