Spyro 2: Season of Flame is the superior GBA title to Season of Ice and generally the better successor to the PS1 trilogy.
|Console||Game Boy Advance|
|Publisher||Vivendi Universal Games|
|Purchase (Spyro SuperPack)||Purchase from Amazon.|
|Purchase (single game)||Purchase from Amazon.|
If you’re reading this, you might already be aware of Spyro: Season of Ice for the Game Boy Advance. You might already be aware of many other Spyro games that weren’t on home consoles. Or you just happened to find the link to this post somewhere and thought, “Hmm, I didn’t know Spyro had another sequel.”
So, here’s a little background. Spyro 2: Season of Flame is a Game Boy Advance game released in September 2002, about two months before Enter the Dragonfly hit home consoles. It was created by the same developer by Season of Ice, Digital Eclipse.
As a short recap of my Season of Ice review, that game was a decent distraction but it didn’t quite measure up to the Spyro PS1 trilogy. And that’s not just because it was a handheld game from the 2000s. It was riddled with design flaws that made the game as a whole more of a slog than a fun romp.
So this is the second attempt at making a good Spyro game by Digital Eclipse. Will it make the mark this time or do we have yet another mediocre title on our hands? Well, let’s find out, shall we?
Fleeing Fireflies and Return of the Rhynocs… Again
So as you already know, Spyro 2: Season of Flame is a direct sequel to Season of Ice. And once again, Spyro and friends are on a vacation.
Really? Again? Is this going to be a running theme with the rest of the Spyro games on the GBA? Come on, Digital Eclipse. Try something else for a change. It’s not even a good way to start a story.
Our heroes realize that the area had grown cold for some odd reason and there just so happened to be a dragon elder nearby. Apparently, an army of Rhynocs stole all of the fireflies in the Dragon Realms.
But get this. Apparently, fireflies are the source of the dragons’ ability to breathe fire. Without fireflies, the Dragon Realms will enter an ice age and dragons will only breathe ice.
Seriously. What? I get the plot is trying to mimic Year of the Dragon—that one plot point where dragons are the source of magic, therefore some level portals in the Forgotten Realms won’t work. But now the dragons have their own sources behind their abilities, specifically their signature flame breath? That’s just dumb.
What’s next? Are magical butterflies responsible for dragons flying? What about magical beetles responsible for dragons being able to charge enemies with their horns?
Furthermore, some other issues I have with this story.
- Why is Sparx able to talk now? And I’m not talking about the “bzzt bzzt bzzt” sounds he made in Year of the Dragon. Like, he was having actual conversations with Spyro and friends. They’ve even given him a sassy personality.
- Why are we recycling the Rhynocs again? Whatever happened to the Gnorcs and the many other enemy groups from Ripto’s Rage! Mix things up a little bit.
- Out of all ways to give Spyro a permanent ice breath, why introduce a new plot device (fireflies) out of the blue? The fireflies were never mentioned or introduced in prior Spyro games as magical. Even Spyro gaining the ability through fairy magic would be more plausible in this setting.
- Wait, weren’t there anthropomorphic fireflies in Year of the Dragon? In fact, there were even similar fireflies in Season of Ice! So why are there fireflies with more realistic body shapes in this game? Isn’t that like Goofy and Pluto sharing the same plane of existence in Disney cartoons? This continuity is getting confusing…
I know I’m questioning the story of a handheld game made in the 2000s. But here’s some food for thought anyway.
So Season of Flame has a more clumsy start than Season of Ice in the narrative. I’m not sure how to feel about that. My expectations weren’t that high to begin with.
But who cares, right? Let’s see if the gameplay is any better.
Actual Good Level Design
Spyro 2: Season of Flame brings back the isometric platforming gameplay from Season of Ice. As I mentioned in my previous review, this is a good substitute for the usual 3D action-adventure gameplay from the Spyro PS1 trilogy. But because Season of Ice had some poor level designs that didn’t mix well with the convoluted graphics, the game wasn’t that fun to play through.
However, things start off a bit differently. Instead of the Spyro’s usual flame breath, he starts the game off with an ice breath that encases enemies in ice. This ability is also used to capture fleeing fireflies, which is similar to the bubble breath in Enter the Dragonfly. As Spyro collects more fireflies, Bianca will restore his flame breath later in the game.
Spyro can also use his charge attack and glide between platforms. Overall, pretty much the usual fare. We don’t get to see the climb or headbash abilities like he learned in past games. But once again, he can’t swim in this game! This change most likely came about because of either system limitations or it would make the game too easy overall. But again, he sinks like a rock in water! Even the first Spyro the Dragon gave you chances to jump out of water before you drown.
Anyways, let’s focus on what we actually do have. The controls are a major improvement over Season of Ice. Even on the d-pad, Spyro moves more fluidly than before. You’re less likely to make mistakes during gameplay.
