When I saw that Crash Bandicoot was getting a sleek remaster, I was very excited. Not because I was excited for the game per say, but because I was excited for the fact that game companies are looking at the possibility of polishing up old games. And I wondered if a game series very close to my heart would get the same treatment.
That game series being Spyro the Dragon.
Spyro the Dragon on PS1 was the first game I ever played. And since then, I have played every Spyro game in existence, save for a few bad mobile games. Some of them are timeless classics, others…not so much. So I thought I’d take the time to examine every Spyro game I can get my hands on, and present a review of them.
So without further ado, I present
Spyro the Dragon (1998)
Since I was only one year old at the time of the game’s release, I can’t tell you what the initial reception was for this game. But I can guess that Sony wanted to jump on the 3D platforming collect-a-thon bandwagon made popular by Nintendo games like Banjo-Kazooie. So Insomniac made just that. 3D hub worlds that led to other levels? Check. A cute but competent main character? Check. More things to collect than you could wave a stick at? Check. Spyro the Dragon was the PS1’s answer to the genre. So now I’ll examine a few aspects of the game, and rate out of 10.
I don’t even have to summarise the story for this review, since it is so simple. Short story even shorter- there’s this baddie called Gnasty Gnorc who’s been exiled to a literal garbage island and then one day the dragons are throwing some shade about him. This pisses him off to no end, and he decides to freeze all of the dragons in crystal with magic. Of course, Spyro is saved from this fate from his diminutive size, and is hence bestowed with the responsibility to save the day.
Yes, it’s a very simple story, but these games are not known for their plot. I’m not going to have the story’s bare bones-ness affect my score, but I will raise a few questions I always had as a kid regarding it. Is Spyro the only juvenile dragon in the world since he was the only one who the spell missed? Where did the dragons you freed go, and why didn’t they help you more than giving a few cryptic lines of aide? Why are there no girl dragons? Surely Spyro must have come from somewhere….
But none the less, I have to give the story a 2/10. It’s not a 1 because I suppose there technically is a story. This won’t affect my overall score though since this is not a game designed to revolve around story.
Now this is where Spyro shines. The gameplay mechanics are incredibly simple, but still somehow satisfying. Spyro has two attacks- a flame and a charge attack. Some enemies can only be killed by a certain attack, and it’s pretty easy to identify them. Asides from his attacks, Spyro has a jump and a glide which are your most important tools in platforming. There’s also a roll to the left and right, but to be honest I only ever used it once or twice, so it’s pretty pointless.
The goal of Spyro is to free the dragons and collect the treasure. It sounds simple enough, but you often find yourself scratching your head in dismay as you reach the end of a level only find you’re missing one dragon and four gems. That is where Spyro’s fun comes from. Combat is incredibly easy, but the challenge of this game comes from combing every nook and cranny of each level to find all the gems. Technically you can beat the game without finding everything, as to progress to the next hub-world you only have to meet a certain objective (free ten dragons, collect 16000 tressure etc etc). But doing that means you finish the game very quickly, and you miss the charm of the game. Collecting dragons, gems and the elusive dragon eggs is always rewarding, and only a few times did it ever feel meticulous or too much work. It gets especially interesting when you have to do some pretty insanely tricking platforming and problem solving in order to reach those hard to get to collectables. Any Spyro fan reading this now is probably already thinking about Tree Tops- a level that makes the player pull off an insane glide in order to reach all the collectables in the level. Gliding is a lot of fun in Spyro, mostly because Spyro is very easy to control. He is very responsive and the camera is amazingly good for a PS1 game. You can move the camera from left the right, and you have a first person look around mode which is helping for seeking out those pesky hidden gems. Despite the ease of the combat, the tricky hiding placing for the collectables add a layer of difficulty to Spyro that you don’t see in games these days. The tight controls and camera make it fun to find them though.
Never have I been so frustrated (in a good way) in a Spyro game…
I should also mention that there are bonus flying stages where you control Spyro in the air. These involve completing a course in a time limit which involve flying through rings and flaming obstacles. These flying stages can get pretty difficult, but they are incredibly fun and break up the pace a bit. Spyro controls pretty well in the air, though perhaps not as well as he does on the ground. The flying is still very fun though, and it’s in these stages you do truly feel like a dragon.
The only complaints I have about the gameplay are that I wish there were just a few more collectibles to search for, and that Spyro had a few more abilities. These are complaints that are addressed in the following games, however
As a collect-at-hon, I will give Spyro 7/10. The collectibles are fun to search for and the controls are tight, but as I said, it may have needed a few extra features to get that really high score.
Graphics and Design
Now, this is a PS1 game, so I have to appraise it in comparison to games of its era. And I have to say, I believe Spyro is one of the best looking PS1 games out there. Every single stage has its own design, look and feel and no two stages look the same. The game has a sort of high-fantasy design to it- with towering castles, mountains and spires. And for its era, everything looks amazing. The backgrounds of each stage are these beautiful sky boxes that look like distant mountains, and the colour scheme is different on every stage. These backgrounds are beautiful in themselves, and the colour scheme they use even gives you a feel for the stage to come. Spyro and the dragons themselves are actually really well modelled, and what I love the most about the dragons is that every realm’s (what they call each world) dragons have a different look and design, and it gives you the feeling that each realm is home to a different sort of dragon. The enemies unfortunately don’t look as great, and their designs seem to look pretty similar after a while. But there is enough variety that you won’t see the same enemy too often. While pretty uninspiring in their design, there are a lot of types which keep things fresh. But the level design and graphics in Spyro the Dragon still impress me to this day. Few games have really made me go “wow this looks great for its generation” but this game certainly did. I don’t technically have any experience in professionally judging game graphics, but from a purely aesthetic point of view, I rate this game solidly.
An example of some of the sky backgrounds from the game. As you can see, all of them are vastly different and make some pretty sweet desktop backgrounds.
Judging the game in comparison to other games of its era, I give Spyro an 8/10. While perhaps not ground breaking graphics, they are very nice to look at, and the level design is absolutely fantastic.
It is very possible that this review is somewhat tainted by fond nostalgia, but I have tried to remain as subjective as possible. I will reiterate that this review is largely based on my own opinion and whether I liked the game or not. Gamers who aren’t fond of the collect-a-thon genre will likely not enjoy Spyro. But for fans who do love a good collect-a-thon and have not played Spyro, I could not recommend it enough.
Graphics and Design: 8/10
Overall Score: 7.5/10
Final verdict: Thank you for releasing me (this game)