Sunday, March 27, 2011

12 Months, Sixty Dollars and a GBA: March

Spyro: Season of Ice
by Universal Interactive

STEAL ALERT!  3 months in and we already have our first steal alert!  Spyro: Season of Ice for the GBA is a definite steal at a measly five dollars!  The game is lots of fun, pretty deep, and challenging enough to keep you coming back for more!

I don't really know that much about Spyro.  Up to this point my exposure to the little purple dragon had been a demo CD for the PSX oh so many years ago.  I was familiar with the game's cutesy main character and its roaming 3D platformer set-up, but I had never really invested any time into the games.  That said, as an introductory game, Spyro: Season of Ice is an exceptional ambassador for the franchise!

The storyline centers around our hero as he tries to free fairies who have been frozen in ice by some evil dudes that are some kind of rhinoceroses (not rhinoceri as I would have thought and preferred).  It is your job as Spyro to hunt down all 100 fairies and save them before the big bad guy, who has mistakenly given himself two heads through some nefarious mischief of his own, brutally slaughters the fairies and uses their wings to fix his self-inflicted condition (no indication how that works exactly...).  The game doesn't say "brutally slaughters," but I mean come on, it's a two-headed rhino-monster, those fairies aren't going to go quietly...

In any event, Spyro must travel to four different fairy kingdoms and free the frozen fairies either by simply finding them or by completing other tasks that will help subvert the evil rhino plot.  The good news is, you'll not have to go it alone.  Apparently, and this is where my ignorance of all things Spyro kicks in, Spyro has a dragonfly companion who goes along with him in his adventures and seemingly takes the brunt of the damage for him. (to wit, the fly represents your hit points).  In addition to being Spyro's simulacrum, the dragonfly also gets to have adventures of his own.  In each area there is a special dragonfly level that is more akin to a top-down shooter than a platformer.  These additional levels can be pretty tough and add a nice break from the platforming action.
Light all of the Jack o' Lanterns in the Autumn World and you'll free a fairy!

The majority of the game, however, is pretty standard platforming.  In each level Spyro must navigate the playfield, defeating foes and avoiding perilous pitfalls.  There are obvious fairies to find, as well as "go get this" missions from NPC's populating the levels, and other similar "mini-quests" that will ultimately reveal the captive pixies.  Level to level the basic quests change only superficially, but that doesn't discount the fun and challenge each level presents.  To give you a break from the platforming, in addition to the aforementioned dragonfly levels, each area also features a flying obstacle course that you can tackle.  These courses present the game's greatest challenge and are the only things I have not completed as of this writing.  You can free two fairies by running the course through on both the normal and hard settings.  Normal is hard enough, and hard is just stupid.  That said, it is nice to be able to take a break from a particularly frustrating level and do something else for a minute.

My one gripe with the game is the controls.  There are some levels that want precision jumping that is not really facilitated by the control set up.  Spyro's default moves are based on the standard cardinal directions, but he can also work diagonally. The problem comes when a jump needs to be aligned in just such a way, but making the diagonal work on the D-pad isn't as smooth or consistent as it needs to be.  The result is Spyro heading off in the wrong direction and ultimately dropping off the playfield.  This can make some levels more frustrating than they need to be.  Other than that, there is little to quibble about with this game, unless you just don't like whimsical platformers.

From Mermaid beaches to Time Travel Laboratories, Spyro: Season of Ice is a light-hearted, action platformer with a lot to offer, especially for only a modest Lincoln.  This game earns its Steal Alert status and is well worth half its original MSRP on the second hand market.  If you enjoy platforming games and don't mind a bit of whimsy, then don't pass up Spyro: Season of Ice!