Responsive controls = big YES!
Again, there are only two collectibles: gems and fireflies. Gems are mostly used as currency to pay off Moneybags to access certain level portals. I didn’t bring him up in my Season of Ice review because there isn’t really much to talk about with him. He serves the same role in Season of Flame, charging you ridiculous fees to play certain levels. But this time, he’s feeling extra scammy so be sure to collect all of the gems in each level.
Fireflies grant you access to new level portals as well as bosses. But this time, you only need 75 fireflies out of 100 to fight the final boss. A great change over needing 99 fairies in Season of Ice to fight the final boss. That felt like a waste of time…
In the Season of Ice review, I complained about the open-ended level design and how it makes navigation feel more tedious. Furthermore, whenever you die in that game, your progress in any side quest was reset and you’d have to start over.
Spyro 2: Season of Flame fixed both of these issues. For one thing, the level design in a typical Season of Flame level is more linear and straightforward with some branching paths. And because of that, you’re much less likely to try to land on higher platforms due to the games’ general lack of proper depth perception. You also won’t need a level map to find your way around. THAT is how an isometric Spyro game should be. A level shouldn’t be a series of islands strewn about in a random fashion that rely heavily on leaps of faith to get anywhere.
I have nothing against open-ended level design, but it doesn’t work well for an isometric platformer like Season of Ice. So it’s great to see that Season of Flame took a page from the Spyro PS1 trilogy on what made Spyro levels so fun to explore.
More to Offer
Season of Flame also brought back similar tasks from Season of Ice in order to find fireflies.
- Completing the objective given to you by the first NPC you encounter in a level
- Finding wandering fireflies out in the open.
- Searching for flammable objects (like candles and lanterns) and flaming them all in the whole level; some now react to ice and lightning breaths
Whenever you die in Season of Flame, your progress in completing some of these quests don’t reset like in Season of Ice. That’s a good thing. This change cut out all of the unnecessary tedium that one hiccup of bad game design did. And you know what is also great? Zoe the fairy is back, acting as a checkpoint during levels just as with the Spyro PS1 trilogy. Thank you, God!
And you know what’s also great? The game not interrupting your level exploration, by teleporting you to a different area on the map to get a collectible. This used to annoy me so much in Season of Ice, but thankfully it’s gone here.
There is also a greater variety on how to acquire fireflies. Levels now have challenge portals that lead you to various minigames, most of which are not bad. Maybe some mediocre ones, but mostly okay. But then there is one minigame that became the bane of my existence.
The hockey minigame in the Winter Mesa level. Where do I even begin with this one?
For one thing, you need to complete this minigame twice to get two fireflies. There’s an “easy” difficulty and a “hard” difficulty. Sounds standard. But then you’ll realize that the goalie’s AI is incredibly inconsistent. It’s not like the hockey minigame in Ripto’s Rage! You really can’t make shots normally because the goalie will block them nearly every time. He moves so damn fast.
From what I understand, the trick is to get as close to the goal as possible, then shoot away from the goalie. Sometimes, you might even have to enter the goal area, then shoot. But this is easier said than done. Because of the slippery ice physics and the goalie’s quick reflexes, it’s easy to shoot the puck at the wrong direction. Furthermore, there’s a time limit for both difficulties and you can’t make too many mistakes.
Basically, this minigame encourages you to cheat, just like how the AI cheats. It just feels broken. How are young kids supposed to complete this minigame unless they spend a long time on it and somehow get lucky? That is just ridiculous.
I’m convinced that this hockey minigame is not only the worst one in Season of Flame, but one of the worst minigames of the whole series. Worse than the alchemist escort mission in Ripto’s Rage! Worse than yeti boxing in Year of the Dragon. (no really, it’s that bad!) Maybe not as bad as the Tower of Scary and Ridiculous Heights in Enter the Dragonfly, but still pretty damn bad.
But if you want your 100% completion for this game, I’d say go for it. Just prepare for frustration.
I’m also not too fond of the pixie freeze tag minigames. Basically, you need to use the ice breath to freeze all of the pixies in an open arena. But they move very quickly and are tricky to capture. And if a single pixie touches one of the frozen pixies, it can mean disaster for you.
The trick here is to freeze one of the pixies and wait for one to get close to its frozen comrade, then freeze it quickly. And as you freeze more pixies, you need to keep them in the same general area so you can easily guard them. It’s a mix of patience, quick reflexes and luck. I didn’t struggle too much with this minigame, but I’ll admit it’s definitely annoying.
Here’s another one. That terrible Moon Fondue minigame where you have to defend a rocket from some Rhynoc robots. But to kill them, you need the Super Lightning breath (which often misses its mark). Without any regard for balance, the minigame sends several robots towards the rocket at once. Try not to miss and hope you get lucky until the time runs out. That’s all I can say about this one.
