Gamestyle Archive Intro: Anna takes us down a popular PS1 title in new surroundings from this review towards the end of 2004.
Spyro: A Hero’s Tail (ho) is easily the best post-PS1 Spyro title, and it’s obvious that the developers have really thought about some parts of the game. However, push the PS2 et al to their limits this doesn’t. Graphically, this game is decent. That said, it’s nothing at all impressive: we’ve all seen much better, and the draw distance is at times disconcertingly short.
Baddies also teleport into existence when you approach their patches, which may be intended to surprise but it seems more like laziness with regards to animating distant enemies. There are also a few irritating invisible walls around platforms that one should otherwise be able to reach. Perhaps the developers didn’t expect the player to try and explore off the game’s path so much, but it’s nice to have the option.
This game’s a first for the Spyro series in that the worlds aren’t broken up into discrete levels accessible only via portals: each of the four realms (obligatory ice one and lava one included) and its sublevels are all part of the same landmass, and one can walk from any part of a realm to another with no loading times. But it’s often quicker to just teleport there, which one can do with the aid of a ticket bought from Moneybags (a bear in a fez) for 100 shinies a pop. As well as teleport tickets, from the shop pads one can buy all manner of things including more ammo for super-attacks, keys for opening chests, and magic butterflies to restore Spyro’s health (bizarrely, Sparx the dragonfly eats them but it’s Spyro who benefits). Whilst the pads are very useful, they get irritating very quickly: every time you approach one, a green holographic Moneybags pops up and spouts a one-liner. Every time. Make him stop!
The rest of the game is surprisingly non-irritating for a magic land populated by faerie, magic crystals, and fluffy sheep, and in which even the baddies look harmless and cuddly and as though they would probably prefer discussing your differences over a plate of biscuits (and when you do choose to end their existences, they explode in a cloud of pretty bubbles). The dialogue is often genuinely funny (especially of note is the very camp Elder Magnus, who is also pink) and the voice-acting isn’t chummily goofy as has been the case in past titles. As is the standard for Spyro’s adventures, and indeed for most platformers, the main object of the game is to collect various artefacts; in this case being light gems, dark gems and dragon eggs. Light and dark gems lead the way forward, with light gems powering machines and dark ones opening boss areas. The eggs are optional and collecting them unlocks goodies, such as concept art and the ability to play as Ember or Flame (basically Spyro in drag) instead of El Purple One.
Eggs and light gems can be found hidden in cunning places or in locked chests, but a lot of them you’ll get as rewards for helping the inept natives. Their errands include using cannons to defend baby turtles from vultures, activating water-wheels so that an otter can go surfing, and pushing rock-monsters off cliffs to avenge a disgruntled hyena. In addition to Spyro, there are a few short sections in which Spyro stands aside to allow another character a moment of glory. Sadly, these aren’t much fun compared to the main levels, playing rather like a gaming equivalent of cutting room floor sweepings. Furthermore, their sections are all separate from Spyro’s. This, in Gamestyle’s opinion, makes the idea of multiple characters rather pointless: they can’t help each other bypass obstacles or assist each other in combat. Hunter the cheetah and Blink the mole have free-roaming sections, mostly involving jumping from platform to platform (a lot of which is buttock-clenchingly pixel-perfect in its demands). Both of them also have long-range weapons with zooms, and use explosives to break down doors. They’re only really set apart by the fact that Hunter can climb walls whereas Blink can brachiate (rather nimbly for a talpidine, too).
Sparx the dragonfly and Sgt. Byrd the tanked-up penguin are both flying shooters; Sparx on rails and the Sgt. (whose levels are easily the most enjoyable of all the non-Spyro ones) in an open-air assault course with hoops to fly through and aloft enemies to gun down. Whilst Spyro in the hands of Insomniac showed that cutesy games can still be challenging and testing (a formula taken to excess by the saccharine-flavoured but corundum-hard Croc games), A Hero’s Tail unfortunately doesn’t try as hard to overturn first impressions. Whilst this game is thankfully not patronising and does have a difficulty curve, and is pretty unforgiving checkpoint-wise, it really won’t have one foaming at the mouth (or any other orifices) with frustration. The final boss is laughably easy, even though failure will take you right back to the beginning of the battle and not just the start of the round.
Spyro: A Hero’s Tail is a nice game. It’s brightly-coloured, cheerful and inoffensive, and is a great title with which to unwind when you’re too feeling too frazzled or cack-handed to attempt a manlier game like Devil May Cry or Onimusha (although you may want to play some of those afterwards to get rid of the cute and sparkly aftertaste). If you’re not generally a fan of platformers, you’d be better off with a title that better showcases the genre, like Jak (a few ideas from which have been sneakily ‘borrowed’ for A Hero’s Tail) or Ratchet. Otherwise, this is a pretty little game that platforming fans shall find an enjoying diversion.
Gamestyle Score: 6/10