I’m one-for-one on New Year’s Resolutions since my one resolution was to beat the third Spyro game after I’ve had the trilogy for four months. The games are short–my total playtime of the longest of the three, Year of the Dragon, was only 9:22 after 100%. But a lot of mental blocks prevented me from playing. That’s neither here nor there. Let’s just talk about the three remakes of games that are beloved treasures of my childhood.
The self-titled album Spyro the Dragon is the one of the three I’ve played the least, but it was the first I played. I played it as a four-year old in daycare and that brief experience alone hooked me. Fortune had it that I got a Playstation from my uncle and I stumbled upon Ripto’s Rage and Year of the Dragon in the random collection of Gamestop CDs on a few visits. Too bad my Year of the Dragon CD couldn’t play any level in Evening Lake other than Charmed Ridge, which meant I could never beat the game. Somehow, the limited amount I could play was still enough for me to declare it the best game ever, a fact I’ve held to all these years. But whether it held up or not is for later. Where was I?
Oh yes, Spyro 1. I eventually bought it online when I was old enough to know how to do that (and didn’t ask for my parent’s permission!). I played through it the first time the fateful summer I was forced to sit in a chair for a month+ due to… embarrassing medical reasons. And while I knew the game was good and important and laid the groundwork for the second two in the series, I found it the weakest of the three on first playthrough. I played through it once more a year or two later and never found myself wanting to come back. But that changed when the fire nation attacked.
Or, rather, everything changed in 2017, when Spyro finally broke free from the terrible contract he signed with the Skylander makers and was allowed to be on a “real” game again. The powers at Toys For Bob announced they’d be making a remake of the original trilogy… but only for the PS4/XBox/PC. By this time, I’d become a rabid, angry Nintendo fan, so I was dismayed that there would be no Switch port. I did get the chance to play a demo of Reignited just before it came out at 2018 PAX West after standing in line with my dad for an hour, and I figured that’d be all the time I’d get with the games since I wasn’t willing to shell out $500 for one game and console.
But then a Switch port was announced soon after the Crash Trilogy remakes came to Switch and sold amazingly well, so, the day after the September 4, 2019 Spyro: Reignited Trilogy release, I bought a console for one game at the low price of $400. To be fair, it was also the upgraded Switch with better battery, and I didn’t have a TV at the time. So everything kind of came together for this fateful purchase. And I finally had a chance to take a close look at the Spyro games in a modern context. My most recent 3D platformer to compare it to was Super Mario Odyssey, which is a top-three 3D Mario game, so I had high expectations between that very recent experience and my extreme love for the PS1 versions.
And Spyro 1’s remake was everything I could’ve asked for and more. As I mentioned earlier, Spyro 1 never gripped me when I played it ten years ago. But the remake did so much to make it better. The once-empty levels now felt lush with detail. Graphics don’t make the game, but the update in atmosphere made it so much easier to realize how well-designed the levels in Spyro 1 were. They’re all very short compared to any level in Super Mario Odyssey, but they flow together so well because of that length. And they’re so well crafted.
Stone Hill is the perfect first level. It hides the fact that it’s just four connected rooms with beautiful scenery, and the wide open areas let the player get used to Spyro’s controls. And the fact that Sparx can point out missing gems from the start of any game means that there’s no more frustrating searching for that last gem on the aforementioned hill of Stone Hill, the worst part of the trilogy (at least, if you know that you have that power. I managed to not know until playing Year of the Dragon and had a few levels where I had to recomb every area but that’s on me, not the game). And the enemies are so telegraphed and relatively harmless that the player builds confidence in fighting them. And the glides are so, so simple. Beautifully designed.
I won’t bore you with going through every level since each Spyro game has a bunch, but I’ll point out the highlights. The Artisan’s homeworld is the most boring because it’s there as training wheels and had little detail to accentuate with a remake, but every world after has been remade so well to highlight the small touches. The Peace Keepers world originally had tons of empty space in levels like Dry Canyon with bland textures to make them interesting. This remake furnishes the random castle you start in and makes all the houses look cool. Great.
The high point of Spyro 1 is easily the Magic Crafters world. Only in Spyro 1 does every level in its homeworld “feel” like it’s a part of its homeworld. Magic Crafters is the best example of this. Most levels share enemies, the wizard robes without bodies mainly, the neon-blue instant-death water, and bars of music. The levels of Alpine Ridge, Wizard Peak, and High Caves actually feel like genuine parts of a small country that one might find close together. Just different parts of topography of the same place. For me, it was hard to appreciate or recognize how well they came together as parts of a whole homeworld until this remake did it with the updated graphics. The links were always there, but not this obvious.
