Review: Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon

 Reigniting the flame of the original.

Console: Nintendo Switch

While it took the holiday season for the original Spyro the Dragon game gain momentum and become a hit with audiences, this was not the case for its successor Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage. It benefited from the popularity of the first game and became an immediate hit during the 1999 holiday season. As such, Insomniac games started development on a third Spyro game almost immediately after the launch of Ripto’s Rage. Titled Year of the Dragon, for the very simple fact that it was released in 2000, the year of the Dragon in the Chinese zodiac. It would be the developers last Spyro game as they wanted to move on to different titles and diversify its portfolio. Did Insomniac end their Spyro trilogy on a bang? Yes, they did.


Before I go any further: just as was the case with my reviews of Spyro the Dragon and Spyro 2: Ritpo’s Rage, the version I’ll be reviewing here is the Reignited Trilogy remaster. That’s the version that is most available to new players. Also: I started this set of reviews out of frustration that there were no individual reviews on the three games in the Reignited Trilogy. So, I decided to write those myself. 

With that out of the way, let’s dive in!


Year of the Dragon kicks off an undisclosed amount of time after the end of Ripto’s Rage. Spyro alongside the rest of the dragons, the dragonfly Sparx, the Fairy Zoë and Hunter the Cheetah are sound asleep after celebrating the Year of the Dragon. It’s then when a mysterious Rabbit named Bianca pops up out of the ground and together with her rhino minions, she steals every single last dragon egg. When they try to leave, Bianca steps on Hunter’s tail waking everyone up. As the hole is too small for the other dragons to go into only Spyro, Sparx, Hunter & Zoë are small enough to go in pursuit. The group end up in the ‘abandoned lands’ a region of the world where dragons once lived but mysteriously disappeared from 1000 years ago which is now ruled by an evil Sorceress. Along their quest, Spyro also meets new allies that help him in his quest.

For the story that is, once again, all she wrote. Just like with Spyro 1 and 2, the narrative of Year of the Dragon is simplistic. Something happens that spurs Spyro into action (the theft of the dragon eggs) he finds himself in new and unfamiliar territory (the abandoned lands) ruled by an evil overlord (the Sorceress) and has to find certain trinkets to progress (the dragon eggs). It’s nothing special in that regard, though Year of the Dragon does do a few things that make it stand out in comparison. Unlike Spyro 2, the cut-scenes are spread out over the story. This makes it so that the narrative is a bit more engaging (you never know when it’ll rear its head) as well as more cohesive.

The gameplay of Year of the Dragon is the exact same as Ripto’s Rage. You run around a level collecting gems, beating bad-guys and while on the lookout for those dragon eggs. Spyro can run and jump, use a head charge, a fire breath and can a glide. The added moves of Spyro 2, an extra jump for your glide, a head bash, swimming and climbing, also return and you have access to them from the very start of the game this time around. No more paying Moneybags the bear ridiculous amounts of gems to get access to these moves. These moves are not just there for variety sake, they are needed for progression. Certain enemies, when they wear metal, for example, can only be hit by the supercharging while others can only be hit with the fire breath. The same goes for certain objects and obstacles. The extra air-time you get near-essential to cross many gaps this time around so it’s a recommend making sure you know how to use all of these abilities properly.

Why doesn’t Spyro have any new abilities in this game, you ask? Well, that’s because of Year of the Dragon’s brand new feature. The one that is clear to see on the box art/official artwork of the game. New playable characters. Throughout the adventure, Spyro will encounter other heroes that have been captured by the Sorceress and are guarded by Moneybags. After paying Moneybags a “small-fee” aka large sums of gems, he’ll free these heroes. They are Sheila the Kangaroo, Sgt. Byrd the Penguin, Bentley the Yeti, and Agent 9 the Monkey. These other playable characters essentially replace the mini-games and part of the powerups in this game. They each get a level all to themselves which become accessible after you free them. After that, you can only play them in certain sections marked by a signpost with the character’s face on it.

Sheila the Kangaroo, the first of you animal buddies.

These latter sections replace the mini-games and I think it’s for the best. They offer much better variety for starters with how each character has its own gameplay. I do feel that this approach is a bit of a waste of these new characters, however. The amount you can play as each character is limited by this approach, making them feel more like a gimmick rather than a fully-fledged part of the experience. Don’t get me wrong, playing as these new characters are fun, but the game doesn’t live up to the potential that these characters bring to the table.

In some of the last few changes Year of the Dragon made, the levels have once again been tweaked. The levels have been returned to a system that is more closely to Spyro 1. More lands, 4 this time around, with fewer levels in them but that range in length. They’re more varied again in length and it’s a definite improvement in my book. Enemies also drop gems when defeated again, like in Spyro 1. The lives system is the same as Spyro 2 though, so it’s not a complete return to the original.

The Speedway, the levels in which you can fly around the sky, have gotten an overhaul as well. The standard ‘go through all obstacles before the clock runs out is once again here, though with a tweaked timer. Instead of you adding a few seconds to the clock every time you pass to fly through a ring you get around a minute or two on the clock from the start. I like this change as it makes the flying sections less chaotic and less frustrating to complete.

There’s also a brand new race mode in the Speedway levels that is not as good. Spyro flies over a course with other flyers and the goal is to pass every green ring and get to the finish line in 1st place. The only way to speed up is to fly through blue ‘boost stars’ scattered throughout the level. Not only Spyro can use them to gain speed, but the other racers can do so as well. In other words: you have to figure out the exact location of each boost-star and what way to fly through them so you can pass the racer in front of you. That’s not a race. That’s a rather slow-moving memory challenge and to me, one that’s not fun to play.

A good look at one of the levels of the game.

In terms of how the game looks, sound and runs, it's the exact same as the other games in the Reignited Trilogy. There is some slowdown in the loading screens but that’s really the only thing. The entire sound design, from the soundtrack to the voice acting, has been re-recorded from the originals and are, once again, amazing.

Conclusion

Spyro: Year of the Dragon ends original developer Insomniac’s games end on a high note. Year of the Dragon doesn’t offer much new in terms of mechanics, the new playable characters are really the only significant change, but that is by no means a problem. The core of these games are very good and lead to a very fun and enjoyable game. The changes that are made, for the most part, benefit the game in terms of variety and enjoyability. If you liked Spyro 1 & 2, you’ll no doubt enjoy Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon as well.

 

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