Spyro the Dragon – The birth of a platforming legend

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While this is a review of the first game, the version covered is actually the one from the Reignited version. That said, I have played the original and feel the differences in core gameplay are too minimal for there to be a difference in my personal opinion. I will occasionally mention some of the enhancements the Reignited Trilogy has brought to this game, but this review should apply to both versions as I still consider the original game on the PlayStation 1 to be perfectly playable. I hope you understand this decision, but I am not willing to play through the same game twice for a non-profit blog. Gameplay, level design and fun factor are amongst the most important elements of a game for me, and these are all kept intact with the two different versions.

As mentioned, I have already played the original Spyro the Dragon on PlayStation 1 to 100% completion in the past, which means that I have former knowledge. The sequels were not part of my childhood however, though I know everything about them as they are the next reviews that were already in production when this one was written. While I will not compare the game to the later entries and instead judge it on its own merits, I may occasionally make notes on how game design improves in later games for reference. Before I started writing this review, I made sure to complete the game 100%. The game was played on Steam with an Xbox 360 controller and is available on all modern systems.

Is it time to say something heretical? I swear I’m not a masochist but I do set myself up for this kind of stuff quite occasionally do I? Anyhow, Spyro! …I have never played the original trilogy as a child. The Spyro games that I grew up with are actually the Gameboy Advance games, in particular Season of Ice and Season of Flame. I absolutely loved these games, but somehow never really checked out the original trilogy until far later in life. Spyro the Dragon was actually something I played in college and though I love to act like an elderly man whose bones ache quite badly, that was technically only some single-digit years ago. This absolutely had to change.

I have a game club in my Discord community where we (try to) have a playalong of one game or series per month, and I decided to make the original Spyro trilogy the games for April. They are accessible titles fortunately due to the absolutely beautiful Reignited Trilogy we have nowadays, and that’s exactly what I decided to play myself as well. This was the perfect chance to play all three games back-to-back, and to give a fair review for every single one of them. So I guess it’s time for another mini-marathon? Join me as we take a look at all three original Spyro games, starting with the first one!

Spyro the Dragon was created by the famous development studio Insomniac Games. This was actually their second game, with the FPS Disruptor being their first. Despite the positive criticism it received from the media, it ended up being a commercial failure. Publisher Universal Interactive Studios did see the creative talent on display though, and encouraged the team to continue. Taking advice from them, they went with a more family-friendly game as the PlayStation 1 was lacking in child-friendly titles while the direct competitor, the Nintendo 64, was thriving. While the COO of Insomniac was originally considering a dark, realistic title, the more whimsical direction was the choice they ultimately went with. This was a great decision as Spyro has become one of the most popular franchises that started on a Sony console ever. Their work paid off, as they even brought a NASA engineer along to help with camera control and flight movement which allowed them to design the levels around Spyro’s unique capabilities like gliding. Even the drummer of the British band The Police lend a hand with the soundtrack, resulting in a very creative team behind the game. I truly learned a lot looking up the history of Spyro the Dragon, but did you also know that Spyro was originally going to be named Pete, and was also green coloured? The former didn’t happen due to issues with Disney, while the latter would make it visually tough to distinct Spyro from the grass.

(Thank you to Johnny BlackJock on YouTube for compiling both of the original Spyro the Dragon commercials!)

The game starts with one of the most beautiful ”stupid but in a good way” plot setups, being that the dragons offend their arch-nemesis on television by calling him ugly and dumb. Obviously this didn’t sit well with him and he just casually turns all the dragons into crystal. Think of it as when Britney Spears got heavily criticized for her performance in 2007 but instead of someone making a video to plead ”LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE”, he instead freezes everyone into crystal. Except that in both cases, one individual would have been ignored. Insert our hero, Spyro!

Spyro got ignored because he’s just a small kid dragon, what could possibly go wrong? Everything apparently, as Spyro is one of the most satisfying protagonists to control in any 3D Platformer so he’ll save the day in no time. He can charge around very fast which will also easily takes care of smaller- or shielded enemies, use his fire breath to burn them to a crisp and most importantly of all: glide around everywhere, which is a very good thing to have in a platformer. It works very well, though some jumps are a bit too tight for my liking. This may also be because I’ve gotten used to later games in the franchise perfecting the mechanic just a bit more by adding a hover at the end of a glide. But all in all, Spyro himself is definitely the main attraction to this game (and the sequels) due to how fun it is to play around with him. He doesn’t gain new abilities over the course of the game, but these are more than sufficient for this game’s level design.

Spyro is one of the most satisfying protagonists to control in any 3D Platformer.

