One of the most iconic figures of the PlayStation 1 era, alongside Crash Bandicoot, Spyro has spent the past decade lost in the flurry of Skylanders games. Fresh from a successful Netflix animated series and hot on the heels of his stablemate’s lucrative return in remastered form, the time is right for Spyro to return to his roots in the Reignited Trilogy.
It’s easy to forget how enjoyable these origins were, as the games became increasingly mediocre once they went multi-format and embraced an unnecessary darker tone, complete with ring-botherer Elijah Wood providing voice acting. Ironically the more the games tried to build up Spyro as a character, the more unlikeable he became. It is refreshing, therefore, to look back at the simpler organic nature of his character in the original trilogy.
As soon as you boot up Spyro Reignited Trilogy, you can see the love and care that has gone into the remastering. Toys for Bob have stated in interviews just how hard they had to work to get this version up and running, reconstructing levels from scratch using their ‘Spyroscope’ software and going to extreme lengths to both preserve the integrity of the originals and truly update them for a contemporary audience. This version is the Spyro that nostalgia remembers. All of the original’s problems with draw distance, empty environments and repetitive character models have been left in the past.
Despite this, the game feels just like the old ones to play. Having recently replayed the PS1 games on Vita, the movement and controls felt perfect – you do have the options to revert to classic controls and camera following, if you prefer – and with none of the unpleasant surprises that dogged Crash Bandicoot’s return.
The world of Spyro is now a vibrant and beautiful place full of life and incidental details. Grass blows in the breeze, cute little animals hop around the place (until you burn them and feed their essence to Sparx), and water effects are fantastic, particularly in the sequels where Spyro learns to swim. There is a level of polish here that feels like a top tier Nintendo title, as the games now look and feel contemporary rather than the retro-fest of Crash’s 2D stylings. The mini open-world environments and multiple quests of the sequels fit perfectly as a midpoint between the repeated level runs of Mario 64 and the sprawling epics that fill shelves today. Perhaps the closest comparison would be the fantastic reboot of Ratchet and Clank on PS4, although that game benefitted from a larger budget.
The first Spyro game is the purest distillation of the series’ mechanics, as you jump, bash, flame, and glide around the various levels to free dragons from petrification and gather gems. There is a wonderfully stripped back feel here that is given room to shine with its fresh lick of paint. Spyro himself is full of character but rarely speaks, with the focus being on the gameplay itself.
There are some brilliant examples of level design here, and looking for the last few gems on a level can be a real challenge. Back in the day, this challenge could easily become frustration as there was no indication of where the missing gems might be. Toys for Bob have vastly improved this aspect by implementing an optional mini-map onscreen and giving your trusty dragonfly, Sparx, the ability to point out where to look. This approach is less intrusive than the usual objective markers and is a perfect example of how the series has been updated rather than simply tarted up.
Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage sees the series move towards a more complex mission structure with a few nods towards Metroidvania game design. Spyro learns to climb and swim here, opening up previously inaccessible areas and providing a more open feel to the world. The basic mechanics remain the same, with the addition of mini-game challenges to collect power orbs. Main hub worlds lead off into a number of separate levels with their own aesthetics and enemies. The variety across all three games is impressive, even if the ways to defeat foes all involve either headbutting or burning them.
The second game also sets the pattern for a supporting cast of cartoony buddies which can be seen as the starting point for the eventual Skylanders series. A feisty faun, a clumsy leopard and a typically forgetful professor provide more character to the game, whilst giving somebody for Spyro to bounce off. This approach to characterisation works well and shows up the questionable direction the series took during the multiformat years.
Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon is simultaneously the most sophisticated and the most ‘of its time’ of the original trilogy. The level hubs and missions of the second game are continued, but here the supporting cast is extended and these secondary characters have their own missions with distinct control schemes and objectives. This represents a huge shift in the way the game plays, but does lead to some inconsistencies and unwelcome departures from the usual style. At times, the flitting between different characters becomes disorientating, a feeling not helped by the somewhat simplistic nature of some of the secondary characters’ levels.
The series’ tendency towards grind becomes most apparent here, as later levels are locked off until a certain amount of collectables have been gathered up. This is true of all three games, and isn’t in itself a negative, but it does mean that you have to persevere through some of the more disappointing levels. Full completion isn’t necessary to finish the story of each, so there is space to do the bare minimum in the frankly awful skateboarding levels of the third game. These in particular date the game to its turn of the millennium origins.
As a package, Spyro Reignited is a fantastic experience, and Toys for Bob have done an amazing job in updating the series whilst maintaining its feel. This truly is a Spyro for today rather than a quick cash-in that plays off your nostalgia. Each game stands on its own as well as illustrating the development of the series. Spyro 2 is probably the strongest of all three, but they all have hours of enjoyment to provide even if the third entry does suffer from too many characters and minigames. Whether there will be a full return of everyone’s favourite purple dragon remains to be seen, but in Reignited we have one of the greatest remasters yet and a collection that will appeal to the nostalgic and the curious newcomer alike. 2018 may be the year of the Dog in zodiac terms, but in Reignited it might become the Year of the Dragon all over again.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 – Also available for Xbox One