Monday, May 20, 2019

Spyro Reignited Trilogy (PlayStation 4) Review

Video games have been part of my life as long as I can remember.  At the age of either four or five years old, our family got a PlayStation One for Christmas.  I don't remember what titles came with it, but not long after getting the console, we got a Spyro the Dragon bundle containing the first three games.  When you're a kid, the mind is easily impressionable, and playing Spyro for the first time left quite the impression.  I was amazed the colorful, open worlds and charming characters.  I never beat the original Spyro the Dragon, but I did beat the sequels.  For much of my childhood, the PlayStation One was the only console we had, and I would religiously play CTR: Crash Team Racing and the Spyro titles whenever I was at my mother's house.

As I got older and finally got my hands on other consoles and expanded my gaming horizons, Spyro drifted into the back of my mind.  When Activision released Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy in 2017, people assumed Spyro would receive a similar treatment.  In the years since the release of Spyro: Year of the Dragon in 2000, the series has gone through a bit of a struggle.  Some have tried to adhere to the formula Insomniac Games crafted, while other went in a darker direction.  For many kids, Spyro is "that purple dragon I received when I got Skylanders."  For years, fans clamored for the return of Spyro, and that wish was granted last year with the release of the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, a remaster of the first three games in the series.

In an ironic twist, I received the Reignited Trilogy as a Christmas gift, and after a few months I finally gave it a go.  Immediately, I was transported back to the early 2000's, when I was a plucky little kid in awe of what I was witnessing, but as a 22-year-old, I was impressed by how developer Toys for Bob managed to preserve all three games, while updating them enough to fit today's standards.  One thing is for certain, my six-year-old self would be impressed and jealous of the fact I completed all three games to 100 percent.

Boss fights remained unchanged from their original encounters,
meaning guys like this dude from the first Spyro are just as easy.
Spyro the Dragon follows Spyro, a young dragon who lives amongst the elders in the Dragon World.  One day, while the dragons are being interviewed on live TV, the reporter asks them about Gnasty Gnorc and whether he poses a threat to their kingdom.  Gnasty Gnorc happens to be watching the interview and gets ticked off when he's referred to as simple-minded and ugly.  He then uses his scepter to turn all the dragons into stone, with the exception of Spyro.  Him and his companion Sparx the Dragonfly head out to free the dragons and stop Gnasty Gnorc from causing any more harm.

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage picks up some time after the first game.  Spyro and Sparx are bored and sick of the constant rain, so they decide to take a trip to Dragon Shores for some R&R.  However, the portal they take transports them to Glimmer instead, where they encounter a professor and his partners Hunter the Cheetah and Elora the Fawn.  The Professor had re-wired the portal with the hopes of bringing in a dragon to help them defeat Ripto and his minions Crush and Gulp.  Ripto has taken over the kingdom of Avalar, and he wants to use the power of the orbs to invade other realms.  With the help of Spyro, Ripto's reign of terror might come to an end.

Spyro: Year of the Dragon takes place during the Year of the Dragon, a special event designed to celebrate the next generation of dragons about to be born.  The festivities hit a snafu when all of the eggs are stolen by Bianca, servant of the Sorceress.  The Sorceress is the ruler of the Forgotten Worlds, a place once inhabited by dragons until the Sorceress arrived and banished them.  She's stolen the eggs with the hopes of concocting a spell which will grant her immortality.  Spyro and Hunter are the only ones capable of fitting into the hole which leads to the Forgotten Worlds, so they jump in to find the eggs and stop the Sorceress.

None of the stories are deep, thought-provoking affairs, and though the storylines are simplistic, the games feature great characters, interesting worlds, and a good sense of humor.  At the center of it all is Spyro; in the first title, he's a young, cocky dragon looking to toast Gnasty Gnorc and prove himself to the Elder Dragons.  Later sequels keep his hotshot attitude, but instead of doing things solo, he's working with other individuals to save the day.  Ripto's Rage has my favorite cast and it's also the funniest of the trilogy. 

Because a game about dragons wouldn't be complete without ninjas.
If there's one character you'll learn to love to hate, it's MoneyBags.  He's a bear Spyro encounters in the sequels, and is job is to help Spyro learn new moves or open up passageways or hidden rooms, in exchange for a certain number of gems.  He's extremely greedy and takes full pride in hustling a young dragon out of the gems he's been collecting.  Of course, his greed results in him often getting his butt handed to hum at various points in Ripto's Rage and Year of the Dragon.

Spyro is a 3D platformer/collect-a-thon.  In each game, Spyro travels to different locations to collect gems, defeat enemies, and find missing dragons, orbs, or dragon eggs, depending on the title.  Platformers, whether they're 2D or 3D, live or die based on their controls.  The original Spyro games were praised for their simple but intuitive controls and non-obtrusive camera.  Spyro's movement is a bit more fluid in this remaster, but what's more refined is the camera.  Instead of using the shoulder buttons to turn the camera, you can now use the right analog stick, which is welcome.

Spyro can run, jump, glide, charge, and breathe fire.  Charge and flame are his two forms of attack.  Small and large enemies can be defeated with fire, but those wielding a shield must be charged at to defeat them, the same goes for the treasure chests containing gems.  In Ripto's Rage, Spyro can learn new moves, including the ability to swim, climb ladders, and perform a head-bash to destroy certain obstacles.  There are no new abilities to learn in Year of the Dragon, as that game features additional characters to unlock and play as over the course of said title.  The fine-tuned controls make controlling said characters, especially Agent 9, much easier to do.