I’m not the biggest fan of Beast Makers’ world, and it doesn’t feel as well-connected, but it has two iconic Spyro levels. The infamous Tree Tops, which is still extremely difficult to find everything on, and Misty Bog, a slog of a level full of battles with the out-of-place credit music. But it makes a fine, dark contrast to the gorgeous, dream-filled, nearly-as-good-as-Magic-Crafters world of Dream Weavers. Lofty Castle and Haunted Towers are the most creative Spyro 1 gets in terms of theme and level design, and paves the way for how crazy Spyro 2 and 3’s levels can get. Though I finally appreciate the simple but well executed concepts and maps of Spyro 1’s levels, the creativity in the Dream Weavers world, even in the homeworld, Dark Passage, and Jacques, is just great.
Finally, Gnasty’s World does a similarly great job at conveying a link between levels in its three quick maps. You infiltrate the cove, make your way through the harbor, and, uh, reach Gnasty’s Boat I guess to actually defeat him (note: there is no boat). Spyro presumably uses his boat after defeating Gnasty to get to the rest of his loot. Alright, it all makes sense now.
And the remakes of these games make sense. Though the games still look really freaking good to this day (because they went for a cartoony, expressive style with lots of color rather than gritty, realistic, and brown), the extra clarity, detail, and sense of motion that the remakes bring are very good additions. Especially the dynamic music. I 100% agree that Stewart Copeland’s original mixings of the tracks are better than the new guy’s (alright his name is Stephan Vankov), but the shifts in sound as the action goes up or down was real good. And the lighting in these remakes are perfect. Dark Hollow and Dark Passage are beautifully shaded. The colors in Dream Weavers ooze invitingly. Town Square still feels like a weird ghost town. I love it.
Now, the first Spyro still has its issues. The bosses are still bizarre tack-ons outside of the clever Metalhead fight. I really dislike the Flight level controls since I feel like Spyro is magnetized to the water, and that doesn’t improve for Ripto’s Rage or Year of the Dragon. There are some weird graphical glitches that don’t do anything meaningful but slightly hamper the game. The early levels in Spyro 1 are still too short and empty and being prettier won’t cover that up.
All that said, I can finally understand why most people say Spyro the Dragon is the best in the trilogy. It’s like a band’s first album that’s crafted after years of tinkering rather than on the road. It has the purest sound and feel of any game because it’s just Spyro charging, gliding, and flaming his way through levels with no minigames (other than the Flight levels) to break up the platforming. That purity felt so good in the context of other modern platformers like Super Mario Odyssey that try to do everything. The Spyro 1 remake alone felt worth the $400 I spent, and getting all three of these games at that price is a dang steal.
One of the nicest things about this remake is that you can easily see how the original makers of Spyro tried to evolve the core gameplay. Most of the time, evolution has a positive connotation. For some elements of Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage, the game’s adaptations are good, and some elements are quite bad. To break up the normal 3D platforming (and to distract the fact that the developers were already running out of ideas on pure platforming stages), Ripto’s Rage introduces minigames and powerups. Most of these minigames are inoffensive. A few are fun. And then there’s stuff like the trolley in Breeze Harbor or the escort in Fracture Hills or collecting more crystal popcorn than Hunter in Magma Cone.
But that’s all just one part of the game. An important part, to be sure, but just one part. As far as level design goes, Ripto’s Rage only connects a few levels together, rather than the whole world. Even though the story hook is that Spyro is summoned to the world of Avalar to defeat Ripto, the world of Avalar is far more diverse in locales compared to the Dragon Realm of the first game. Pairs of levels are connected. Breeze Harbor’s residents launch assaults in Zephyr, and the Zephyrians do likewise. The cavemen of Skelos Badlands are visually linked to the cavemen in Crystal Glacier. Fracture Hills and Magma Cone are under attack by the Stoneshapers. Metropolis gets its vegetables and robot workers from Country Farms. Cloudy Temples’ inhabitants kinda look like Mystic Marsh dudes. And, of course, Scorch and Shady Oasis are kinda desert themed.
