Alright, I’ve bullied enough games. Time to talk about one I like.
In the years of the PlayStation 1, there was a great war. Crash Bandicoot VS Spyro the Dragon. This was the legendary Mascot War. The winner would become the mascot to Sony’s flagship console and join in the greater war against the titanic icons that were Mario and Sonic.
Unfortunately, that was never meant to be. The war between the bandicoot and the dragon never reached an official conclusion. In the end, the legendary clash simply faded into history. Some would say that Crash won. Others would give it to Spyro. Some would say that neither truly won.
Me? I’d give the win to Spyro any day!
Spyro wasn’t the first game I ever played. Still, I have fond memories of the little purple dragon! He was the first recognizable game character to make an impression on me! Sure, Jak and Daxter were cool and funny! But Spyro was a fucking dragon! As far as four-year-old me was concerned, that made him the coolest character ever!
Even if I wasn’t smart enough to ever beat any of his games. Give me a break! I didn’t even know the names of my siblings yet!
But now I’m an adult! And a critical one at that! So, I’m going to ask myself a question: is Spyro really as awesome as I made it out in my head as a small child? Or, like Crash, is this another series that survives entirely off of nostalgia?
Let’s find out, shall we?
Plot: So… is it a documentary? I don’t get it.
Why is there a film crew? We find out later in Spyro 2 and 3 that dragons are super rare and supposedly extinct, right? So are dragons filming a documentary of themselves? I don’t understand what’s happening!
The game starts with a television crew (I guess?) doing a piece on the dragons (I guess?) on a live TV program (I guess?). The crew asks the dragon they’re interviewing about Gnasty Gnorc, a massive orc that the dragons apparently don’t like. The dragons talk a bit of smack, which angers Gnasty Gnorc, who is watching the program. In retaliation, he casts a spell (okay) and freezes all of the dragons in crystal. All but one: Spyro. Now it’s up to the little dragon to free all the other dragons across the many worlds and defeat Gnasty Gnorc!
In my Crash Bandicoot reviews, I drew comparisons to a Saturday morning cartoon when it came to the story. I’d make this same comparison here. Everything is cute and fun, but completely devoid of depth or logic. It’s a lot of fun and requires no thinking whatsoever.
Much like many games of the time, the story may as well not even be there. It’s only there at the beginning and the end. The first cutscene exists only to give context for what you’re doing and the last cutscene exists purely to give you a reward for playing. You could swap the game itself out and plug in Death Stranding and the story would be completely unaffected.
However, it’s clear that the narrative wasn’t the focus. In the days of the PS1, it rarely was. This game was made not to tell a compelling story for kids. It was made for kids to play a fun ass platformer!
But I can’t talk about that yet. First…
Presentation: SO MANY COLORS!!
*Note, I am reviewing the Reignited version of this game. As tempting as playing the original PS1 version may be. On that note…*
FUCK this game looks pretty! It looks great, sounds great, and plays great! Everything is so bright, colorful, and vibrant! It’s like a cartoon come to life and I love it!
The character models and environments are easily the best part. Each one is highly detailed and completely distinct! No two dragons look the same, nor do any two levels look alike! Each one is completely distinct, vibrant, and extremely colorful! They’re all an absolute delight for the eyes!
The game also runs at a smooth, consistent 60FPS (at least on PC). Even when there are plenty of things on screen, from enemies to particle effects, the game never once dipped in my experience. It was a smooth ride from beginning to end!
And the animations! Oh god, the animation in this game is so good! Every character moves with so much energy and life! Spyro’s spring-like movements as he walks is adorable and visually impressive! The animators clearly had a lot of fun bringing this world to life!
The music is also rock solid! None of the tracks are especially amazing, but they’re all catchy and enjoyable! Plus, if the new music isn’t your cup of tea, you can swap them out for the old music in the options menu! That’s super cool!
Alright. I’ve got my niceties out of the way. It’s time to be mean.
Gameplay: The Foundation of Greatness
This is where the crux of my problems with this game can be found. See, this game definitely sets the foundation for the rest of the series really well! However, that’s all this game is. A foundation. Something to be built upon later.
As Spyro, you have a simple task in front of you. You’re put into various levels (including several overworlds and even more, smaller levels that can be accessed within those overworlds) and made to gather various items. You need to gather a ton of gems, scattered throughout the levels, and free the dragons frozen in crystal. As you explore, you’ll unlock more levels until you’ve reached the end.
Sounds fun, right? Well, it is! But the devil is in the finer details!
For one, Spyro’s move set is incredibly limited. You can walk, jump, glide, charge enemies down, and burn them away with fire breath. And that’s it. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, mind you. It’s clear that the levels were designed with these limitations in mind. But it does make the game feel pretty repetitive pretty quickly.
Two, the levels can be a bit clunky to navigate at times. Some jumps require perfect timing and positioning on the part of your glide. Otherwise, you’ll end up just short, bump against the ledge, and plummet into the abyss before getting to do it again. Granted, the jumping isn’t as bad as Crash Bandicoot’s was. Aside from long-distance glides where spacing can be harder to gauge, the regular platforming is still rock solid and easy to control. Still, it makes completing the game a pain in the ass.
Then there are the ‘boss’ fights. And if I put ‘boss’ in any more of an intensely sarcastic tone, the government would consider it a nuclear threat! These guys are just bigger enemies! THE FINAL BOSS IS LITERALLY JUST A CHASE ON A CIRCULAR TRACK!! YOU GET HIM TWICE AND THEN BAM! THE GAME’S OVER! THIS IS THE FINAL BOSS!!
Luckily, Spyro 2 would improve on all of this. Spyro 1 walked so that Spyro 2 could run. Knowing that, I have to give this game some points. Still, knowing the problems are fixed in the sequel doesn’t make the problems in the original go away.
Just look at the Uncharted games. But that’s a topic for another day.
Spyro doesn’t hold up in a lot of ways. The story may as well not even exist and the gameplay, while functional, is a bit barebones and clunky. As a prototype for what comes next, it does a great job. But as a stand-alone game? It’s definitely shown its age.
But… it does make Spyro 2 better, to have played Spyro 1 already. And that game is the shit!
With that in mind, I would recommend playing the first Spyro game. It’s definitely aged and it is outshined by the game that would come later. But it is still an important game for the series and a fun game in general! If you still haven’t experienced this little slice of gaming history, I would say that it’s worth going back to.
Or you could skip it and go straight to 2. But you would be missing out.