All it took for Activision to finally cave-in and revive both Crash and Spyro was for one of their multi-million-dollar franchises to crash and burn. That franchise was, of course, the toys-to-life phenomenon Skylanders. So, before we go any further, let’s thank all the parents who refused to buy into Skylanders for a fifth year in a row. Without even knowing it, you’ve given many gamers their childhoods back.
While Crash Bandicoot is often cited as being the PlayStation’s mascot, Spyro achieved something even Naughty Dog couldn’t – to bring free-roaming platforming to the 32-bit format. When it launched in 1998, Spyro was billed as a technical marvel that pushed the system to provide an open-world ripe for exploration. All kinds of trickery happened behind the scenes to ensure a (mostly) seamless experience, including using low-poly backdrops that became more detailed as Spyro made his approach.
Spyro’s two methods of attack – breathing fire and charging like a rampaging bull – weren’t the most innovative of game mechanics, and no steps were ever taken to test player’s proficiency with these abilities or even evolve attacks over time, but the way Spyro bounds around the colourful environments remains playful and fun, collecting gems always proves compelling, and soaring through the air takes a degree of skill.
Some 20 years on, it’s fascinating to see the evolution of the trilogy. The first Spyro focuses on exploration, using Spyro’s gliding ability to reach new areas. Spyro 2 opts for increasingly tricky challenges, introducing the bipedal cheetah Hunter and featuring automatic difficulty scaling, while Spyro 3 is bulked to the brim with mini-games and introduces new playable characters.
There are telling signs in the first Spyro that the developers were still getting to grips with the flight mechanics and camera controls. Even in this remake, the camera has to be manually adjusted far too frequently. Levels during the first half of the adventure feel rather boxed-in too. In fact, that it’s possible to whizz through some early stages, obtaining a 100% completion rate along the way, in a matter of mere minutes.
It’s a shame Toys for Bob didn’t enlarge some of the tighter, more camera confusing, areas. Indeed, Spyro Reignited Trilogy is faithful to a fault. That said, it’s easy to comprehend why the level design hasn’t been tinkered with – scaling obstacles and gliding to hard to reach locations plays a huge part, right to the point of prompting you to stop and look around to find vantage points. We would have liked to have seen the outdated concept of ‘extra lives’ ditched, however – infinite retries not only would have reduced frustration during the tougher sections but also reduce the amount of peculiarly long loading times players are forced to endure.
In the original Spyro, the plucky dragon is out to rescue his elders, trapped inside large – and subsequently easy to spot – dragon-shaped crystals. When it comes to presentation, no expense has been spared. Each of Spyro’s cohorts is as well animated and charismatic as the last, full of detail and personality. From squiffy low-poly characters, Toys for Bob has created magic.
All dialogue has been re-recorded, with Tom Kenny – the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants – tasked with bringing Spyro to life, and Stewart Copeland’s jaunty original musical score is still present, now accompanied by all-new arrangements.
Visually, the whole package is on par with Insomniac’s own benchmark setting Ratchet & Clank remake, employing just about every special effect in the Unreal Engine library. Grass sways in the wind, Spyro’s flames light the environments, metal armour shines and gleams, and sunlight shimmers on the surface of the sea.
Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! (aka Gateway to Glimmer) introduces us to the pint-sized menace Ripto, a somewhat forgettable foe. The level design is an improvement over the original as Hunter’s challenges make the hub worlds more interactive, and it’s clear Insomniac were determined to push the PSone as key locations are now far larger. It’s also easy to tell Insomniac attempted to address the game’s difficulty in this sequel. Beyond exit portals, additional challenges often lie, some of which can be deceptively tricky. Those aiming for 100% can expect to work through Spyro’s stockpile of lives.
Incidentally, in all three games a handy guide charts progress in each stage, making it easy to tell if key items remain undiscovered.
Full of diversions, Spyro: Year of the Dragon is the highlight of the package. Insomniac really hit their stride here, as it flows far more smoothly than the previous two games, making it feel like a culmination of everything they learned. The quest to track down dragon eggs is more engaging than locating Spyro 2’s inanimate talisman too. Gotta hatch ‘em all. Again, Toys for Bob has done wonders bringing Spyro 3’s critters to life. Not an easy task, seeing the design of the original NPCs was hardly pushing the envelope of creativity. The skateboarding mini-game doesn’t hold up too well nowadays, mind, and the flight sections still induce the occasional spot of rage.
Spyro Reignited Trilogy sets the bar high for future remakes, and not just for 3D platformers exclusively. It’s a genuine labour of love that’s utterly respectful to the source material. To mistake it as a decent alternative or worthy competitor to the almighty Super Mario Odyssey would be overstepping the mark somewhat. It does, however, have merits of its own and achieves different goals, being a polished collection of three incredibly well-presented – although not entirely timeless – platformers. At roughly a tenner a title it’s also hard to fault it for value for money, making it an essential purchase for anybody hankering for some family-focused fun.
We sincerely hope Toys for Bob will get the chance to create their own Spyro adventure next. Under their guidance, this plucky dragon could truly soar.