I’ll forever associate Nintendo with platformers and collect-a-thons. You could blame their iconic plumber in red, but it also comes from past comparisons. While Banjo-Kazooie was busy gathering up music notes, the height of digital combat realism was being experienced with Metal Gear Solid over on the Playstation. This is, of course, a gross misconception as colourful kid-friendly mascots collecting coins and crystals are a sub-genre to be found on any console at any given moment.
I haven’t played Spyro since his PS2 days, as he was always overshadowed by the coolest marsupial to ever pull off a pair of jorts and embark on goofier adventures (unlike the more fantastical that made up the Spyro the Dragon lore). Still, there was no denying his appeal or the straightforward gameplay that came with protecting the magical lands with his fire breath and horns.
And so, like Crash Bandicoot with his N. Sane Trilogy (whose artwork looks near-identical to that of today’s game), Spyro gets to enjoy a remastering of his original three Insomniac instalments in the Reignited Trilogy, now available on PC and Nintendo Switch. It’s a late port as the game has been up on Xbox One and Playstation 4 since November last year, and whose release was met with positive feelings. If you want to find out more about the game on those platforms, check out Alessandro’s excellent review on it.
So with gameplay on a console that for me feels more fitting, is Spyro just begging for your nostalgia or has this franchise actually held up?
Spyro the Dragon
The trilogy kicks off with the most kid-pandering dialogue and narrative ever conceived for a video game. Gnasty Gnorc, a half-gnome half-orc hybrid, gets peeved when the dragons trask-talk him on live television and proceeds to cast a spell that encases all of them in crystal, stealing all their treasure for added revenge. It’s up to young Spyro to free them all, defeat Gnorc, and take back the loot.
The first Spyro game embodies very early 3D platforming and is the simplest in terms of both story and mechanics. Spyro needs to collect all of the gems and take on baddies using his charging and fire-breathing abilities. Despite having a linear progression, the open world system of ‘sub-levels’ contained within levels means that players can take their time in gathering up gems. Of great use is the guidebook, which one can use to keep track of which levels they have not completed in their entirety, saving you from wandering around maps whose layouts can be very confusing. Verticality is something you have to keep in mind, otherwise you’ll miss huge swathes of land meant to be explored.
Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage
World-building and (Lord have mercy) water levels.
Dragged away from a day at the beach, Spyro is forced to meddle in the affairs of a sovereign state when they are invaded by the dragon-hating Ripto and his monstrous goons. It’s up to Spyro and his new friends, a fawn, a cheetah and a capitalist, to collect a series of magical talismans and take Ripto down.
Gameplay quality improvements can be found all around in this sequel. Simple additions like a hovering function and having to collect gems to progress the story, makes for a much more engaging adventure. The writing has a touch more comedy to it, especially with the whining baby that is the antagonist combined with Spyro’s blase attitude (which actually makes me realize why I preferred the silent Bandicoot). Waterways and corridors can be very tricky to manoeuvre through and combat, in which you can only ram things, is a downright mission. It also makes for even more confusing map layouts. Getting stuck in a cave while looking for an identical cave, while also having to deal with a camera that has mind of its own, is not fun.
Spyro: Year of the Dragon
Spyro: The Dragon evolved into its final form. New playable characters and a game fully realized.
Someone has nicked all the dragon eggs and that someone is Bianca, apprentice to an evil sorceress who has a plan in mind for the eggs. Spyro and the gang need to go after her and enter Forbidden Realms, a land previously occupied by dragons eons ago and which may still hold some epic secrets.
Year of the Dragon makes a strong case for the trilogy as a whole. Even though the story may still be barebones with a narrative that bears function over form, the gameplay is at its most engaging. The progression being well paced thanks to several antagonists and the diversification of playable characters. As was the case with Ripto’s Rage, the collect-a-thon serves a much more inherent purpose. These are not short games and therefore the time spent gathering gems needs to have a satisfaction point rather sooner than later. It’s the best version of the three games in the set. However, that does in effect have a consequence.
Serving as a means to showcase Spyro’s first three games, the Reignited Trilogy has succeeded by these giving them a really good makeover. The visuals in all three titles are stunning and have maintained Spyro’s spirit and cute appearance. All three games are equal in this regard, though I especially like the remastering of the various dragon characters in the first one. The update gives their personas, the little they have that is enunciated in their dialogue, a bit more depth and individuality. The regions are also unique and gorgeous. Playing all three instalments consecutively you’ll start to see the repeats, but they are nice to look at and the accompanying soundtrack has a presence that while noticeable and pleasant, never gets annoying if you’re frustrated by a difficult level. The port to Switch has not left any scar tissue, though Spyro’s static movement can feel a bit jarring, ESPECIALLY when he’s running at full charge. It is most prevalent when he’s underwater.
Barring the aforementioned additions as you make your way through the trilogy, the mechanics remain the same. This is the Spyro that is to be expected, but the features added in the final game impact one’s willingness to return to the first one. Playing the Year of the Dragon makes Spyro the Dragon feel unfulfilling and almost tedious in comparison. It’s not anyone’s fault, but it is something that is held back only by the fact that these games ran over a period of three years and evolved as the franchise did. Unless you are a die-hard dragon, people could potentially skip the first one and go straight into Ripto’s Rage.
Nevertheless, the trilogy is exactly what you expect. Having been given a good polish with visuals, Spyro is still fun to play. He retains the charm of early platforming and is very kid-friendly. The gems can feel like a slog at times but that goes for any game in the genre. It feels at home on the Switch and while it won’t stand up to the contemporaries that have perfected the formula, it’s still a case of a good remastering and a throwback to games of old.
Last Updated: September 3, 2019