Unfortunately, what should be just ain't. Not this time. While Spyro: The Eternal Night for the DS has its moments, overall, the game is blandly disappointing and has some real problems that prevent it from feeling nearly as polished as the studio's other recent developmental efforts.
Spyro: The Eternal Night picks up right where the previous title, A New Beginning, left off, and you get a helpful recap of that game's story, in case you missed it. Spyro has lost his abilities and must undertake an epic quest (really, aren't most game quests epic?) to get them back. He's also got a little world-saving on his plate, along with a rescue mission; suffice to say this is one busy little dragon. With that in mind, the action kicks in immediately.
The basic controls are pretty straightforward. Melee, breath attacks, and jumps are all mapped intuitively, and combat is mostly smooth -- particularly when fighting multiple enemies Those moments bring a refreshing beat 'em up feel to the platformer that is genuinely fun. If the entire game was nothing but that and platforming, even some of the issues with The Eternal Night would be lessened. However, there are some issues with the puzzles, especially in the early stages, and even worse, there's a certain part of combat that takes a turn for the atrocious. If you get your enemy up in the air, you have to stop, whip out your stylus, and switch to a touchscreen combo mode. This is one of the worst implementations of random touchscreenery seen in a while, because it's just so completely out of place and pointless.
But the biggest problem with the title is something that isn't usually in issue, at least in my experience -- the draw distance. In Spyro: The Eternal Night, it literally feels like you can only see about three feet around you at any given time. This would be great for atmospheric purposes ... except it's extraordinarily difficult at times to navigate throughout the levels, despite the fact that they just aren't that big. You just can't see, and there aren't many distinct areas or landmarks to help you get your bearings. Every time the game started to get a little fun, things descended almost immediately into the realm of frustration again, and it really cut down on any immersion players might otherwise experience.
Overall, it just seems like a little more polish was needed to make this a worthwhile entry for the franchise, and that's a shame. There's a lot to work with, from the incredible voice cast to the surprising moments of depth in the story. It's just not enough to make up for some of the game's problems, and in the end, the result is a game experience that is somewhat lacking.
The basics (or, the review is in the details):
Controls: As stated above, the most basic combat controls work just fine, but the early puzzles are an exercise in frustration (the "helpful hints" are anything but), and movement is crippled by the draw distance. Combat can be fun, however!
Visuals: Yay for 3D? Not when it doesn't really add anything to the experience. Spyro looks alright, as does everything immediately around him ... but that's really all you can see, since the draw distance is incredibly short. Further, the environments are empty and things are very flat and lacking in texture. It's a shame, because after just having played Crash of the Titans, expectations for Amaze's Spyro were definitely high.
Sound: The voice acting is a treat, and a bright spot in the title. The rest of the sound can get a little repetitive, and isn't quite as high quality as it could be, but with headphones on, everything works quite well.
Story: The story could have been great -- the voiced portions are certainly nice. But the muddled non-voiced dialogue is a little difficult to follow at times. It also feels a little unbalanced; there's a lot going on, story-wise, but not much going on in the game. I was continually looking for something more, which left an unsettling feeling.
Difficulty: There are a few moments in which the boss battles offer up some challenges, but it's difficult to tell if those were purposeful challenges, or just moments when the frustration faction slipped through the cracks. For the most part, however, fights are not difficult at all.
The final verdict: 5.0/10. Maybe this is an unfair rating; after all, between the recent Crash of the Titans and the pure, undiluted awesome of Spyro: The Eternal Night on the GBA, maybe little things became bigger issues than they really were. But as it stands, it's difficult to recommend this Spyro adventure over the GBA version.