As you progress through the game, you will eventually gain new passive powerups along the way. The main one to note is the ability to break large purple rocks, which requires you to backtrack through some of the levels. Not too bad, but feels tacked on for the sake of backtracking. There is also one powerup where Sparx gains an extra hitpoint. Instead of this sparkly yellow color like he was in Year of the Dragon, Sparx turns into a red color when he’s on this last hitpoint. Personally, I think this aesthetic change is even better.
For even further variety, Season of Flame brought back powerup gates. There are the Super Flame, Super Ice, and even a new Super Lightning powerup. For the most part, the way they were implemented was… okay. Sometimes, the powerups are sitting in a random spot arbitrarily. Otherwise, they’re necessary to access new areas of a level or to complete a task.
And honestly, I think the graphics for Season of Flame are generally easier on the eyes than that of Season of Ice. And while Season of Ice can be pretty to look at, it also has this tendency to flash many intense colors at you at once. Even the contrast can be too much.
Still, Season of Flame also has its share of intense colors too, so I’d say it’s slightly better. But hey, an improvement is an improvement.
The soundtrack is… alright, I suppose. There are some catchy tunes here and there. But if there’s anything I can give credit to Season of Ice for, I personally think its tunes are a little better. But one advantage Season of Flame did have is overall better sound design, So I guess it kinda balances out?
Familiar Faces… Unfamiliar Personalities
So in an interesting twist, both Agent 9 and Sheila the Kangaroo from Year of the Dragon are in Season of Flame as playable characters! And why exactly have they left the Forgotten Realms to visit the Dragon Realms? Eh. Never explained. They’re just kinda here now. Mmm, okay then…
Well, here’s to hoping they play well!
So, Agent 9’s stages are a sidescrolling run and gun platformer. His main method of attack is his laser gun. But here’s the deal. He walks pretty slow and the levels are designed to be a series of platforms of varying heights with a generic layout. While it’s neat that the Rhynoc enemies here react to his attacks, they can be pretty annoying to deal with, especially when they use cover to avoid your laser beams.
Agent 9 also has a double jump ability, but it doesn’t work that great. Often, whenever I try to use the double jump by leaping off the end of a platform, it just won’t execute properly. This makes collecting all of the gems in these stages frustrating at times.
While I normally like run and gun games, these stages are a pain in the ass. I’d happily play games like Contra or Cuphead, but Agent 9’s stages fell flat for me. Sorry.
And Sheila’s stages… are worse…
So like with the average Spyro stage, Sheila’s gameplay takes place on an isometric view. But here’s the catch: Sheila can only move in four directions instead of having free range like Spyro. As a result, she can only hop to an adjacent tile on the map.
The controls are a bit strange too. Sheila seems to go wherever she wants when you hold down a single direction on the d-pad. But if you press two directions at the same time, Sheila will work just fine. It just feels odd and it’s easy to make mistakes.
Sheila has her signature kick attack and stomp attack as well. The enemy Rhynocs are also restricted to moving to adjacent tiles, so you’d have to time your attacks just right to defeat them.
So in a bizarre way, Sheila’s stages are a little tactical compared to Spyro’s. It’s weird.
And for some reason, the Rhynocs in Sheila’s stages have noticeably more childish designs. Some include giggling Rhynocs bouncing on rubber balls and Rhynocs in bunny costumes on a pogo stick. I don’t get it, and I don’t think I want to.
I find these stages painfully slow and uneventful, even compared to Agent 9’s. I regret paying Moneybags just to access these stages. Sheila, you deserved better than this.
I would also like to point that both Agent 9 and Sheila don’t… seem quite like themselves.
In Year of the Dragon, Agent 9 was a trigger-happy, psychotic chimpanzee who has an odd fixation with shooting Rhynocs. In Season of Flame though, he seems… normal. And kind of a stick in the mud. Did someone miss the memo that he was supposed to be crazy?
And Sheila’s Australian slang in this game is all over the place. I mean, yeah, she’s an Aussie kangaroo but you could understand what she’s saying in Year of the Dragon. But y’know, got to make those blokes of the Outback say “Crikey!” like they have no other personality traits.
But that’s not all, folks! I haven’t talked about the antagonists yet.
So, Ripto and his goons from Ripto’s Rage! have returned. And before you fools say they’re supposed to be dead…
You forgot your Skill Points, folks!
So somehow, Ripto gained command of the Rhynocs after the Sorceress’s defeat, even though it was never established he had any connection to them to begin with. Then he left Avalar to enter the Dragon Realms in order to steal the fireflies.