The weird thing about all of these clear links is that only the second and third homeworld have those tightly bound levels. There’s 18 full-length levels, 14 of which you have to actually beat, and the first 6 share no connections. Summer Forest hosts Glimmer, Idol Springs, Colossus, Hurricos, Sunny Beach and Aquaria Towers, and none of them are connected. It’s weird! I don’t know why I care so much about this! But, it’s weird! What’s also weird is that the orb you get in Summer Forest by swimming through a tunnel always reminds me of Maroon 5’s She Will Be Loved because my sister played that song while I was playing the game. It is not a fond memory because Maroon 5 is garbage.
I basically said nothing these last two paragraphs, so let’s talk about the game. As I said, the makers were already running out of ideas for pure platforming stages, and it shows. Spyro 2’s levels are imaginative in looks, but not… pathfinding. Spyro 1 levels were short but felt short on purpose. Spyro 2’s levels are denser and feel like they should be longer, but then you find out Sunny Beach is four rooms connected by water and some ladders. Hurricos at least uses its imaginative factory setting for some rooftop platforming, and the beanstalk navigation in Zephyr is also great. But on the whole, getting through a Spyro 2 level is no longer the focus of the game. It’s instead the minigames.
I’ve already said my piece on minigames, but to elaborate: the majority of the 64 collectable orbs are collected through painless minigames. You can beat most on your first try. A few are fun and play with new mechanics given to Spyro in this game, like his ability to pick up things with his mouth lets him play hockey (side note: this game put me down the path to loving hockey without me ever realizing it; I went to work today with a hockey sweater on thanks to this game). The headbash is hecka cathartic to use on overturned Stoneshapers. I think the absolute nonsense of the trading quest in Mystic Marsh is hilarious. That said, a few take too many tries due to unintuitive design (finding the order that the dinos hatch in Skelos Badlands), sheer difficulty (trouble with the trolley, eh?), and just bad flight controls. This entire trilogy didn’t change the flight controls to my knowledge, but something about the speed and turning radius of Spyro felt off every time I tried to fly through some rings.
And I know I said earlier that Spyro 2 is less about getting through the level, but that’s untrue. The game is no longer starring a dragon by himself; the world of Avalar is filled with a bunch of NPCs that talk and guide you through levels. For instance, you cannot progress through Colossus without the aid of monks chanting that lifts blocks. Or get into the stone temple in Fracture Hills without freeing the bagpipe-playing Satyrs. Or break open gates in Shady Oasis without feeding a berry to a hippo with wings that makes him grow huge. Point is, the worlds have movement gimmicks that take the place of characters rather than jumps. And, to Ripto’s Rage’s absolute credit, the world of Avalar feels extremely populated and like a real world. The Dragon Realms just felt… sparse.
Adding to this great atmosphere of Avalar is the great voice acting. Sadly, Spyro 2’s voice acting is worse than the original because Tom Kenny doesn’t do every single dang voice this time around. And I think the voice directors rounded off most of the edges, which lessened the charm slightly. For instance, when we first are introduced to Elora in Summer Forest in the original Ripto’s Rage, she says the iconic line “I’m a fawn, you dork” in such a perfectly teasing way towards Spyro. In this remake, she says the same line, but emphasizes “fawn” instead of “dork”, and, while it makes sense, it’s way less funny. Spyro 3, or Year of the Dragon, also tones down its voice acting. I’m putting a sentence in now so I don’t do so later because voice acting isn’t that important.
Also helping Avalar’s levels feel like fleshed-out worlds are the intros and outtros that play whenever you enter or exit a stage. They’re always funny, 20 second skits that involve the characters in the level. The intro usually sets up the problem you’ll be tackling in the stage (such as the Landblubbers putting out a Breezebuilder’s fire when you enter Breeze Harbor), and the outtro shows the comedic resolution where everything is fixed (the Breezebuilders fire their cannons at sitting duck Landblubbers in what is clearly a Geneva convention violation). These short videos go a long way to making the player believe there’s something to a level even when they aren’t around. Again, far different from Spyro 1’s loneliness.
Spyro 2 was the first Spyro I 100% completed. I preferred Year of the Dragon but I always knew I could beat Spyro 2. If I had gotten Spyro 2 first, I’m sure I would’ve preferred it over the others, but I’m a sucker to sticking to first impressions. The game is relatively easy with only 8 of the 64 orbs being difficult to collect, and all the gems are in plain enough sight. The only thing standing between you and the full completion is Hunter holding like 10 orbs for no good reason. He knows you need them and still won’t give them to you without racing his manta ray or hanggliding on ice. It’s dumb! He has no excuses for withholding these things!
