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.