Review: Spyro the Dragon

 Reigniting the flame of the original. 

Console: Nintendo Switch

In the late '90s, you could say that PlayStation had not one, but two mascots. Their big one was Crash Bandicoot, seen in many commercials doing stuff like heckling outside of Nintendo America HQ. The other one was the little purple dragon named Spyro. The story behind Spyro's creation is an interesting one, though not something we have the time for. The gist of it is that it's the second game by then-newcomer developer Insomniac games. Yeah, that Insomniac games. The once behind the Ratchet & Clank series and the recent Sony Spider-Man games. Spyro was created as a game that would appeal to young audiences, a demographic that the PlayStation was starting to attract more and more. Released in late 1998 to slow sales, the game gained momentum during the holiday season and ended up selling over 5 million copies. Two sequels, released in 1999 and 2000, followed after which Insomniac moved on to other projects and sold the Spyro license.

For Spyro's 20th anniversary all of the original Insomniac games got remade for modern consoles in the Spyro Reignited Trilogy. Today, I'm taking a look at the this remastered version of the original Spyro game, simply titled, Spyro the Dragon. Why am I taking a look at each game individually? Because I could only find reviews on each individual game which I found rather annoying and have thus decided to that myself. 

Let's not make this introduction any longer than it already is and let's dive in!


In the world of Dragons, a TV interview catches the attention of the nasty villain Gnasty Norc. After one of the Dragons insults Norc, he launches a full-scale attack on the dragons using his magic. He all of the dragons in crystal, steals their treasure and tuns the gemstones into evil orc minions. It's up to young Spyro, who Norc overlooked, and his buddy Sparx the Dragonfly to free the Dragons, return the treasure and defeat Gnasty Norc once and for all.

In terms of plot, that's all she wrote. For modern audiences, this lack of plot might be a turnoff, but I think it's fine. It's a remnant of the time in which the original game was made in when something like the plot wasn't a focus. Even with this in mind, the lack of plot doesn't really hold the game down. Spyro the Dragon is a game where the focus is solely on the gameplay, which is quite excellent. Yeah, I could have gone for some more cutscenes here and there just to spice things up now and again but overall it's fine and fits the game's genre.

Now, the gameplay, that's where the game is really at. Aside from the basic running and jumping, Spyro has three basic actions. A head charge, his fire breath and the ability to glide. The head-charge and the fire breath are more than just two different attack options. They have different uses and knowing when to use the one over the other is an integral part of the gameplay. Certain enemies, when they wear metal, for example, can only be hit by the supercharge. Others will attack you when you come to close to them, thus requiring you to use your flames to defeat them.

They also have used outside of battle. The same metal has to be bashed principle also applies to a multitude of treasure chests you find. Let me tell you, finding all of the gems is more addictive and fun then I thought it would be! Spyro the Dragon has three different types of collectables, four if you include the orbs that give you an extra life when you collect enough of them. You have the crystallized dragons, the game's main objective, the gemstones and the stolen Dragon eggs.

Would you just look at all of that detail!

The game is set up as a collection of six different hub-worlds (which act as a mini-level in and of itself), each containing five different portals to separate levels. The game gives you a lot of freedom when it comes to tackling each level. You do need a certain amount of freed dragons are collected gemstones to proceed to the next world, but you are free to tackle each individual level of a world in the order you want. The different world is pretty neat. They all have their own little theme to them and while it does rehash some basic concepts like 'the grass world' and 'the dessert world', the dragons in each land have their own little culture that makes things more unique.

While the dragons are, usually, found rather easy throughout each level the gemstones are not. These are scattered throughout the level and require exploration and good reflexes to find. Chaining together the supercharge and glide to reach new areas can be, admittedly, rather frustrating to pull off. Does make it all the more rewarding when you find a secret area with lots of gemstones (and sometimes even a dragon) at the end though! The dragon eggs are less of a treasure hunt and more of chase sequences in which you need to catch up with the goblin-like thief.

In terms of variety in the gameplay, you also have the flying levels and the boss levels. Each land has one level in which Spyro flies high in the sky, avoiding obstacles and trying to meet the levels goals within the given time. You fly through hoops, shoot down orc in planes that kind of stuff. They are fun to do though sadly don't control as well as the normal sections and some objectives can be a bit tedious. The boss fights … are OK. They're well put together for the most part but they don't feel any different then from the normal levels. The bosses are just larger versions of the normal enemies. Combine this with the lack of any 'gravity' to the boss levels, I didn't even realize the first boss level was a boss level. It just felt like any other level in the game. That's a bit of a theme of this game. While it tries its best to add in variety, and does so on paper does, the execution of that is lacking. It all feels a bit too 'samey' to one and other. Combine this with the lack of story and I can definitely see some people growing bored with the game around halfway through.

A quick look at one of the flight levels.

The game looks, sounds and runs. From the graphics to the sound design and to the engine, it has all been polished up, even on the lesser Switch hardware on which I played the game. Gone are the large yet empty fields and plains of the original, replaced by lands full of scenery and detail. From the grasslands full of flowers to the added detail of the architecture and the lighting effects it all looks great. This makes the entire Dragon world and its different lands feel alive and much more distinct from one and other.

The entire sound design, from the soundtrack to the effects to the voice acting, has been re-recorded and sound amazing. Finally, the game runs as smooth as butter even on the Nintendo Switch. There was no lag, no drops in frame rate nothing. However, I did run into problems during the loading and transition screens. The load times are longer then I would have liked, it definitely feels like you're waiting a while for the game to boot up and there is some clear stuttering here. I do need to stretch, all of these problems are ONLY during the loading and transitions screens. It has never happened during normal gameplay, but I feel like it needs to be mentioned regardless.

Conclusion

Spyro the Dragon is a really good, and above all, fun game. It looks and sound beautiful and plays as smooth as butter even on the Nintendo Switch. There are a few problems, there's not as much variety here and there are some loading issues but these are really minor in the grand scheme of things. It doesn't hinder the game's many strong points at all, the strong gameplay and the overwhelming sense of fun. And hey, the Reignited version of the game comes with both its sequels in the same package so there's a big change that was Spyro the Dragon is lacking, the other two games pick up the slack.

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