Truly, we are living in the age of the remake, reboot, sequel, etc. Every franchise and series you can think of from your childhood is being ressurected from the grave like the unnamed topless chiseling were-everything from Altered Beast, incidentally a series which I think deserves to get the reboot treatment. Earlier this decade, Vicarious Visions decided to take the idea of a “remake” to its logical extreme by making beat-for-beat recreations of each game in the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy, with better graphics and sound. The Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy came out to considerable fanfare and praise from critics and gamers alike.
So it was likely only a matter of time before everyone’s favourite purple dragon Spyro, originally created by Insomniac Games who are now perhaps better known for Sunset Overdrive and their PS4-exclusive and critically acclaimed Spider-Man game, got a similar treatment, considering how close the two franchises have been and have remained till this day (even getting a pair of crossover games for the GBA, Crash Fusion and Spyro Fusion, in the early ’00s). Indeed, it was only a year later that PS4 and Xbox One players were graced with the presence of our favourite purple firey boy in Toys for Bob’s Spyro Reignited Trilogy. Having felt a bit snubbed with what Activision had done to Spyro over the past few years (i.e. tacking him onto a toys-for-life thing and leaving him to be dragged down by it), this announcement of this game was both a joy and a relief, as well as a bit of a disappointment when I found out that I’d have to wait for a Switch/PC version, which came out just a few days ago – so I can at last give it a review.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story of the Spyro games, I’ll touch on them only briefly. In the first game, Spyro the Dragon, all the Dragons have been trapped inside statues, and all their eggs stolen, by Gnasty Gnorc, a creature who’s salty because the dragons kept making fun of his face (yes, that is the real story). Spyro has to release them and go beat up Gnasty Gnorc. For being ugly.
Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage (originally Gateway to Glimmer in Europe, but this re-release uses the American name in all regions) and its sequel Year of the Dragon are a bit more detailed in this regard. Ripto’s Rage sees the evil Ripto seeking to take over the land of Avalar, and Spyro is summoned by its residents in order to defeat him. Year of the Dragon sees all of the dragons’ eggs being stolen by the evil Enchantress with the help of her right-hand woman Bianca, and Spyro is once again drafted to go and return them all. These two games had a more diverse cast of characters and featured a lot more dialogue and character interaction than the first game. The story itself isn’t too original or too deep, which is understandable for a kid-friendly game from the 90s, but the interactions between the characters in the latter two games are a lot of fun to watch. In particular, the third game is where the character interactions on the whole are at their most interesting.
One of the most important parts of what makes the Spyro games, and by extension the Reignited Trilogy, worth playing even today is their gameplay. Crash N-Sane Trilogy worked so well because the orignial games hold strong today, and as such they didn’t really need remaking as much as a new coat of paint. Much the same can be said of the original Spyro games, and indeed the Re-Ignoted Trilogy changes very little of the original games, adding only new graphics, new music, re-recorded dialogue and more expressive, consistent animation throughout the entire game. Though the latter two games add additional abilities which are unlocked as you play, the basic mechanics are that Spyro can breathe fire, charge forwards at high speed and use his small wings to glide to faraway platforms, which the level design in all three games takes full advantage of with plenty of high points to glide off, hills to run around and various Gnorcs and Rhynocs to commit assault and arson against. The third game also shakes the formula up even more with additional characters to play as, namely Sheila the Kangaroo, Sgt. James Byrd, Bentley the Yeti and test-monkey Agent 9, each with their own abilities and sublevels which the game puts to good use. I admire when a game justifies its characters design through its mechanics like this – Spyro is a diminutive dragon, so they based the entire game around mechanics and abilities that could only be performed by a miniature dragon – and the result is refreshing and fun even today.
Another aspect of the entire series I admire is the impetus to explore each level. Each level in each game has a set number of collectibles to grab. Across all three are the iconic Gems, which also serve as currency for paying off Moneybags the Bear for favours in the second two games. Sometimes in games like this the sheer numer of arbitrary collectibles can be a bit daunting. With Spyro, though, it’s much different in that collecting items is the ultimate objective: freeing the Dragons and taking back their treasure in the first, collecting the Talismans and Orbs needed to challenge Ripto in Ripto’s Rage, and rescuing the dragon eggs in Year of the Dragon. In my opinion this has allowed the game to age better than others of its type, since there is an actual incentive. Also interesting to note is the evolution of the levels design as the games go along: Spyro 1’s levels tend to be tighter, smaller and more linear, making each level easy enough to 100% it on your first visit, leave behind and forget about. In the sequels, the missions are a lot more open and dynamic, requiring additional abilities to fully complete and thereby encouraging the player to return to those levels after unlocking the appropriate abilities later in the game.
And when you’re not gliding off those high points or flashfrying Rhynoc hide, you can also admire the design of each level as you play. When Insomniac created the original Spyro games, the attention to detail they put into their level design, particularly into giving each level its own unique feel and setting, is very much visible. Each World has its own theme, as does each Realm within that World. Among the Homeworlds of Spyro 1 you have, for example, the rocky, medieval Artisans, and the mystical mountainous mage’s retreat that is the Magic Crafters. Spyro 2 has three larger, season-themed homeworlds, and Spyro 3’s four hub levels all represent different times of the day, from Sunrise Spring’s green hills to Midnight Mountain’s calm, blue peaks. The levels in those homeworlds vary even more – in the Beast Makers world of Spyro 1, you have the high, towering Tree Tops high above the bog, and back on ground level you have the Terrace Village nestled in amongst the plantlife. Meanwhile, in no. 3’s Sunrise Spring you’ll find the Roman forts of Sunny Villa, the high mountain peaks of Sheila’s Alp and the celestial skyworld of Cloud Spires to name a few. Toys for Bob took the liberty of adding a splash more character to them while still maintaining their core design in this trilogy, and it’s come out absolutely beautifully. The homeworlds and realms of the World of Dragons have never looked more beautiful or more immersive.
And then we come to the music. Oh my word the music. The game allows you to listen to the Reignited Trilogy versions of the soundtrack or the original PS1 tracks, and in the former case you also have the option of enabling a “dynamic” soundtrack which, for instance, adds extra drums whenever Spyro is charging. No matter which version you choose to listen to though, both sets of soundtracks are great. It’s one thing to make a game soundtrack, but another thing to make one that sounds just right for the game it’s made for. This particular soundtrack fits each game like a glove, and the unique bells and strings in each track give it that certain feel that other games don’t quite capture.
The Spyro Reignited Trilogy proves that even today, the Spyro games are an absolute joy to play, listen to and look at – and this collection gives you a whole new reason to do so. The fantastically revamped music and visuals give the old Spyro titles a brand-new lease of life, making for a gorgeous nostalgia trip for the players who played them back in the ’90s and simultaneously granting a great series a new lease of life for a new generation of gamers to enjoy, or perhaps even discover for the first time having missed out on it originally. Whether you’re a long-time fan or newcomer to the series, this game is one you should not pass up.