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The Spyro and Crash Bandicoot games for the original PlayStation are some of the best platformers on the system. I’ve always leaned more towards the Spyro games because of their open-ended design and they are my favorite platformers on the PlayStation with Crash Bandicoot: Warped trailing right behind them. Spyro the Dragon is what got me into 3D platformers but Spyro 2 is what really grabbed me. I played the shit out of that game so, naturally, I was excited to get my hands on the sequel, Spyro: Year of the Dragon, which I received as a gift sometime after it released. Developed by Insomniac Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Spyro: Year of the Dragon was released for the PlayStation in October, 2000. For this review, I played the Reignited version which is part of the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, released for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in November, 2018. I played it on an Xbox One X.
Every twelve years, new dragon eggs are brought to the Dragon Realms and this event is known as “Year of the Dragon”. During the most recent event a rabbit named Bianca invades the Dragon Realms, steals the eggs, and brings them back to the Forgotten Realms where an evil Sorceress spreads them across several worlds and levels. The Forgotten Realms were once inhabited by dragons but they were banished by the Sorceress after she had an argument with a Dragon Elder, making her the queen of the land. As time passed, the magic in the worlds started to dwindle so the Sorceress hatched the plan to steal the dragon eggs so she could harvest the wings of the baby dragons. She wants to use the wings to grant herself immortality. Obviously Spyro’s goal is to retrieve all the eggs but he won’t be doing it alone. Year of the Dragon introduces new playable characters that will help Spyro on his journey. These include Sheila the Kangaroo, Sgt. Byrd, Bentley the Yeti, and Agent 9, a space monkey. You will also get the opportunity to play as Sparx the Dragonfly and Hunter the Cheetah. Year of the Dragon retains the same cartoon-y tone as the previous games but contains the most interesting story in the trilogy, at least in my opinion. The game is filled with numerous cut scenes that flesh out the plot and certain characters. Some characters from the previous game return and the voice acting across the board is pretty good. The performances are quite different than what we heard in the original but they’re consistent with the performances in the other two Reignited games. With that said, Tom Kenny reprises his role as Spyro and does a great job. Year of the Dragon is easily the longest game in the trilogy and it took me almost nine hours to complete.
Just like the previous two games, the developers made no changes to the camera which means the camera sucks and it makes navigating certain areas and completing certain objectives more challenging than they need to be. Spyro can walk, charge, breathe fire, jump, roll left and right, glide, and pick up and spit out small objects like rocks. The new abilities introduced in Spyro 2 are carried over so he can climb, swim, and perform a headbash from the get-go. He can also hover at the end of glides for extra height and distance. The new characters have their own moves and abilities. Sheila can hop, jump, double jump, jump after hitting the ground to jump really high, kick, and perform a stomp smash. Sgt. Byrd can fly around, pick up and drop items, and he’s equipped with two rocket launchers. Bentley can walk, jump, and he’s equipped with a club for smashing things but he can also spin it which is great for deflecting projectiles. Agent 9 can walk, run, jump, throw bombs, and he’s equipped with a laser blaster. These new characters have their own home worlds which are just unique levels designed for them and after completing these, Spyro can enter the character portals in specific levels where their assistance is needed. Sparx will accompany Spyro and all of these new characters and in addition nabbing any gems near the characters, he also represents their health. When your character takes damage, Sparx will change colors before finally disappearing. If you take another hit with Sparx gone, you die and lose a life. If you kill any of the innocent creatures roaming around the environments, they will release a butterfly that Sparx can eat to restore health and blue butterflies grant you an extra life. If Sparx is already gone, a butterfly will turn into Sparx.
Sparx is probably the most unique new playable character and he has his own set of levels. In a Sparx level, the action is viewed from the top-down perspective. These levels are essentially top-down shooters. Sparx can fly around, strafe, charge, and shoot. He has a health meter that drains when he takes damage and he can eat butterflies to restore health. Eating certain butterflies does grant him powerups which make taking down the numerous foes easier. After completing a Sparx level, he gains a new ability like nabbing gems even further away from the playable character and taking an extra hit. There’s two specific Sparx abilities that are absent in Reignited – the Atlas warp and pointing to hidden treasure. This is because you can warp or fast travel to any already explored level from the Guidebook and you can press a button to have Sparx point to any treasure in the area from the start in all three games. Hunter is another unique character because you can only play as him in Speedways where you’re piloting something or are guided down a specific path so control of Hunter is limited.
