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When I was a kid, it seemed like everybody had a 64 and was playing Super Mario 64 when it was in its prime. Even though I wasn’t so lucky, I did get the opportunity to play some excellent PlayStation games, one of them being Spyro the Dragon. I would play it at my aunt’s house all the time before she finally gave me the system and the game. Spyro and the original Crash Bandicoot were my gateways to 3D platformers. I always favored Spyro and for two reasons – 1) my Crash Bandicoot disc was messed up and would always crash after a certain level. And 2) Spyro was more open-ended. I can remember when I first started playing it. There was just something cool about playing as a dragon, flaming enemies, and exploring magical lands. Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage ended up becoming my favorite but all three games in the original trilogy are still enjoyable today. I’ve beaten these games to completion numerous times and still have my original copies along with my memory card containing the save files. Developed by Insomniac Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Spyro the Dragon was released for the PlayStation in September, 1998. For this review, I played the Reignited version from the Spyro Reignited Trilogy which was developed by Toys for Bob, published by Activision, and released for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in November, 2018. The Reignited Trilogy is a remaster of the first three games. I played the Xbox One version and if you acquire the retail version, you have to download a large patch in order to play two out of the three games because that’s a bunch of bullshit. As soon as the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy was announced, I was hoping the original Spyro trilogy was next and it was. I was very excited.
The game is set in the Dragon Realms which consists of five worlds where dragons have lived in harmony for years. The story opens with a couple of dragons being interviewed and they make some offensive remarks about Gnasty Gnorc who lives within his own sixth realm. These remarks anger Gnasty so he uses a magic spell to trap all the dragons but one in crystal. The one who avoids the spell is Spyro, a young purple dragon and the protagonist of the game. Spyro sets out to rescue the trapped dragons, collect all the treasure, and defeat Gnasty Gnorc. Gnasty’s army of Gnorcs populate the lands and the treasure or gems have been turned into enemies. The voice acting was re-recorded and is on the same level as what we heard in the original. The dialogue is just as corny and humorous. The voice cast is a bit different in this version but Tom Kenny who voiced Spyro in the original sequels returns to voice him here and does a great job. And I’d like to point out that all of the Balloonists are now voiced. The plot is simple and silly and if you complete the game to one hundred twenty percent, you can watch the true ending. It took me about five and half hours to complete it so it’s not very long. Although, I’ve beaten it numerous times so I blasted through most of it pretty quickly. If you’ve never played it before, it may take you a while to actually complete it. But just getting to the end shouldn’t take you very long at all.
I applaud most of the changes the developers made and the gameplay feels virtually unchanged from the original which is awesome. However, I question why the camera is still stuck in 1998. It often works against you. It doesn’t always position itself in ideal spots making it easy to not see ahead of you which sucks if you’re up against numerous enemies or trying to make tricky jumps that may require you to turn. You can change the camera from “passive” to “active” in the options menu but it doesn’t seem to help, at least in my experience. You can switch between the Reignited and Retro control schemes and the Reignited scheme is the modernized one and is perfectly fine. You can control the camera with one of the sticks now instead of the shoulder buttons. But it does nothing to solve the camera problem. You also have the option to display a mini-map on your HUD which may be helpful for newcomers.
Spyro can run, charge, breathe fire, roll left and right, jump, and glide. You can kill many enemies by just breathing fire or flaming them but the armored enemies are fireproof. You’ll have to find other ways to take them down. Charging not only makes Spyro move faster but it also doubles as an attack. He lowers his head and can charge into enemies, sticking them with his horns. Charging is also a way to destroy certain metal chests. Spyro can only freely fly around in specific levels but he can always glide. Accompanying Spyro is his friend Sparx the dragonfly. Sparx will nab any treasure nearby and if you’re having a difficult time locating treasure, he can point to any treasure in the area at the press of a button. Sparx also represents Spyro’s health. When Spyro is at full health, Sparx is yellow. As Spyro takes damage, Sparx’s color changes before he finally disappears. If Spyro takes another hit with Sparx gone, he dies and loses a life. Health can be acquired by killing the harmless creatures roaming around like sheep, bats, frogs, and hopping mushrooms, among others. When killed, these creatures release a butterfly that Sparx will eat. If Sparx is already gone, the first butterfly you encounter will turn into Sparx. You can acquire extra lives in the environments but there’s also other ways. The first time you kill enemies, they drop gems but any already defeated enemies drop orbs. When you collect enough orbs, you earn an extra life. Some of the creatures will release blue butterflies when killed which also grants you an extra life.
