When I was ten, Santa placed an original PlayStation under our tree. Throughout its lifespan in our household, I’d drain hours with Lara Croft solving puzzles in Venice or getting flattened by boulders with a bandicoot, but there wasn’t any other time sink quite like Spyro the Dragon. It harnessed replay value in the constant pursuit of gems, as well as being incredibly accessible to hardcore and casual gamers alike. It’s gameplay was fluent and its features were fun, blending the best parts of Sonic and Mario which is why it inevitably ended up reeling in five million copies worldwide on its release year.
Now, twenty years on, I’m diving back into my childhood. With a fresh coat of paint and the two sequels included, it’s time to see if Spyro was the great platformer I remember or simply a case of rose tinted spectacles.
Spyro uses a similar hub to that of Mario 64; an explorable overworld with level gates scattered around the map. It’s features start fairly simply in the first title, basic level design with thematic differences make up the environment and quickly ramp up when you dive into the second and third games. Level design is expanded, side missions are improved and content continues to inflate, but none of this detracts from the original Spyro feeling which leaves you moving forward with it’s world, rather than back.
When we look at other remastered titles that have shifted from a third to fourth gen consoles, the differences in graphical enhancements are there albeit fairly minor. However thanks to twenty years and three consoles, Spyro Reignited Trilogy is essentially built from the ground up and it’s jaw dropping admiring the difference between past and present. It’s visuals are nothing short of glamorous and thankfully along with this, the core world design is identical to its source material which makes for perfect improved nostalgia.
The core content feature of Spyro comes down to one thing: gems. They’re impossible to ignore, especially when you’re burning through story in order to review the title itself *cough*. It’s near impossible to leave a level without scouring every nook and cranny for these things and I accidentally ended up fully completing the first Spyro because of this. Given that the next two titles are significantly more involved, my quest to platinum trophy them had to be put on ice.
Alongside those glimmering bastards in the sequels, you’re also given side missions in every level. This spares the ability to just skim through a world quickly like in the original and really heightens the replay value. The only blemish to this was the gem detection and I can’t ever remember this being an issue in the PlayStation 1 titles. When Spyro kills an enemy, breaks open a chest and runs near a gem, the game can sporadically ghost the item and you’re forced to turn around and pick it up again. It really broke the fluency that the game promotes due to consistently having to make sure you’re actually picking up the item.
What sets Spyro apart from other platformers is it’s use of speed, fire and flight that combine into multiple gameplay elements. Certain chests can only be opened by ramming them, others with boosted speed or fire and some in hard to reach locations that require all three to achieve. It makes the intricacies of every level more complex and as the games went on, more features were added to improve on this.
I will say however, it’s incredibly frustrating to see motion blur layered all through Spyro Reignited. This is a staple of the PS4, used to alleviate frame lag due to its aging hardware and normally I’d chalk it up to a minor annoyance. The problem with speed being a core element of the franchise though, means zooming around the map can be utterly headache-inducing and there’s simply no way to turn this off. The other niggling problem is the camera, it’s forever too close to Spyro making your field of view extremely limited. For a game where running fast is bread and butter, being able to see where exactly you’re running would be a welcome feature.
The games script isn’t anything to marvel over, but it’s enjoyable all the same. The original has Spyro releasing all the crystallised dragons from Gnasty Gnorc, with subsequent titles forming a very similar plot of a purple dragon blitzing through world’s and rescuing allies. They’re certainly not the most inspiring of stories, but for its target demographic and in it’s true nature of keeping it simple, it fits the bill. I’d really love to go more in depth here, but that’s about as deep as the games story wades, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.
Spyro Reignited isn’t overly convoluted with its interface layout, it’s required to keep everything minimal because so much of the screen is required for high speed running. The addition of an adjustable minimap is welcome, making finding hidden areas slightly easier, but everything else sings true to the original. Sound is most welcome for those long term fans of the franchise, but a standard catchy jingle for anyone who’s not. The voice cast for dragons and indeed Spyro himself was actually great, all were varied and had loads of personality for very minor characters.
All In All…
With stunning visual upgrades and dedication to its humble roots, Spyro Reignited is easily one of the better remasters I’ve seen on next gen consoles. It’s disappointing some key issues with the original games weren’t addressed, but if it’s a case of sticking with your guns then I’d be willing to forgive. With the remaster of Crash Bandicoot earlier this year, we’re seeing more early titles brought into the modern era and if this path is a trend Sony are planning on charging down, I’ll welcome them with open arms.