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Spyro: Season of Ice

Score: 85%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Universal Interactive
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Media: Cart/1
Players: 1
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

For the most part, Spyro: Season of Ice is an very pretty game. It uses a tile-based isometric engine, very reminiscent of the old Solstice series of games--the game takes a diagonal and above-the-head viewpoint, which gives for a very 3D feel despite the 2D engine. However, it comes at a price--you can't see very far around you, necessitating the use of a 'look around' button, and judging the height of platforms can be very challenging. The overhead levels look very nice, in a flowery Gauntlet way. The only time the game fails to impress is the flight levels, which are straight out of Space Harrier, only worse. The sprites don't scale nicely, and it comes off looking more like a tech demo and less like a game.

As for the sound, Spyro: Season of Ice pumps out tunes just about as well as you can on the dimunitive GBA. The sound is solid, as far as it goes, and the music is just as good. I actually found myself turning the game up to hear the sound effects and the music, which is something I rarely do with the handheld systems. As always, earphones will add a great deal to your enjoyment of the game's aureal capabilities.


Gameplay:

Spyro: Season of Ice follows in the tradition of the PlayStation series, offering a series of challenges and lots of gems to collect. The game tends a little too much towards the 'find the last gem' syndrome, however, which can be frustrating on the small screen, where you don't have much visual range, and the various challenges you have to complete are a bit repetitive. In the end, though, the game is an enjoyable romp through another world with our favourite purple dragon, and it translates surprisingly well to the handheld system.

The storyline is weak--Spyro's fairy friend has been captured, along with dozens of other fairies, frozen in ice in anticipation of some evil Rhynoc scheme. It's up to Spyro and his friends, Hunter and Bianca, to free the fairies and defeat the Rhynoc horde. Each level has a number of fairies, which can be rescued in a number of methods. There are also 'extra' levels, which give you a chance to both rescue more fairies and collect even more treasure.

The main levels of the game play out quite similarly to the original games on the PSX. Spyro can charge, jump, glide (with the requisite 'hop up' at the end), and flame. There are a number of enemies scattered throughout the levels that you'll have to finish off to both get gems and free fairies--one on each level is usually received once you defeat all of the bad guys. There are also a number of crystals just scattered around the stages, waiting to be melted. And the native denizens of each realm usually have a task or two for you. You may have to light candles or open cages to win their trust (read: get another fairy crystal). For the most part, it feels a lot like the PSX games, although the limitations of the GBA keep the challenges from being quite as expansive.

There are two types of secondary levels. Sparx's stages play like a garden Gauntlet crossed with a first-person shooter, right down to the different power-ups and the ability to strafe. They're usually quite action-packed, requiring collection of keys to open doors and other classic video-game conceits. Spyro's flight levels are rather less exciting; you fly through scaled sprites, trying to beat the level in a given amount of time, shooting down enemies, dodging obstacles, and fighting end bosses. It's mildly entertaining, but the rest of the game is more so.


Difficulty:

Simply 'beating' each level will get you nowhere in Spyro: Season of Ice. To progress in the game, you've got to rescue a number of fairies, and the only way to do that is to go searching for them. Many times they'll be in plain sight, but other times you'll have to complete mini-quests to get them. This keeps the game's challenge up higher, especially if you're a completist gamer that doesn't like dying. Even more challenging is fully completing the game, by collecting all of the gems and fairies. Some of them are downright difficult to get to, making for an even lengthier and more difficult adventure.

Game Mechanics:

Controlling Spyro takes some getting used to, especially if your GBA isn't particularly broken-in. The game is set at a diagonal, but the controls are standard, which means that you'll be pressing diagonally a lot. Even then it's a little easy to press just up or down accidentally and go barrelling off a cliff, but that's when the classic Spyro pause-and-exit trick is most useful. You flame and jump with the face buttons, and look around and charge with the shoulder buttons. Similar controls are used in the Sparx and flying levels, with requisite tweaks. I didn't encounter any glitches when I played, and while I sometimes felt that perspective differences are entirely too hard to perceive--perhaps a 'height meter' on the side of the screen to indicate how high you are in the level--but that's a minor problem.

The game may centre too much on scrambling for fairies and gems, and it definitely takes some getting used to before you can really handle the isometric engine with ease, but Spyro: Season of Ice is a worthy portable successor to the PSX originals. While I can't wait to see where the franchise goes after this--like Crash Bandicoot, it needs to start expanding in new directions before it gets stale--Spyro: Season of Ice is enough to satisfy any fan of the genre, as long as they don't mind occasionally having to search long and hard for that last stupid gem. It's not perfect, but it's definitely entertaining.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Nintendo GameBoy Advance Pinobee: Wings of Adventure Nintendo GameCube Extreme G3

 
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