The six worlds all vary in theme and act as hubs which contain portals to numerous lands or levels. The worlds are identified by different names – Artisans, Peace Keepers, Magic Crafters, Beast Makers, Dream Weavers, and Gnasty’s World. Most levels consist of your typical 3D platforming gameplay with the exception of the Flight levels, otherwise known as Speedways. I hate these and I always have. The objectives in these levels are always the same and you must complete them before the timer reaches zero. They’re just trial and error. You can freely fly around these levels and each boat, barrel, plane, and/or copter you destroy along with every ring and/or arch you fly through grants you a little extra time and treasure. I didn’t find these Flight levels to be fun as a kid and I don’t find them fun now. When I first played the game way back when, I thought they were rather difficult but they’re really not that bad. They’re just a nuisance, something you have to do to complete the game. Throughout the hub worlds and all the platforming levels are dragons you have to rescue. When you rescue enough dragons in a world or collect enough gems or dragon eggs, you can visit that world’s balloonist who will take you to the next world or a previous world. This Reignited version adds a fast travel system where you can quickly travel to any world or level from the Guidebook, accessed from the pause menu. The Guidebook is also where you can see how many dragon’s you’ve rescued, how much treasure you’ve collected, how many dragon eggs you’ve collected, and your completion percentage for each world and level.
Rescued dragons usually offer you hints. You can visit a dragon platform to replay the introduction of that dragon and the platforms also double as checkpoints. If you die, you’ll respawn at the last dragon platform you were near. In the original game, you had to use these platforms to save your game to the memory card. Not anymore. The worlds and levels are full of treasure or gems to collect and some of them contain dragon eggs. I guess you could say Spyro is a collectathon platformer. Gems come in different colors which represent different values. You’ll often find them just lying around, they can be found in breakable chests, and all enemies will drop gems when killed. Strong chests cannot be broken by any of Spyro’s normal attacks so you’ll have to find another method to get them open like by finding keys, using a cannon, or setting off rockets to blow them up. Breathe fire on explosive chests and they’ll blow up to reveal treasure but if Spyro is caught in the blast radius, he will take damage so you need to be careful. Thieves have always been one of my favorite enemy types in the series. In this game, most of them have the dragon eggs you need and will run away from you when you approach them. You just need to chase them down and kill them to acquire the eggs. They like to mock you which I used to think was hilarious when I was a kid.
Every level has a Return Home vortex at the end which will take you back to the hub world. You can also exit a level from the pause menu. Getting to the vortex won’t take long and if you just head straight there, chance are you’ll miss something. There are secret areas, rooms, and alternate paths you have to look out for. You’ll glide over gaps, jump on platforms, and whirlwinds will launch you upward to higher elevations. Spyro can’t swim so falling in water or any other liquids will cause him to take damage. There are some what I’ll call “environmental puzzles” but most they aren’t very hard to figure out. They only stand out because you’ll have to do something out of the norm. You’ll have to fire a cannon to blow up part of the environment in the Peace Keepers world. You’ll have to fire another cannon in the Dream Weaver’s world to shrink specific enemies so you can get past them. And one level has you rescuing fairies so they can activate the whirlwinds needed to progress.
Eventually, you’ll be introduced to the Supercharge Ramps and Special Fairies. When charging down a Supercharge Ramp, Spyro is invincible and he charges at high speeds which makes him able to charge through metal objects and armored enemies. You will have to explore the levels to find and collect everything and you’ll need to utilize the Supercharge Ramps in several levels to access hard-to-reach areas. Tree Tops is probably the most infamous level in the game. It contains multiple Supercharge Ramps you’ll need to jump off of, you’ll have make hard turns in mid-air, and figure out what platforms to land on in order to access specific areas. I can remember this level causing my friend and I a lot of grief when we were kids. Even during my time with Reignited, it took me a little while to remember which ramps I had to use and how I needed to jump off them. A few levels contain special Fairies that will kiss Spyro and grant him the Superflame ability for a limited time. The Superflame can kill armored enemies and destroy metal objects including strong chests.