That is also why the first of several HUB worlds is a great introduction to his abilities. There are (almost) no bottomless pits or anything else that would lead to an untimely demise, so you can just charge around and get used to Spyro’s satisfying controls as much as you please. Even a ledge with collectables that you are forced to learn gliding for is not punished upon failure, giving you some time to get used to the controls. While the main purpose of these HUB worlds is to lead you to the next levels, they are somewhat comparable to levels themselves as there are enemies to defeat, platforming challenges to deal with and collectables to obtain. While the first world is mostly just a good introduction, later HUB worlds definitely improve in terms of design and secrets to find.

Every world has multiple normal levels, one flight level and a boss at the end. The normal levels play exactly like the experimentation done in the HUB world: a big sandbox to play around in, but now with more ”challenging” platforming sections. The gems from earlier are one of the collectables, with every stage having a select amount scattered literally everywhere. Unless you are playing the Reignited Trilogy, there’s no map to display and also no form of radar to lead you to gems you might have missed. This wasn’t really an issue for me as I loved exploring these stages, but I can definitely remember moments in the original game where I spent a lot of time just looking for one gem I missed due to how open stages can be.

Collecting gems shouldn’t be an issue if you are here merely to just beat the game, as gems have no other purpose than being a requirement twice to move on to the next HUB world… and you need nowhere near all of them for just the main game. The same applies to the other two collectables: the dragon eggs, and the dragons themselves.

Let’s get the former out of the way first because I sure have a love-hate relationship with the egg thieves. They tease you, take awkward photos of you and post them to social media, and finally spit on your corpse when you fail. But for the most part, they just run away, maniacally laughing while Spyro has to play catch-up by charging and occasionally taking shortcuts. All jokes aside though, they’re definitely the most difficult collectables to obtain… but Spyro the Dragon is a pretty easy game, so it’s more similar to playing football but the goal is one centimetre smaller. But these dragon eggs–even more so than the other collectables–serve absolutely no purpose beyond one single requirement to move on to the next world.

Then there are the dragons, encased in crystal as shown in the intro and the main objective of the game. Spyro approaches a statue, stares at them and the dragons somehow get released from their crystal cage. I did not expect Spyro to be the anti-Medusa as well. They’re often accompanied by some (not) helpful advice on something that I’ve already been doing the entire time, or thank you for releasing them fifteen times over. I do genuinely like how they gave each dragon their own dialogue though, with give or take a few that got repeated. It’s not something that makes- or breaks the game for me and it wouldn’t have been worse without dialogue, but it does add to the personality of the game for sure.

These are all the collectables that you can get, with them only being required sometimes for moving on to a new world. While I personally really enjoyed collecting them since, that’s what collect-a-thon platformers are about for me anyway, there isn’t really a lot of reason given to actually go out of your way to do so. Though I can gladly say that there is a completion bonus waiting at the end and honestly? The reward is highly satisfying and more than worth it for me. I can’t exactly go into detail about what the reward is because spoilers but trust me, if you have no objection to completing every level, it will be worth it.

But since these collectables are also the only goals in the levels, it results in levels becoming formulaic and losing memorability as a result. I definitely appreciate seeing every stage having a unique theme with monsters exclusive to that stage, but you do the same in every stage: get the collectables, head out, repeat. This results in no stage being terrible because they’re all of consistent quality… but also none standing out from the hoard. I genuinely have a tough time remembering these stages simply due to almost none offering anything different from the other. The only stage that I actively remember is Treetops, because it was built around the supercharge gimmick that was only seen in a few places.

But since these collectables are also the only goals in the levels, it results in levels becoming formulaic and losing memorability as a result.

Actually, I lied; there are some stages that are terrible, and that’s pretty much every single boss stage. Funnily enough, they are levels as well but just more bland with a ”boss” waiting at the end. A boss encounter basically comes down to: hit, boss runs away crying for mommy, catch up, hit again, do it three times. They’re pathetic, with only the mecha boss being slightly less pathetic which brings me to the football comparison of difficulty again: a goal but two centimetres smaller.

It’s a good thing Spyro has one more ace up his sleeve so we still end this review on a positive note: the flying levels. So picture this: Spyro is a dragon and you absolutely love how he controls and glides. But what if… he could actually fly? The flying levels are probably some of my favourites in the entire game, if only for their concept. I absolutely love just flying around these unique stages, going through objectives and finding out what the most optional route is. While you are on a time limit with an objective to clear, nothing is stopping you from just flying around wherever you want to go, just taking in the environment. And to contrast most of the game again, they can be slightly more difficult than the rest of the game–if only because the hitboxes are very weird sometimes, but let’s ignore that.