And for a while, it worked. The dragons can only breathe ice (which is not entirely detrimental). And after Spyro collected enough fireflies, Bianca was able to restore his flame breath. But for whatever reason, Spyro was able to keep his ice breath anyway and he can switch between different breaths on the fly. Never really explained why, but okay…
And for some reason… Ripto’s minions Crush and Gulp… TALK.
Again, did someone miss the memo that they were originally dumb but loyal monsters who do Ripto’s bidding? And that they never TALKED? It’s like no one paid attention to the Spyro canon and just did whatever.
Crush and Gulp certainly look like their original selves, but why does Ripto have this goofy face for his avatar? He used to look more fierce and intimidating.
And that was part of the fun with him. Despite his short stature (especially compared to his henchmen), he was surprisingly powerful and threatening. Even when Spyro had powerups, it took him a while to finally bring down this persistent bugger.
Season of Flame just seems to contradict the characterizations of past characters. Sparx didn’t actively communicate with every character, Agent 9 was supposed to be crazy, Sheila wasn’t supposed to be just a big stereotype, Crush and Gulp weren’t supposed to talk, and Ripto wasn’t supposed to be an outright goofy villain. Spyro was pretty much a generic hero character, Hunter wasn’t as quirky and Bianca had no personality.
So like with Season of Ice, the boss battles aren’t particularly well designed. At least in Season of Flame, there are three distinctly different bosses as opposed to one boss repeated twice.
Still, Crush, Gulp and Ripto are not much of a challenge. Just some tedious running around where you have to deal with a constantly jerking camera, which isn’t my idea of fun.
Even Ripto himself is easy. All you need to do is use one of every powerup gate against him, then take him down when his defenses are down. He barely even attacks you. And you just need to hit him three times and he’s down.
He’s a bigger joke than Grendor in the previous game. How would you even do that!?
So if you went through the trouble of collecting all gems and fireflies after that anticlimactic showdown, you get an extra happy ending and a silly credits sequence. And in my case, a horrifying graphical glitch…
Umm… Spyro…? You have a little something in your eye there…
So post-game, you get two unlocked minigames! Well, that’s pretty neat. Let’s see what they are.
First up is Dragon Draughts, which is just checkers. This one unlocks after completing the story. Nothing to see here.
Then we got Sparx Panic, which is unlocked after 100% completion. Actually, this one is pretty damn fun. It’s certainly better than Dragonfly X in Season of Ice. It’s an arcade-style game where you have to fight off hordes of bugs in each stage. The enemy bugs have different abilities and every horde is randomized. Recommended.
Let’s end this review with the same question I asked in the last review: why is this game called Season of Flame?
This time, anything related to fire is simply the whole plot point about fireflies being the source of the dragons’ fire breath. Otherwise… that’s… it… Again, it’s a pretty weak connection to make.
Why isn’t this game called Season of Ice instead of the previous game? You actually use the ice breath a lot in this game and it has more plot relevance than fairies suddenly being frozen in ice crystals. In fact, the Dragon Realms in this story are getting colder so it would’ve been a more fitting subtitle. Furthermore, even the LOGO of the box art is frozen. It seems like they accidentally swapped the subtitles for both games.
Alas, this won’t be the last time I bitch about a Spyro game’s subtitle but that’s a criticism to be made another time.
So that was Spyro 2: Season of Flame. Honestly, this entry is actually pretty good despite my criticisms. Still doesn’t top any entry of the original PS1 trilogy, but pretty close. I know I made so many comparisons to Season of Ice, but that game was the closest thing to a benchmark that this one has. But the key thing here is gameplay. It’s more satisfying to play as Spyro in this game than its predecessor.
Whether you enjoy playing as Agent 9 or Sheila in this game is really up to personal taste, though. I don’t really like playing as them in Season of Flame, but there seem to be people out there who do. So, take that as you will.
So… yeah. The next Spyro release is one that many people are familiar with. One that has made a mark in video game development history, but not in a positive way. Coming soon, I’ll be talking about the infamous Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly. Greeeaaaat…
Spyro 2: Season of FlamePrice Varies
- The isometric gameplay works more smoothly than that of Season of Ice.
- Level designs have more thought put into them than Season of Ice, shooting for a more linear progression with occasional forks in the road.
- More varied tasks and minigames to obtain fireflies.
- Powerups make a return.
- Graphics look a little nicer.
- Soundtrack is decent.
- Like with previous Spyro games, there are a few poorly designed minigames. Personally, I think the hockey minigame is one of the worst ones in the whole series.
- The stages for Agent 9 and Sheila pale in comparison to Spyro's, being mediocre at best.
- Many of the past characters don't act like themselves, which makes it questionable if the game's story is even canon.
- The story makes no effort in following the continuity established by the PS1 trilogy. It's even questionable if it runs on the same continuity as Season of Ice.
- Once again, the bosses are a joke. Ripto is especially disappointing in both his boss fight and his portrayal as a character.