Last week, I took a look at Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy, a complete remastering of the lauded games from the ‘90s.
Yet another character that always gets brought into the conversation of famous platforming mascots is Spyro the Dragon, a creation of famed developer Insomniac Games.
When the Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy was released in summer 2017, it was met with massive success and got the conversation started on remastering other PlayStation 1 classics.
Chief among them was Spyro, given the series’ close relation to Crash and the nostalgia fostered for the original trilogy.
Enter Activision and Toys for Bob, who developed the Spyro: Reignited Trilogy, a collection of Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage and Spyro: Year of the Dragon remade with updated graphics, music and gameplay.
These near 20-year-old games were released as the Reignited Trilogy on Nov. 13, 2018, and were met with critical acclaim and solid sales numbers.
Much like Crash, I grew up playing these games and hold them in high regard. Crash, however, felt quite dated after diving back into the adventure, even with a fresh coat of paint. Will Spyro fare any better, or is nostalgia not enough for the purple dragon?
Small Dragon, Big Heart
Let’s start out with the story and characters first. Spyro the Dragon (1998) is pretty light and simple in the story department. Spyro is an undersized dragon living in the Dragon Realms.
An exiled half gnome, half-orc named Gnasty Gnorc (not a typo) sees the larger dragons of the world making fun of him on TV, calling him dumb, harmless and ugly. He has enough of this and traps each of the dragons in crystal.
Because Spyro’s a little guy, he and his dragonfly companion Sparx escape a crystalized fate. He’s the only dragon left and must venture across five distinct worlds to free the rest of the population from their prison.
It’s a short and sweet setup, similar to Crash Bandicoot. The five worlds have their own flavor, as one is a swamp and the other is full of wizards using magic for evil. These homeworlds and the levels within them have their own atmosphere that helps Spyro’s quest feel like a truly epic journey.
In the sequels, there are cutscenes once you make it to the next land. While they are short and sweet, they do a nice job building the atmosphere and endearing players to the characters.
Spyro is a good main character, as he has a confident underdog personality that is never overbearing. Like Crash his design is simple and cute.
The story of the Spyro games are nice and provide a good backdrop to collect a cavalcade of shiny objects, be they gems, crystallized dragons, eggs or talismans.
New and Shiny
Similar to the N-Sane Trilogy, the Reignited Trilogy gives these near 20-year-old games new life.
Environments that were murky or characters whose designs weren’t fully realized now look distinct and lively.
Especially in the first game, items that sometimes just looked like blurry polygon shaped muck now have a natural place in the level.
This is highlighted by the dragons you free in Spyro 1. In the original, there were maybe 10 models of dragons you freed, and about 20 dialogue options and voice actors assigned to them.
These characters were central to the game, but limitations of the time made them feel pretty pedestrian.
Compare that to the Reignited Trilogy; all 80 dragons you free have unique designs, personalities and voices.
Changes like this are rampant throughout the trilogy and make the series a new experience for me, as I beat all three games many moons ago when I was first holding a controller.
However, the quality of the graphics and character designs make the game look like a CGI movie that would fit right in with anything hitting theaters these days.
The soundtrack lives up to that lofty standard as well. Stewart Copeland, drummer of the band The Police, composed the game’s score, and it is full of wonderful synth tunes and drum beats that feel very unique.
Copeland returned for the Reignited Trilogy, re-recording the tunes to fit in the modern style of dynamic soundtracks.
The pieces hold up and are one of my favorite parts of the series.
The Reignited Trilogy uses the Unreal Engine to power it, and the results are breathtaking. Spyro looks very much at home with every other platformer on the planet.
Sparx is Spyro’s dragonfly and acts as his health bar, turning different colors every time Spyro takes a hit. After 3 hits, he disappears and the next hit kills him.
It’s a nicer system than a standard health bar and makes you want to keep the little guy safe.
Spyro can take enemies out with a charge and flame attack. Certain attacks only work on certain enemies, but it is easy to tell which ones to use.
While the enemies aren’t challenging to get past, the meat of the game is exploring the levels, hunting down gems and completing bonus challenges for side characters to earn the main collectible of the game (orbs in the second game and dragon eggs in the third).
Spyro has plenty of traversal tools at his disposal, and he can jump, glide, headbash and climb ladders. He can even sometimes fly in special areas.
Insomniac first had issues when developing the game, as players could skip huge portions of levels with the gliding ability. This is when the team changed the focus of the game from a linear straightforward set of levels into a collectible-filled sandbox where exploration was encouraged.
There is always something hidden behind every corner, and the side missions offer a nice variety between vehicles, minigames and platforming challenges.
The bosses in the game are pretty easy, but very and are fun encounters. Sometimes you just have to dodge an attack and then charge your enemy into lava, and other times you’ll be rushing to eat rockets that you’ll shoot out at your foe.
The third game’s bosses use the Yoshi’s Island approach, as the evil sorceress turns normal enemies into monsters.
Overall the bosses are fun breaks in the game that move the story forward.
The game offers straightforward and easy to pick up controls that reward the player for their efforts.
How Much is Too Much?
As the series went on, variety became the name of the game for Spyro.
As mentioned before, players can try a litany of game modes, such as skateboarding, flying courses, tank battles and races against egg thieves, among others.
Sparx himself is playable in Year of the Dragon, playing like a classic top-down shooter game.
Year of the Dragon ups the ante and lets you play as four new characters, each with their own play styles.
Each character is unique and adds a new wrinkle to the gameplay. Their addition feels jarring at first, but it fits well into the universe and makes the sorceress a better villain.
But is there too much variety in these games? Does it take away from the core gameplay?
I don’t think so. The only one I don’t like is Bentley. He moves too slow and his club obscures the camera too much. The boxing minigames he has are infuriating. There is no rhyme or reason to winning, I had to frantically button mash to get the victory.
Other than that, the rest of the modes are a lot of fun and don’t overstay their welcome. While fun, the core gameplay would run out of steam if it wasn’t broken up.
The other side of that coin is that each level can feel scattered and unfocused, with a new way to play popping up out of the blue.
Yet that is how the world feels, and especially if I’m someone venturing off into new lands, there will be a high variety of tasks to accomplish and not everything would be the same. So it doesn’t bother me since each game mode feels fleshed out and plays well.
The Spyro trilogy doesn’t let you get too comfortable with a style, and I see that as a positive that keeps the game fresh.
Overall, the Spyro: Reignited Trilogy is a wonderful restoration of some of the best games of the PlayStation 1 era.
Due to the easy difficulty, increased focus on story and emphasis on exploration, Spyro feels much less dated than Crash.
It has a wealth of minigames and gameplay styles that keep players on the edge of their seats.
The game earns extra points on the charm department, as the characters are well designed and would look at home with the latest animated blockbuster.
I can easily recommend this game to anyone that enjoys platformers or collectathons, even if they don’t have nostalgia for the previous games.