Platforms: Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: PS4 Pro
Developer: Toys for Bob
While the storied history of Insomniac Games began with Disruptor in 1998 it was the release of Spyro the Dragon in 1999 that put them on the map. Two sequels would follow, and the three games would tally up sales of over 8-million collectively while Insomniac went on to create Ratchet & Clank and Resistance before releasing Marvel’s Spider-Man earlier this year. Now, Insomniac’s Spyro trilogy has come back courtesy of some serious work from Toys for Bob. How does the purple dragon and his antics hold up in 2018?
This is basically a rebuild of the three games from the ground up, including a whole new engine, tightened controls, character redesigns and more. Taking such a beloved classic series and altering aspects of the gameplay or design is a risky proposition since die-hard fans expect nothing less than perfection and are always ready to ravenously destroy a company for changing things. So if you’re just looking for an exact replica of the original Spyro games with nothing more than a resolution boost this may not be for you. But if you want Spyro like you remember it through your rose-tinted nostalgia spectacles then keep reading. I know that the original Spyro is a blocky, pointy mess by today’s standards but in my memories I don’t see it that way, and Toys for Bob’s recreation manage to capture what my memories would have me believe was real.
The first thing that hits you is obviously the visual overhaul. This isn’t a mere resolution increase but rather a complete redesign that always holds true to the original style while throwing in loads of new detail. Spyro himself now boasts a constant charming smirk, grass will blacken whenever you spew fire and there are loads of nice little animation touches that bring the various enemies to life. Look even closer and you can spot stuff like the slightly transparent nature of Spyro’s wings, a level of detail not needed but very much appreciated. I was also happy to see that the various dragon’s you rescue in the first game were all given complete redesigns so that they’re now all unique, making hunting them all down more enjoyable compared to the original game where they all looked exactly the same.
In short, the Reignited Trilogy looks glorious, almost like an interactive cartoon crammed full of fun designs and neat little animations. I frequently paused just to soak up the beauty of it all before getting back to mercilessly setting enemies alight.
But there are a few technical hiccups that can be annoying. Loading times, for example, are a bit too long, especially in the first game because there are quite a lot of portals to jump through in order to travel to the various worlds. And it while it’s a bit annoying that there’s a 30FPS cap the games do at least manage to stick to that, but with one frustrating caveat; bad frame-timing which results in something that feels a lot like slowdown. It’s not game breaking or anything but it’s something that should have been sorted out prior to launch.
Given the bright, vibrant colours the lack of HDR support is also a bit surprising. It just seems like a no-brainer. If any type of game deserves the extra detail and liveliness that HDR can bring it’s something like this where the colors are strong and punchy.
And finally, if you buy a physical copy of the game and whack it into your console you’ll discover it’s incomplete and that you have to download a rather hefty file containing two out of the three Spyro titles. For a singleplayer game this is frankly stupid, especially as many people buy physical games to avoid large downloads due to having slow Internet.
But enough chatting about the technical side of things, let’s delve into the games themselves because we’ve got that tricky issue to tackle; should a remaster of an old game be judged against modern titles or not? After all, on the one hand, old fans may pick it up knowing exactly what awaits them, but lots of folk with no knowledge of the franchise may spot the game on the shelf or on a storefront and pick it up. Honestly, I don’t have a clue if there’s a right way to do this so let’s just wing it and see what happens.
The first Spyro doesn’t waste any time in delivering the setup; the evil Gnasty Gnorc has somehow managed to turn all the other dragons into crystal, and so as the little, purple dragon known as Spyro it’s up to you to rescue them all and collect gems by gliding, charging and flaming your way through a small variety of worlds. While the first Spyro is quite linear and the levels fairly small, there are still plenty of hidden nooks and crannies to find.
That’s it. As a game released way back in 1999 on the Playstation 1 you can’t really expect the complexity of a modern game and that’s the charm on offer here; no mini-map obscured by a million icons vying for your attention, no microtransactions reaching for your wallet, no towers that must be climbed and no angry bald man screaming “BOY!” over and over again. Coming from the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2 this is a breath of fresh air. It’s just a simple set of controls, a cutesy world, platforming and some light combat. Everything you need to know can be ascertained from a quick glance and from there’s it’s simply a case of doing it. This isn’t to condemn modern games and the depth of experiences they can offer, but it’s still nice to sit down and play a game that’s just a game.
