Roll +Cool to Act Under Pressure
I noticed something very quickly while streaming MediEvil every Wednesday for a month; the PS1-era was a rough time. 3D movement was in its infancy, and other than some standouts like Mario 64, platforming was more of a chore than a delight to partake in. Jumping in MediEvil often lead to frustration and swears, but there was one series on the Playstation that actually rivaled, and perhaps surpassed, Mario’s movement. That series is Spyro the Dragon, which eventually fell into obscurity during the Playstation 2 era and didn’t seem to recover. The recent success of the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy ushered in a chance for Playstation era revivals, and so here’s Spyro’s, with the Spyro Reignited Trilogy.
Spyro the Dragon is a series that personally resonates with me, so a remaster was an exciting prospect. I’ve run through Spyro’s first title multiple times over the years, 100% completing it each time. This remaster emulates the feeling of playing Spyro well, with enhanced graphics and re-recorded voice-over to bring our purple friend into the current age. For the most part, Reignited succeeds in its goal, presenting the first three games, Spyro the Dragon, Ripto’s Rage, and Year of the Dragon, with gorgeous visuals. Every enemy gets a redesign to properly convey them, and it’s funny seeing the standard green gnorcs as fully modeled characters instead of the collection of rhombuses a PS1 could handle.
Every other character besides Spyro has a design upgrade as well, most surprisingly the dragons from Spyro 1, who each have a delightful new design instead of the bland bog-standard designs they had originally. There’s far more life in the worlds with these new dragon designs, and I know a ton of scalies are going to fall in love with these big guys, for good reason. The environments can be described as “how you remember them in your mind’s eye”, faithful to the original games but brought forward to today’s standards. The layouts are exactly the same, but far more visually striking. The skyboxes are even a joy to look at, maybe not as much as the PS1-era’s oil painting backgrounds that gave the series its mystique, but you can tell the developers remembered how pretty they were back then.
The music also got a remaster, with original composer Stewart Copeland reprising his role by retouching his original pieces. You can choose between these new versions and the original tracks, but admittedly, it was hard to tell the difference at times, as the remixes sound very similar, just with perhaps a few more instruments or a nicer sound quality. Either way, these songs are incredible no matter how you listen to them, and it’s good that there’s a far easier, cheaper way to play through these stages with such glorious music. (My personal favorite is Ice Cavern, for the record.)
The new voice acting is all solid, but nobody’s putting in an award-winning performance. Tom Kenny recorded all of Spyro’s lines in the remaster, as he took over as Spyro’s voice after the first game’s VA Carlos Alazraqui was swapped out for making Spyro sound too cocky, which fans disliked. Now the dragon sounds playful, chipper, and cute, which matches perfectly with new idle animations and cute tricks Spyro can do in loading screens, which aren’t as pastel as before. Said loading screens are also quite long, about as long as they were in the old days. If there’s one thing I’d expect to be upgraded, it’d be load times, but maybe they’re artificially inflated for that historical feel.
Gameplay is where Reignited differs from the originals the most, and even then it’s extremely slight. Spyro feels ever so subtly floatier than in the original games, with turns having a wider berth and gliding acting a bit more finicky. I tested Spyro Reignited and Spyro 1 side by side, and I was able to perform tighter turns and made jumps in the Playstation version a bit more easily. However, Reignited also adds a small grace hover to your glide if you’d miss the jump by a fraction of an inch, so that evens it out a tad. This isn’t a full-on complaint, just a heads up to those who have played these games to death: You’ll have to get used to the new physics, but it’s not as wildly different like Crash in the N. Sane Trilogy.
It’s overall impressive how well the Spyro games hold up in 2018. The first game is a lean, well paced collect-a-thon, the second begins to spread out to a variety of tasks, and the third is a multi-character romp through minigames and trials. It’s hard to point at any recent contemporaries that do these things as well as Spyro did (or does, I guess we can say). A reason why games like Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, and more recent standouts like A Hat in Time are so fondly regarded is just how delightful simply moving can be, and Spyro is no slouch there. Spyro can glide across large gaps by pressing jump after jumping, and can charge to run incredibly fast and bowl over smaller enemies. As the series progressed, more abilities such as swimming, climbing ladders, and skateboarding were added, but gliding and charging are the backbone of what makes Spyro such a joy to control.
Directly porting the games does highlight what negatives the classics had back in the day, such as a few lousy levels and frustrating mini-games. I always hated the hockey game in Spyro 2 as a kid, and even with more than a decade of gaming under my belt, it’s still a slog! Worst of all are the flying levels, which continue to be the bane of my existence. Spyro isn’t exactly a tight flyer, as his banking and diving often sway further than you’d like. No matter how well you map out the arenas, you’re going to end up careening into the water or slamming into a wall from an errant twitch of your control stick. That’s how it was in the originals, and you’ll fail these missions far more than any other in all three games, but at least there’s only one per home world, and they’re over soon.
While the Spyro Reignited Trilogy was made as a nostalgia cash-grab (we’re not talking about the nearly charitable work done to keep a bunch of SNK arcade games away from bit rot here), it’s still worth your time and a fantastic way to keep the spirit of a great franchise alive. My personal experience with Spyro is mostly associated with the first game, as I often run through it during depressive episodes, scoring the full 120% clear each time and clearing my head of self doubt. While I touched both Spyros 2 and 3 for this review, I completed Spyro 1 120%, exactly as I usually do, and had just as much of a rewarding experience as I always have. If you’ve played these games before, this is a solid way to revisit the games without having to set up an older console or emulator. If you’re new to the series, Reignited is a real treat, and all three games have something to offer.