The dextrous dragon returns with more than a mere sting in the tail
Here be dragons. Not nasty fire-breathing ones that'll munch several fair maidens for breakfast mind you, but cute, fluffy purple ones that, aside from having a mean line in comic asides and a badass 'tude, are pretty adept at saving the world. Vivendi's long-running Spyro franchise debuts on Xbox, boasting bigger levels, bigger baddies and a whole host of new friends for our loveable lizard to play with.
The typically convoluted storyline details how the Red Dragon (an evil Elder Dragon, not a disfigured, family-slaughtering serial killer) has scattered Dark Gems throughout the realm.
The result? The entire realm has turned evil - mwaaa-ha-ha! It's up to Spyro to explore the large, expansive environments, smashing the Dark Gems along the way, and restoring good to the land. In a neat touch, every time one of the evil stones is smashed, the environment dynamically changes before players' eyes. So it was worth that ten-minute jumping marathon to reach the top of that nearby mountain then...
Collecting gems is the staple of any generic platformer, and Spyro has the chance to amass more bling than J-Lo. Use these in exchange for items at the wily Moneybag's shop, and you can purchase all manner of different items such as Lockpicks, Teleport tokens and various attack upgrades to aid your overall quest to bring light back into the world.
Salubrious shopkeepers aren't the only creatures you'll meet along your travels, however. Spyro: A Hero's Tail features tons of different colourful characters to interact with. In a brilliant touch, players can assume control of several of these, each with radically different abilities to Spyro. New guy Blink the Mole and the brilliantly funny, stiff upper-lipped Sgt Byrd line up with old pals like Hunter the Cheetah. Use your funky friends over specific levels and mini-games to earn more bartering items (Dragon Eggs and Light Gems). These sub-levels are just as much fun, in some cases better than the main game itself and provide a great variation in both pace and gameplay. We loved the spectacular flying levels in particular, where a jetpacking Sgt Byrd takes to the skies and players have to complete certain challenges, like shooting down a flock of vultures in a given time limit.
As for Spyro himself, the game sticks firmly to the tried and tested format of the previous titles. Explore the environment (in his prancing, cutesy camp way) and once each realm is clear, engage in a not particularly challenging boss battle. Only this time round, the benevolent beastie has loads of new powers available, as each level necessitates. All-new Electric Breath destroys robots, whilst Ice Breath (he obviously had his Wrigley's Extra this morning) is great for cooling things down when the heat gets too much. Although character and level detail are fairly bland, the animation is decent enough, though Spyro has a nasty habit of skidding around like his claws were made of Teflon - this can be very annoying when precision jumping is frequently called for.
A Hero's Tail is actually fairly hefty, with enormous levels to explore. Obviously a younger gamer's title, plenty of colourful visuals and the addition of so many replayable mini-games should keep the kiddies enthralled (and quiet) for hours at a time. Which is surely the sign of a decent Kids: game;right?
- Huge environments to explore, plus numerous replayable mini-games provide endless hours of play.
- The addition of several different playable characters, coupled with excellent sub-missions, provides excellent gameplay diversity.
- The bright, brash and vibrant visuals look great, and go some way to creating an authentic fairytale atmosphere.
- Spyro's attacks are effective enough, though dubious animation results in our hero skidding around a tad too much.
- Instantly accessible, involving gameplay means the game's target audience will be captivated from the off.
Accessible, addictive and boasting huge environments, expect to see this sticking out of a fair few stockings this Chrimbo.