Each installment in the trilogy features various hub-worlds filled with portals that lead to different locations.  To continue to the next hub, all levels and that world's boss need to be beaten.  Levels in Spyro typically involve getting form point A to point B, while finding all the collectibles along the way.  Gems are the most common item you'll find.  In Spyro the Dragon, certain balloon pilots won't take Spyro to the next zone unless he's collected particular number of gems, but in the sequels, they're paid to MoneyBags to unlock moves and open passageways.  Besides gems, there are dragons encased in stone to rescue, and dragon eggs in the first SpyroRipto's Rage replaces the dragons and eggs with talismans and orbs.  Year of the Dragon brings back the eggs, lots and lots of dragon eggs.

Besides the traditional levels and boss fights, hub zones also contain a portal leading to a race course.  These are time-trial affairs where the goal is to collect a certain number of items before the clock runs out.  Crashing into the water will cause Spyro to automatically lose the event.  Year of the Dragon introduces races into the mix, and hidden on every track in the second and third entries is a character with a task to complete in exchange for an orb or egg.  As a kid, I used to find these levels annoying, but since I'm older and a more skilled gamer, I think they are challenging but fun.  It can be annoying when you miss one item and desperately fly around to find it before the clock expires, but that's also part of the entertainment. 

Move Over Tony Hawk, Here Comes the New King of Skateboarding!
All three games in the Spyro Reignited Trilogy are well-made, although each title has its strengths and weaknesses.  Spyro the Dragon is the most basic of the bunch, and also the shortest, taking about five hours to beat.  The lack of a hover when Spyro needs to land can result in the occasional misguided glide, but the sequels fix this problem.  Where the game really disappoints is the boss fights.  None of the encounters in the trilogy are difficult, but they're at least fun, not the case with the first entry.  All you do is inflict damage when their weakness is exposed, they retreat to the next part of the arena, and then you repeat this process at least two more times.  Gnasty Gnorc is an underwhelming final boss battle, since all you do is chase down thieves holding keys before chasing after Gnorc himself and taking him out.

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage is the best of the bunch.  That game preserves everything that made the first one great but adds things such as new moves and challenges within the levels to spice things up.  Year of the Dragon is a good follow-up, but there's too much variety.  It's a weird criticism, yes, but the third entry goes a bit overboard with the amount of things to do.  The core gameplay is there, but it's spiced up quite a bit via the extra characters and plethora of challenges/mini-games to complete in each level.  There's 2D platforming, first-person/third-person shooting, skateboarding, missions where you have to escort something or someone to its destination, and much, much more.  Even the final boss is defeated via the vehicles Spyro has used in earlier levels.

The time-trial courses aren't as challenging either since Sparx will tell Spyro the order he needs to follow to get everything and not run out of time.  Speaking of Sparx, the little dragonfly that also doubles as Spyro's health indicator gets his own stages as well, and beating them unlocks abilities he can use.  Despite the over-abundance of mini-games and other distractions, a lot of them are fun, and the additional characters shake things up nicely as each one has their own play-style.  My personal favorite is Agent 9's stages, which play out like a third-person shooter in the vein of Ratchet and Clank.

The Reignited Trilogy also gets props for adding a couple of modern mechanics which do wonders when it comes to backtracking.  The first is the addition of a fast-travel system.  This makes revisiting previously explored hubs and levels a cinch to do.  The second is that Sparx can now pinpoint where missing gems are, a feature originally available only in Year of the Dragon.  When going for 100 percent completion, this ability is really handy to have.
Never bring guns to a dragon fight.
In the days of the PlayStation One and the Nintendo 64, Spyro's graphics were some of the best out there.  They may look primitive by today's standards, but they remain impressive for their time.  As someone who knows the games inside and out, it's nuts to see how much new life has been breathed into these worlds and characters courtesy of the updated graphics.  Environments are not only colorful, but also gorgeous to look at, and the enhanced visuals means the draw distance has been greatly increased, so you can see more of what's ahead when compared to the PS1 releases.  Little details such as Spyro's flame leaving burn marks in the grass or being able to control Spyro during the flight transitions from entering or leaving a level add that extra little bit of "Wow!" factor to the visuals.

However, the remaster comes with some technical issues and glitches.  There is the occasional bit of frame-rate lag, and in Spyro 2, Elora disappeared from Autumn Plains and didn't come back until after reloading from an earlier save.  Year of the Dragon is the glitchiest of the three.  Characters will disappear and reappear, and there are quite a few physics bugs, especially during the skateboard races.  Long-time fans will also notice some minor changes made to the enemies to make them less intimidating.  For example, gnorcs in Twilight Harbor from Spyro the Dragon now wield machine guns that fire paint instead of bullets.  Why this was changed, I don't know, but it only implies that Gnasty Gnorc might be a fan of Splatoon.

Much like the graphics, the voice acting and music have been redone..  Tom Kenny, who voiced Spyro in the second and third installments, came back to voice Spyro in all three games, meaning he replaces Carlos Anizanquarli from the first one too.  The performance is great, and the rest of the cast is good, but some of the voices, particularly Hunter's, sound off.  The original Spyro games were noteworthy for their music, which was composed by the former drummer of The Police, Stuart Copeland.  All of his music was remade but there is an option to switch between the remastered and original tracks.  Regardless of which one you choose; you'll be treated to some of the best tracks heard in a game.

Spyro: Reignited Trilogy is not only a great remaster of three stellar titles but playing through them with an HD coat of paint reminded me of why I fell in love with video games as a kid.  Everything is familiar but feels new, thanks in part to the updated graphics and tweaks in the controls and gameplay.  The three games are well worth your time, regardless if you're a veteran or newcomer to the series.  This remake continues the trend of revitalizing classics for a new generation.  Now that Spyro's back, it's time for a proper continuation.


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