Forever in the dark.
I feel terrible, like that time I gave a family of tourists bad directions and sent them to the ghetto. Not long ago, I was shopping when an elderly woman asked me to recommend a game for her grandson’s birthday. It had to be recent and age-appropriate. I put The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night in her tiny hands, because Spyro games are always pretty good, right? That boy will never trust his grandmother’s presents again.
When Krome Studios took over development of the previous game, they slapped on the “Legend” moniker and called it A New Beginning. It was supposed to be a retelling of Spyro’s story and a resuscitating punch to the gut of the series. Judging from Krome’s previous work on Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, I suspect that they didn’t know what to do with a sequel. A second helping should be at least more of the same, if not more generous than the last. Instead, Krome wiped off the plate and put it back on the table.
Eternal Night picks up where the last game left off. A vortex opens with Cynder’s defeat, Spyro swoops in to save her (Cynder is a she-dragon!), and brings her back to the Dragon Temple. Shortly thereafter, the Ape King returns to resurrect the Dark Master and Spyro has to stop him. Unfortunately, Spyro’s powers are suddenly gone, which doesn’t make sense, since he used his elemental powers to defeat Cynder. I suppose he was on a ship, landed on a foreign planet, lost all his gear, and… oops, wrong game.
That brings us to the obligatory tutorial stage. I can read the manual thanks to Run-D.M.C., so why force it down my throat? Nevertheless, as Spyro burns through five tutorials, he slowly regains his former strength. The first power to come back is Dragon Time. It’s the equivalent to bullet time which, for the benefit of the one person who hasn’t seen The Matrix, slows time and movement - and mastering Dragon Time is an absolute necessity. When Krome decided to beef up the platforming, they meant it.
I feel doubly bad for the birthday boy now, because Eternal Night hits hard and fast. The uneven terrain is filled with gaps, toxic pools, and thorny pits. Right off the bat, solid landings were made only by the skin of my teeth. Halfway through the first stage, I scaled a canyon wall by double-jumping and gliding across collapsing roots, while tapping Dragon Time on and off so I didn’t run out before the peak. That was tricky enough. Doing it while spiders lobbed webs at me made the next section seem near-impossible.
I’ve beaten some of the hardest platformers around, but a few sections had me second-guessing my abilities. If not for having unlimited lives, I might have quit altogether. Eternal Night was made for young and old alike, but I have no doubts that most of Spyro’s fans have yet to hit their teens. Many are probably budding gamers, and because of that, Eternal Night seems cruel. Then again, some sections are hard by dysfunction, not by design.
Nothing hurts worse than finally making a jump, only to fall back into oblivion. The camera stuck like glue no matter how much I thrashed about, and just when I succumbed to my inevitable death, it would pull a 180. I could have controlled it with the right stick, but my thumb was a little busy with the jump button. Somebody at Krome had to have noticed the problem. In battle, it sticks out like a neon sign in Montana.
Combat plays a large role in Eternal Night, and Spyro has the headbutts, kicks, and combos to prove it. Button-mashing rarely works. Since each type of enemy has different vulnerabilities and the Ape King’s forces don’t believe in fighting mano-a-mano, you have to be aware of your surroundings. Popping enemies into the air and kicking them off cliffs is always fun, but it doesn’t make up for the constant sideswipes that come from off-screen. Between platforming and combat, I estimate that the camera is responsible for 75% of my deaths. It’s a crazy notion, I know, but a block function might have helped.
The combat system requires skill, for reasons good and bad. Kung-fu fighting dragons are cool, I guess, but I don’t need to see a slow-motion display every single time I start a combo, especially when enemies refuse to fall. Some enemies can take so much damage that I mistook them for mini-bosses. You’ll know who the real bosses are when you pummel them for ten minutes and they’re still standing strong.
Apparently, Krome “wanted to recapture what it was like to have the coin-munching bosses from older arcade games”. From the standpoint of someone who spent $40 to beat one of the worst arcade games of my time (and for the bad ending), that doesn’t sound very appealing.
The only way to speed up a fight is with the fire-, ice-, lightning-, and earth-based breath attacks Spyro eventually gains. They start out strong and get stronger as you feed them experience crystals. If you focus on fire, a simple flame turns into a spreading inferno. For ice, snow bombs leave behind a freezing cloud. Energy for breath attacks is limited but recharges by collecting crystals from fallen enemies. After a while, Spyro’s fury meter will max out for a single, massive explosion. Fury attacks are in slow-motion, of course, but the swirling displays of destruction are stunning to watch.
Relish every second of the luminescent fury attacks, because you won’t see color like that anywhere else. From ancient caves to foreboding forests and dank pirate ships, almost all of Eternal Night is shrouded in a depressing gloom of bluish hues and flat textures. Just because the story is grim and somber doesn’t mean the visuals and the music can’t be appealing. Tracks are mostly ambient noises with an occasional bell chime. Between the calming graphics and the minimalist score, Eternal Night could double as a soothing, bedtime lullaby.
Since Krome couldn’t afford proper lighting designers or musicians, I’m guessing most of the production costs paid for the voice talents of Elijah Wood, Gary Oldman, and Billy West. Those must have been easy paychecks, because the scripts were obviously read completely out of context. The only character with any life is the dragonfly, Sparx. As the most annoyingly worthless sidekick in any game, ever, I wanted nothing more than to tear off his wings and laugh at his pain.
The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night will get diehard fans a few steps closer to uncovering the mysterious destiny of Spyro. For everyone else, remember the purple dragon as he once was and leave it at that. In the meantime, I vote that we petition Krome Studios to either make a new character, or do the world a favor and pick up a franchise that deserves to die.