Moving Spyro around feels great. It’s hard to say if Toys for Bob have tightened the controls up since I don’t happen to have the original game lying around to compare it against, but Spyro moves snappily and the addition of a camera that you can control with the right stick is a big improvement, even if it can still be a pain in the backside.
With that said the simplicity can begin to drag after a while. Enemies go down in a single hit so they’re more like a minor inconvenience than anything else. But credit must be given to the game because it boasts a wonderful variety of enemy designs and does include a few fun twists, like invincible jesters who make nearby enemies grow in size. The point is you might find yourself playing Spyro and wishing for a little bit more.
The second game seeks to adjust this and so adds a few new ideas into the mix while also bumping up the size of the various hubs and worlds, making for a longer overall game than the relatively short first Spyro. Along with a fair amount of cutscenes, something which the first game rarely ever had, there’s also a small cast of secondary characters this time around in the form of Hunter the cheetah and Elora the Faun, as well as some others.
Worlds now have NPCs who will provide a bit of context as to why you’re flaming, ramming and gliding around this time while other characters will provide new objectives mid-way through the level, so you might wind up playing a game of ice hockey or chasing down some pesky…er, things. These additions along with the increased amount of cutscenes really help the worlds feel more interesting, rather than the pretty but ultimately empty worlds of the first game.
Some new skills also get introduced so that Spyro can do more stuff, like swimming and being able to dive underwater or climbing certain walls. The game will steer you toward getting these abilities, but you’ll need to give a bear named Moneybags some of your hard earned gems to get them which helps give you a motivation boost for hoovering up all the treasure you come across.
The storyline doesn’t get more complex as this time you get sort of abducted by Hunter and Elora in order to help battle Ripto who has taken over the land. However, the new cutscenes frequently help give the game more humour. Hell, looking at it now I hadn’t realised how much of a twisted sense of humour the game had at the time. There’s one cutscene where two characters try to shove a goat into a house in order to feed an angry yeti, but the goat makes it out while one of the two characters don’t. Bloody hell, Spyro, when did you get so savage?
The third game is the one I have the most vivid memories of from playing as a kid and pits you against an evil Sorceress, aided by Bianca the Bunny, who has stolen a bunch of dragon eggs. The biggest addition comes in the form of other playable characters outside of Spyro which really helps bring some variety to proceedings, especially since they all get their own special stages as well. Sgt. Byrd, for example, can fly and packs rocket launchers on his shoulders, while Shiela the Kangaroo can double jump. You could argue that these characters take away the focus on the titular purple dragon, but personaly the new twists they bring really do help make the trilogy more fun and ensure the third game feels unique.
A lot of the pleasure I got from playing this wonderfully handled remastering of a beloved franchise is seeing how things changed from game to game. The first Spyro was a charming little platformer but it was really the sequel where you can see the series hit its stride with the improved gameplay variety, larger and more varied worlds and secondary characters. The third game’s introduction of extra playable characters was fantastic, and one 3rd person shooter section in particuilar caught my eye as something that may have potentially helped pave the way for Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank series.
You might also get a bit of a kick from witnessing the many things considered cool back in the 2000’s, including the third game’s skateboarding (complete with cringe-worthy dialog) and the snarky, confident and smug attitude that Spyro himself has.
Throughout all three games, Insomniac’s ability to craft entertaining platformers almost never wavered with almost every level delivering plenty of fun, aside from perhaps just one or two duff notes. It’s a massive compliment to them that games this old can be brought into the modern day with minimal gameplay changes and still feel great to play.
But there are a few things I wish Toys for Bob had tidied up a little more. Swimming and flying both feel a bit imprecise, for example, which can lead to some frustrating moments, especially in the dedicated flying levels that pop up from time to time. Likewise, the shift in camera when you begin a ram makes aiming harder than it should be and that can cause some silly moments where you miss several attacks against an enemy standing right next to you.
Outside of those small issues, however, there’s very little I can actually fault that isn’t simply a direct result of the trilogy’s age and therefore somewhat unfair to criticise too much. We’ve been pretty luck this year with a slew of great releases, but Spyro is such a refreshing change of pace from the more complex, intense or outright dense games out there. It’s so easy to just relax and enjoy the bright world, the simple yet satisfying mechanics and smile at how lighthearted it all is.
You won’t be surprised to learn, then, that Spyro: The Reignited Trilogy is getting a recommendation as I believe it’s a stellar game (or games) for both fans of the original trilogy and for new gamers who want to see what the fuss is about. Provided you go in with the right expectations of a 2000-era platformer then you’re going to have a great time.
Categories: Videogame Reviews