I will say that, once again, the remake does the NPC re-designs so dang well. And since Avalar has many more beings than dragons, the various NPCs all look great. The main core of Hunter, The Professor and Elora are still simple in look (as they should be), yet sleek and updated. Elora’s the most different from her original design and took some time to get used to, but I like the much furrier look. It was kinda weird that she had the head of a human in the original. The added fur makes it more natural somehow.
Spyro 2’s biggest frustrations were the skill points. To unlock some concept art, you gotta do arbitrary, difficult stuff. This includes beating each of the three bosses without taking a hit, and, let me tell ya, the final boss is three phases and way too dang hard to do without getting hit. The art is great, the skill points are not. They are fortunately skippable. But I think that, if I’m bringing up something as minor as this, I’ve covered everything in Ripto’s Rage. My opinion on RR changed the least out of all the replays I did. It’s a very good game that does a lot of small things right, but it’s also clear the developers couldn’t find a great balance between their creativity in minigames/level design and the cohesive platforming that came from the first game. It’s still worth playing, for sure, but I really hate having to do Fracture Hills every time I play the game.
Year of the Dragon has long been the game I’ve called my favorite of all time. It’s the game I got semi-oh-so-slightly-but-not-really viral for writing a stupid GameFAQs post about it. I think it’s very relateable to say that every person who re-consumes their favorite piece of media questions his/her own judgment during that reconsumption. For me, replaying Year of the Dragon made me question myself plenty of times.
Year of the Dragon was the first game I ever bought. I inherited a PS1 with 10 or so games that I played a couple of times (mostly the Coolboarders series), but this was the first game I chose. That in and of itself set me up for loving the game. And I did! I replayed the game enough to memorize the 66% I had access to. At one point, I “accidentally” held onto my best friend’s fully-working copy and beat the game. A year or two after, during the first of two Summers of Spyro, I 100%ed it. It was one of a very few times in my gaming life that I had to figure the entire game out. Pokemon LeafGreen was the other formative such experience, and Breath of the Wild is that way now.
Point is, there was no better game for me for years. Year of the Dragon was everything to me. And being able to play it on a Nintendo console with updated graphics was a dream come true. I was unfortunately more than a little let down by the replay. I had inherently known that I had overrated the game by calling it the best of all time when even I had stopped replaying it about 8 years back. But it was disappointing to soberly see the faults in the game that I had built up to myself.
Most of them are pretty small. Skateboard racing in Lost Fleet was the lowest point of the game since you have to get a really good time for a skill point, and it took 2 hours of repetitive retries to get that run. I even slammed my computer so hard the screen fell off during this time. But that nadir was just the lowest point among some other crappy challenges. See, Year of the Dragon “evolves” Spyro’s gameplay from Ripto’s Rage by adding more minigames. Every level, you get two or three of the main collectible, dragon eggs, via minigame. And they are extremely varying in quality. The tank tournament in Haunted Tomb still sucks. The Doom section in Fireworks Factory (and, for some reason, the double dragon boss took forever this time around) is awful. Spooky Swamp’s cricket bombers are blindly insulting. The camera in Nancy’s ice skating is terribly aimed. The yeti boxing in Frozen Altars is button-mashing, the game. The whack-a-mole in Crystal Islands is just horrendous.
And the sidekick characters… well, I like half of them. All the redesigns look great–the original game didn’t decorate any of them and I like their accessories in this remake. Shiela comes out the best of the four despite having to do the cricket bombing; her jump and stomp gameplay still feels like a solid platformer character in the vein of Spyro. Sgt. Byrd is the coolest of the four and has a great gimmick for being a penguin that flies, but the flight control scheme for Spyro is bad, and the floatiness of Byrd isn’t great. He has the best minigames though since none of them are gimmicked beyond him being him. Bentley’s normal gameplay is only used twice–the other two times he shows up, he has to do awful gimmick garbage. It sucks since he’s a cool character that has a uniquely slow moveset for the series but gets no time to shine. Agent 9 is irredeemable and I hate that they put a shooting character into Spyro. Awful.
As mentioned earlier, Spyro himself gets relatively little time to be himself in Year of the Dragon. Once you’re done getting the two eggs from scoping out the stage you’re in, you gotta do minigames. And most of them take away a little too much from the experience. Most of the time, the best thing you can say about a minigame was that it was short, not too hard, and tolerable. Skateboarding is about the only genuinely fun minigame. And that gets ruined with races. Oh, though getting the secret 6th egg in Midnight Mountain is extremely fun, if ya know what I mean.
