Your favourite little purple dragon is back, except this time it’s not on a brand new adventure, but rather a trip down memory lane. Just like with the Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy before it, developer Toys for Bob and publisher Activision have brought back a video game favourite from the late nineties – early 2000s. Again they’ve gone to the trouble of not just remastering Spyro’s first three adventures but instead remade them from the ground up in the Unreal Engine with a few extra bits and pieces. The result, despite a few minor technical flaws, is Spyro’s triumphant return in three games that expertly combine modern visuals with old-school fun.
A new Dragon Age
Being more of a Crash Bandicoot fan myself, I had only very vague memories of Spyro. I knew it was a popular and fun platformer from around the same time as Crash but I had very few memories of playing it and even less of how good or bad it looked. However, as soon as I started the new Spyro Trilogy this time around I felt transported into a wonderfully bright and colourful world that looked just about perfect on a big modern flat HD screen. I was immediately immersed in the fun and wonderfully nostalgic cartoony platformer. Right from the outset, you really see that a lot of work has gone into remaining faithful to the original games while making Spyro look great on modern consoles. Everything in the world – from the NPCs, buildings, grass, trees and even the tragically funny flame-charred sheep – has been painstakingly recreated in intricate detail while still managing to look fresh and smooth. These impressive visuals are only more striking when you compare the new Trilogy to the original games and the size of the download file really shows how much ‘upgrading’ has been included.
Everything in the world has been painstakingly recreated in intricate detail while still managing to look fresh and smooth.
The updated visuals are accompanied by great new voice acting and crisp music. It justs sounds so natural and after a quick check online it is clear to see why. Tom Kenny, who voiced Spyro in both Ripto’s Rage and Year of the Dragon, rerecorded the voice for those games in the new trilogy as well as the for the first title. And the music composer from the original series (Stewart Copeland) also returned to compose a wonderful new theme. The returning music was all remastered too. However, for all you fans longing for the non-updated music – you also have the option of listening to it in its former glory by selecting the original soundtrack in the options menu. In combination, the new voice work and beautiful music really accentuate the gameplay and form the perfect backdrop to the marvellous new visuals
Despite the well-deserved praise above, the Trilogy‘s visual upgrades did cause a rather strange issue for me. It might sound a little nitpicky, but because all three games received the same visual and audio enhancements – while moving rapidly from one game to the next as one has to do for a review – I eventually found myself feeling a little bored with how similar each game looked and felt to the next; Stylistically a little of the feeling of progression was lost; affecting the pace at the start of each new game. This rather strange aesthetic quibble is small and mostly insignificant, but it felt worth noting. So my advice would be to take your time and savour each beautiful game before diving into the next one.
How to train your dragon
All three games follow a very basic plot – the bad guy (Gnasty Gnorc (1), Ripto (2) and a mysterious cloaked figure (3)) does something bad and it’s up to Spyro and his trusty dragon-fly partner/life-meter to save the day. Despite not providing anything Oscar-worthy in the original story department, a simple plotline often works best for this kind of cartoony platformer. It also allows everyone to easily understand and connect with Spyro and I think this is one of the big reasons the original games were so popular and why the revamped version continues to work. The updated Trilogy‘s better graphics and updated voice work also highlights the humour of the story and characters throughout. This is especially evident before every level, with the short updated ‘cutscenes’ introducing the level-specific characters and the hip, cool and ‘oh-so-90s&00s’ and sometimes even rather edgy humour and the specific crises Spyro has to help out with. (This time you may even find it funnier because you’re old enough to get some of the references you missed when you were younger.) The humour extends even to the enemies that pop up and how similar some of them look to other popular cartoon characters. Charred tweety bird or Pumbaa, anyone? (I swear one the enemies even looks like an evil Goomba.)
The gameplay loop is still addictive and consists of visiting one themed hub-world area, exploring levels within the hub-world to collect gems, save fellow dragons encased in stone (Spyro the Dragon), gather talismans (Ripto’s Rage) or collect stolen dragon eggs thereby freeing ridiculously cute baby dragons (Year of the Dragon) and then taking on a level boss before moving on. This is a product of the times the games were produced. For those looking for a fresh take, the Spyro formula may become a little tedious, but for me, it felt just great. Being a fan of the more linear 3D action-platformers like this one meant that each Spyro game felt similar enough that you (…mostly) knew what to do and where to go, while still offering up the odd gameplay surprise including the infuriating flying levels and the well-known, and now much prettier, Spyro skateboarding level from the third game in the franchise. (I mean who doesn’t love the idea of Tony ‘Spyro’ Hawk.)
Each game offers a similar simple plot, but this highlights a gameplay loop that is continually addictive – offering a dose of the familiar while still throwing in enough surprises.
Moving around the world collecting, jumping, gliding and flaming enemies feels great too and reminds you again and again what made this game a classic in its time. In addition to the main story collecting goals, you can also go above and beyond by completing hidden challenges, earning skill points and using this to unlock artwork. If you’re aiming to do all that – the Spyro Trilogy probably offers at least a good 25 to 30 hours of gameplay.
Do I have something in my (dragon) teeth?
So with all the positives above you may wonder if there’s any broccoli in the Dragon’s new toothy grin? Well other than the aesthetic irritation I mentioned above, rather disappointing boss battles in Spyro the Dragon and some jarringly abrupt audio silences when entering a new world, there are a few issues that you may want to consider and while none of them is substantial enough to worry too much about, they are worth considering especially since they all relate to what seems to be the game’s unrelenting attempt to remain faithful to the originals.
Most of the games minor flaws seem to relate the unrelenting attempt to remain faithful to the originals.
First up, the controls. Despite a new Reignited configuration that removes the now outdated camera movements from the L2 and R2 shoulder buttons – button mapping is not available. I would’ve really loved to move the Charge (sprint) button up to one of the shoulder buttons (R2) allowing me to move around quickly and easily, but this was just not possible. Second, the camera. The camera has improved significantly from the original. That being said, it still just doesn’t feel right – and during action sequences (particularly the Gulp Boss fight in Ripto’s Rage) I really struggled to keep the camera where I wanted it while running around, jumping and quickly changing directions – and it’s that kind of faithfulness to the original that I could’ve done without. Third, difficulty spikes. Something we’re getting less and less used to in modern gaming is a sudden jump in difficulty. And while this doesn’t happen often – every now and again you’ll move from easily collecting everything and flaming all in your path in one level, and the next losing 14 lives in quick succession. Finally, after a strangely long license agreement that needs to be signed at the beginning, you’ll notice another relic from the originals: long loading screens. Every time you hop through a portal to head to a new world or back home, you’ll be stuck for a surprisingly long time staring at a gliding Spyro loading screen.
How the scales tip
The Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a remake in the true sense of the word – a game that has been built from the ground up to remind us of what we loved about these games while updating the visuals to a point where it looks even better than we imagined. Despite some minor flaws with the controls, camera and a little repetition, from head-to-toe, horn-to-claw, the Reignited Trilogy is almost everything you want from a returning old favourite: Stunning updated visuals; Amazing enhanced sounds; And the same gameplay that you loved before now in an even prettier setting. It is quite simply a wonderfully new yet faithful return to the Dragon Realms.