The Forgotten Realms are split into four home worlds – Sunrise Spring, Midday Gardens, Evening Lake, and Midnight Mountain. The game borrows many elements Spyro 2. The home worlds act as hub worlds with multiple portals that take you to different levels. Dragon eggs and gems are the two primary collectibles and they are scattered across the home worlds and levels. You will need a certain amount of dragon eggs to activate specific portals and gems double as currency. You’ll have to pay Moneybags a specific amount of gems to gain access to new areas and to free the other playable characters. The levels contain portals to areas where you’ll have to complete a challenge or minigame or play as another character. Much like Spyro 2, you are greeted by an NPC upon entering a level and they always request Spyro’s help. Helping the NPC can be seen as the level’s main objective and always requires you to basically get to the end of the level. You’re always rewarded with a dragon egg for completing objectives, challenges, and minigames. After beating a level, a return home portal opens up which will take Spyro back to the home world. After beating all the main levels in a home world, you can take on that world’s boss and then head to the next home world. The levels are filled with gems to collect. You can find them lying around, you’ll find them in breakable chests and objects, and sometimes you need to use other methods to acquire gems. Some chests require keys or can only be broken by rockets and sometimes you may need to play as a specific character to acquire certain gems.
The objectives in each level are varied and have you doing things like rescuing NPC’s, protecting NPC’s, killing specific enemies, and collecting items. None of them are very difficult and you will have to revisit some levels that contain areas where you play as another character. The character you need is always found in the next home world. After paying Moneybags to free the character, you must beat that character’s level before they will help you in the other levels. Spyro can benefit from powerups which grant him special abilities for a limited time like the ability to freely fly around, invincibility, superflame, and ice breath. Supercharge ramps also make a return. You will need to utilize these powerups to complete specific challenges and to reach specific areas. The levels are about the same size as the levels in Spyro 2 but there’s numerous eggs to acquire in each and there’s usually multiple portals to different areas. You will come across branching paths, whirlwinds that allow Spyro to reach higher elevations, cannons that allow Spyro to break certain objects and kill enemies, and Spyro can break through certain areas of the environments using his normal abilities. If you can’t figure out how to get to a certain location, you can always enable the minimap from the options menu which may or may not help you. To complete a level to one hundred percent, you need to collect all the dragon eggs and gems.
You will be doing a lot of gliding and platforming to collect the gems and dragon eggs but challenges and minigames are more prevalent here than they were in Spyro 2. I’ve really come to loathe minigames in platformers but when I was a kid, I didn’t really mind them. I say this because if you didn’t care for the minigames in Spyro 2, Year of the Dragon may disappoint you since it takes the minigame idea and goes crazy with it. There’s numerous challenges and minigames in every level. Some of the more enjoyable ones have you finding items or defeating enemies but most of the not-so-fun ones are trial-and-error. The Skateboarding minigames and challenges are a standout. In these areas, Spyro can ride a Skateboard and go off ramps and perform tricks. I find these areas to be fun for about five or ten minutes and then I get bored. My favorite challenges involve things like shooting down enemies, piloting a boat that can fire rockets, or any objective that lets you explore. Sadly, Speedways make a return and they each contain three dragon eggs which means you need to complete three objectives. This time around, the Speedways are hosted by Sparx and you’re given the choice of the traditional Time Attack or Race challenges. If you’ve played through the Speedways in the other two games, Time Attack will feel the most familiar. You must fly through rings. arches, or other objects and destroy the obstacles and enemies before the timer reaches zero except this time, extra time is not added to the timer. However, Sparx does tell you the easiest way to complete the Time Attack challenge. Race is a challenge where you race other characters. You must fly through all the checkpoints in order and there are speed boosts you can fly through and rockets you can obtain and fire to slow down your opponents. The third challenge has you playing as Hunter. He’s hidden in every Speedway and when you find him, you just have to complete his challenge. You’ll fly around, shoot at enemies, and one has you piloting a boat to lure a UFO down a river of honey.