What Spyro 3 has going for it is, as always, level design. I think the platforming that’s in the game is pretty dang good. Sunny Villa is a perfectly designed first level that’s so easy to sleepwalk through but has baby’s first hidden paths to get early players exploring. The first time I figured out to glide on the pillars from the roof was magical. Cloud Spires looks incredible in the remake–they got the Greek theme rocking real well there. Plus, it’s also a super well designed level. Molten Crater always feels like it should be twice as long, and Seashell Shore is a tightly-done water level as it should be. The Sunrise Spring homeworld is overall super tight in design, including Shiela’s Alp.
Beating Buzz to get to Midday Gardens was a real accomplishment for young me. I think the green buzzsaw frog was the first boss I ever beat, and it felt good seeing Shiela stomp him in the lava. Midday Gardens was worth it. I just remember murdering bunny after bunny between levels with the superflame powerup. Icy Peak is a great mountain level that loops in on itself perfectly. Enchanted Towers is weirdly short but explosive (and a little annoying to find everything in because of the switch to Sgt. Byrd allows for everything to be set up further apart). It also has a great skatepark. Sgt. Byrd’s Base is a fine level that is also very easy to miss gems in. Spooky Swamp has a great aesthetic and haiku gimmick. I don’t like Bamboo Terrace. But it’s alright.
Spike was a super tough boss for younger me and went down in 45 seconds to current me. Definitely the weirdest feeling to slaughter that which gave myself so much trouble. And getting to Evening Lake is where I think Spyro 3 shows its best self. First off, the homeworld track is perfect. Then, the story gets its only twist as Bianca kidnaps Hunter and then figures out her Sorceress’s plans are super twisted so she joins our side. The kidnapping means to most efficiently play you have to start with Honey Speedway and Lost Fleet. Lost Fleet sucks as a level since it’s weirdly laid out and then requires blindly swimming through acid to get the stuff. But the other levels are good. Fireworks Factory is the iconic Spyro 3 level in the intro. It’s a hectic world fighting through ninjas, but ultimately does feel like a good level (thanks to Greta beating everyone up). Charmed Ridge is a fine level that’s memorable to me for being the only level I could play in this world on my old copy. But Frozen Altars is the best level in Spyro 3 with its ice breath gimmick, laser defense, and genuinely pleasant platforming. It does have the awful boxing, but, hey. Evening Lake also has Spyro eaten by a whale to get an egg–it’s cool.
The final world is unlocked by beating Scorch. By the time I could actually fight Scorch, I was good enough at video games to beat him easily. Definitely true nowadays. Midnight Mountain is entirely skippable *except for Agent 9* if you collect everything in the first three worlds, but you only really need to skip the boring Crystal Islands. Funny magician gimmick not made up for with annoying level design and whack a mole. Every time I replay the Desert Ruins I enjoy it more. I think something about its shameless Tomb Raider ripoff is super charming. Speaking of, Haunted Tomb… not my favorite, either. Too much a gauntlet. But Dino Mines is a cute final level. In short, most of the levels, independent of their minigames, are well-designed platforming levels like any other Spyro. The big, unfortunate problem was that they wanted to make a huge game with lots of collectibles and settled on using minigames to pad for time rather than more tightly-designed levels. Which I guess is an acceptable compromise if you don’t want to sacrifice the platforming, but oof those minigames drag on.
Year of the Dragon’s remake did feel disappointing, but it was important for me to play through to remind myself of the game that I used to call the greatest of all time. I no longer think it is. There’s too many faults. I love the game’s aesthetics, music, vocals, and platforming to death, but the minigames sour the package too much. I said at the start I understand why people think Spyro 1 is the best now, but I still do think Spyro 3 is the best. I won’t let go of my ratings.
In short (lol), the Spyro Reignited Trilogy was 100% worth it for me despite owning all three games on the PS1. But I’m a very special case for Spyro. It probably isn’t worth it to most gamers to play some remakes of old games from a genre that has been aged out of current games, but I’m very happy they were made. I truly hope it means there’ll be a real sequel coming soon. Not an Enter the Dragonfly remake or New Beginning remake (or A Hero’s Tail remake since I’m the only person who remembers that game), but a full-fledged new Spyro game.