You’ll encounter all kinds of enemies throughout the game but most aren’t very difficult to defeat. You’ll engage Druids that can manipulate platforms, bulls that charge at you, Demon Dogs that will shrink in the light, Metalback Spiders, and Vultures, among other different types of foes. The Foot Soldiers in the Peacekeepers world return and the ones you can scare into the tents can still moon Spyro which is just has funny as it was back in the day. They’ll even point and laugh at him. Many of the enemies are of the Gnorc variety and there are different types. Some carry shields and wield melee weapons and others throw or fire projectiles. One of my favorite levels in the original game is Twilight Harbor because it contains some of my favorite enemy types, the Gnorc Commandos. They look badass, carry machine guns, and some of them carry knives and throw grenades. I was really looking forward to this level in Reignited and when I got there, I was extremely disappointed. The Commandos now carry a different looking gun that fires pink shit and instead of grenades, they throw some kind of explosive barrels. I’m guessing these changes were made because the machine guns were considered too “violent”. In my opinion, these changes are completely unnecessary. Every world contains a boss level which play out like the standard platforming levels except they end with Spyro engaging a boss. None of the bosses are very difficult to defeat. They’re attacks are easy to dodge and it doesn’t take many hits to bring them down. You find the boss, attack it, it runs somewhere else, you follow it, rinse and repeat one or two more times and you win.
Skill points were originally introduced in Spyro 2 and they do return in the Trilogy with a set added in for the first game. These are essentially hidden/optional objectives you can complete. You can check on what skill points you have completed or still need to complete from the Guidebook. The skill points aren’t needed for completion but they do unlock artwork you can view. They do give you another incentive to explore the levels. The objectives are things like defeat a boss without taking damage, burn or destroy hidden items, don’t take damage from electrified floors, and other things like that. I did complete them all which unlocks Parts one and two of the Art Gallery so I’m assuming the other parts are unlocked through the other two games.
I was very excited to explore these worlds again in HD. I thought the original game looked great back in the day. When I was a kid, Spyro’s visual style captivated me and I played it for years. I still play it every now and then along with the sequels. But now it’s hard to not see the blocky character models and grainy pixelated presentation. I think this Reignited version looks gorgeous. All of the character models were redesigned and many of them look very different now. But they look great and are exceptionally well animated. Everything is bright and colorful and the environments are filled with plenty of detail. Foliage is lush, the fire effects looks excellent, and I like the way the rescued dragon’s dissipate after they speak with you compared to the original game where they would just kind of shrink and disappear. The gorgeous visuals are accompanied by the wonderful soundtrack. The music is catchy, with a lot of ton of fantasy-sounding tunes that match the magical-like quality of the game. Stewart Copeland, the composer of the original three games wrote a new theme for this trilogy and his original compositions were remastered and sound great. The game gives you the option to switch between the new and original soundtracks. The sound effects are good and fit the game’s whimsical nature. The sounds of Spyro’s flame breath, charge attack, and footsteps are decent and enemies will often make silly noises. When it comes to the technical aspects, the game ran fine for the most part. The frame rate does stutter frequently, I noticed some pop-in in a few areas, and the motion blur effect is quite strong. Unfortunately, it cannot be turned off. Maybe a future patch will change that but as of this review, you have to deal with it if you want to play this.
As soon as I put the disc in my Xbox One and heard the familiar music, there was a smile on my face. For a brief time, I felt like I was playing one of my favorite 3D platformers for the first time again. I guess you could say the Spyro and Twisted Metal games for the original PlayStation were my gateways to 3D open-ended level design. I enjoyed the idea of being able to freely roam around 3D environments and explore and that’s probably why I would play these games religiously as a kid. Then I was introduced to Grand Theft Auto and had a new appreciation for the term “open”. Sure, the levels in Spyro funnel you down specific paths but if you do a little exploring, there’s more to see and do, and it was this sense of discovery that I fell in love with. This remaster is really well done and while the game is a bit on the easy side, it’s still a lot of fun to play. The gameplay of the original remains intact, all of the content is here, and in my opinion, Reignited has lost none of the charm of the original. The only negatives that stand out to me are the camera which is stuck in the past and some minor technical issues. But these can be easily overlooked. I still say the changes to the Gnorc Commandos are completely unnecessary but I’ll get passed it. I used to play the original three games a lot as a kid, especially Spyro 2. Enter the Dragonfly was the last Spyro game I beat that came out after the originals and it just wasn’t as good as those. I also remember it having ridiculously long load times on PS2. I played A Heroe’s Tail for about ten minutes but just couldn’t get into it at the time. I do want to try the Legend of Spyro games. I don’t know if the series can ever capture the magic of the original three but at least now we can play them in glorious HD and even in 4K.
Considering this game is part of the Reignited trilogy, I would have to play through all three games before I can recommend you buy the entire package but so far I’m impressed. I would definitely recommend the original game but do think this is the superior version. Since the gameplay is basically identical, choosing one will probably depend on how important the visuals and/or quality of life changes are to you. Sure, the game has some quirks but no game is perfect and the good certainly outweighs the bad. There’s a lot of 3D platformers out there and Spyro the Dragon is rightfully a classic. It may not be revolutionary but it’s fun. Definitely check it out.