The Sorceress commands an army of Rhynocs which are the primary enemies in the game. They come in different sizes, some wield melee weapons, some utilize ranged attacks, and none of them are difficult to defeat. However, enemies do release gems when killed so you will need to kill all the enemies in a level to collect all of the gems. Armored enemies or any enemy with a metal shield cannot be killed by Spyro’s flame breath so he has to charge into them or find other ways to bring them down. Some enemies are too large for Spyro to charge so his flame breath will usually do the trick. There are other enemy types like lava toads, birds, cat wizards, dinosaurs, and scorpions but the majority of enemies are Rhynocs. Thieves make a return and are one of my favorite enemy types. They have many of the dragon eggs you need and they’ll run from Spyro when he gets near them so you just need to chase them down and kill them to obtain the eggs. In addition to enemies, the levels contain hazards you need to watch out for like lava, fire spitters, acid, and blue ooze, among other dangers. There’s a boss in every home world and just like the bosses in Spyro 2, they look more threatening than they actually are. The playable character you free in that home world will aid you in the battle in some way and the boss attack patterns are easy to memorize.
There are hidden or optional objectives to complete which reward you with Skill Points but they don’t count towards the completion of the game. You’ll have to do things like destroy objects, glide to certain locations, kill specific creatures, beat skateboard course records, and other various things. Most of them aren’t very difficult and you can see what Skill Points you’ve acquired or still need from the Guidebook. Acquiring Skill Points will unlock parts of the art gallery.
As expected, Year of the Dragon shares the same audiovisual style as its predecessors in the Reignited Trilogy. If you’ve seen our reviews of the previous two games, most of my opinions on the presentations in those games can be applied here as well. The game looks gorgeous, the new character models look fantastic, all of the characters are extremely well animated, and the sound effects are both satisfying and whimsical. I will talk about the music since Year of the Dragon includes an original soundtrack that was composed by Stewart Copeland. In my opinion, many of songs don’t drive home the magical fantasy-like tone of the Spyro universe like the songs in the previous two entries did. That’s not to say the soundtrack is bad because it’s not. It’s quite good and the songs are unique to the game and series. I just feel the soundtracks for the previous games emphasized the tone and atmosphere better. Sadly, the frame rate dips and stutters experienced in the previous two games are also present here as is the strong motion blur effect that cannot be turned off.
If Year of the Dragon was a more challenging game, I think I would enjoy it less and that’s because of all the minigames. The same could be said about Spyro 2. Just my opinion. I remember all three games being a little more difficult when I was kid but then again, I was a kid. Certain challenges stood out to me as hard so I never forgot them and when I got to them in Reignited, I didn’t encounter any major issues. It’s possible the developers made some things easier or I’m just better at the games now. Year of the Dragon was the last Spyro game Insomniac Games developed and from what I’ve seen and heard, future titles haven’t been able to capture the same quality and magic of the original three. I’ve beaten Enter the Dragonfly and briefly played A Hero’s Tail. I can at least confirm that those two titles don’t have the same charm as the originals. I played Year of the Dragon a lot as a kid. Not as much as Spyro 2 but I did complete it quite a few times and after playing through the Reignited version, I do think it’s the best game in the trilogy. It may have more minigames than Spyro 2 but most of them are more enjoyable and if you enjoy minigames, you won’t be disappointed. There’s still plenty of platforming, items to collect, and secrets to find. The new playable characters are cool but feel more like a gimmick. I think it would have been neat if you could play as the characters in the main Spyro levels and areas. Although, this would require changes to the levels to accommodate the abilities of the new characters. I just think the developers could have done more with them. In my opinion, the Spyro levels and areas are the most enjoyable and memorable. I’ve said Spyro 2 is my favorite and that’s still true but it’s clearly because of nostalgia. Year of the Dragon retains the same gameplay and mechanics of 2, includes more content, and is just as fun as the previous two games which is why I think it’s the best in the Trilogy.
Ultimately, I would recommend Spyro: Year of the Dragon to fans of the series and platformers. And now that I’ve finally completed all three games in the Reignited Trilogy, I would also highly recommend the Trilogy. I think these are the best versions of all three games. In my opinion, Reignited doesn’t lose any of the charm of the originals and almost everything remains intact. The gameplay, enemies and their placements, characters, and the environments are all here. The new quality of life features like being able to fast travel to levels in all three games are just nice additions. My main gripes with all three games are the same. I find it baffling that the developers did nothing to improve the cameras and the performance issues are annoying. But other than those things and the stupid and unnecessary change to the Gnorc Commandos in the original game, the Reignited Trilogy is a fantastic way to experience these classic titles. I grew up playing the originals and I’m just happy to see them revived in HD and 4K. If you’ve never played these games before and are interested, definitely check out the Spyro Reignited Trilogy. If you have played the originals, then the Reignited Trilogy will take you on a very beautiful trip down memory lane.