The start of this legendary platformer franchise was definitely a strong one, already making Spyro one of the most satisfying protagonists to control with more to come in future instalments. Gliding around feels good, and the fire breath will take care of most adversaries with ease. This control scheme makes obtaining all collectables a non-issue as well, even if there is little reason given to do so aside from the minimum required amount due to them serving no purpose until the very end with an admittedly satisfying reward waiting for the player. I can’t stress enough how much fun I had trying to find all the collectables though, since I feel that’s what makes 3D Platformers special. Spyro the Dragon does lose a few points in level design due to a formulaic setup however, with almost none standing out from the other due to the objectives being the same for every stage: get the collectables and get out. Even if the themes and enemies are unique to each stage, they are hard to remember due to simplicity. The boss stages have it even worse with them being pathetic in an already easy game, which is saying something because the low difficulty has not come at the cost of enjoyment throughout the entire game for me. The free-roaming flight stages do balance out the bosses fortunately, and are definitely some of the most fun levels I’ve experienced in this game.

8.5

Nepiki's Rating

Overall rating

Game Score
8.0
Fun Score
9.0
Positives
  • Spyro is one of the most fun characters to control in a 3D Platformer.
  • Free-roaming level design with unique enemies- and themes.
  • The flight levels are very fun.
Negatives
  • Stages get formulaic and in turn hard to remember.
  • Bosses are pathetic..

Thank you for reading! It was great revisiting the original Spyro again, and I still love it as much as I did back then. I was originally considering just giving the Reignited Trilogy as a whole a review, but something like that just doesn’t sit well with me. Each of the three games has its own strong- and weak points, and a review covering the entire remastered trilogy wouldn’t be able to bring out what makes every single game special. I already mentioned it in the review too but as beautiful as the Reignited Trilogy is, the gameplay and level design is mostly kept in-tact so if I did make a review for the original version, it wouldn’t be any different.

This is also why I should stress again that yes, both the original version and the Reignited version are perfectly playable. It mostly depends on what version is more accessible, and that title belongs to the Reignited trilogy now as the original is only physically available on the PlayStation 1, and digitally on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable and PlayStation Vita. And with Sony already having considered the idea of shutting down the PlayStation Network for all before-mentioned systems, who knows how long these will last.

Where do we go from here? Spyro 2? Yeah, of course, no beating around the bush here. See you next time with a review of Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! …Or Gateway to Glimmer because Europe.

What character do you personally find most satisfying to control in a 3D Platformer?

I already mentioned it in the review but my answer would probably be Spyro. However, I find Rayman to control very fluidly as well, especially in Rayman 3.


Does this genre interest you? If so, I have multiple other Platformer reviews ready for you!

About author

Nepiki

A gamer and writer at heart who wants to combine his hobbies into one. I am 25 years old and I'm from the Netherlands. Having played many games over the years, I wanted to express my love for them, however obscure they may be!

Comments
  • thegamerwithglasses1

    May 8, 2021

    I agree with you on Spyro being one of easiest to control for 3D platformers. Very simple moves that are easy to execute. I was so happy when they did this remaster as I had played the first 2 but never got a chance to play the 3rd. The music is really good.

    Reply
    • Nepiki2

      May 8, 2021

      Even though I am only nostalgic for the GBA games and arguably the first one, it was absolutely great news to hear they were remastering all three games. And with Crash getting a fourth game (again), I’m keeping my fingers crossed Spyro can get the same treatment eventually as well!

      Reply
  • William Robinson3

    May 12, 2021

    Yessss, Spyro reviews! These were so much of my childhood and for so long my friend and I speculated on the ideas of remakes, and it actually happened!! 😀 Upon replaying through the Trilogy, I agree on your point on the lack of standouts. There is certainly a few (Tree Tops is still difficult, but nowhere near as tough as my younger self remembered), but generally, yeah, it tends to be a consistently good quality that struggles to have those standout peaks. I actually think the updated art style contributed to it in the Trilogy, as suddenly some of the ominously dark levels such as Tree Tops became brighter and more similar to lots of the other levels, perhaps taking some of their identity away. However, I definitely still rate the Trilogy highly, and am very excited for your review of my favourite, Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer 🙂

    Reply
    • Nepiki4

      May 13, 2021

      When I saw the Crash trilogy remade, it was a dear wish for me too that Spyro would get his share of the cake, and I was so glad it happened so a whole new generation can experience these great games! That’s an interesting point you make there regarding quality, because I definitely remember some stages having a completely different ”feel” to them in the original, whereas they felt more lumped together here.
      Glad you enjoyed the review! The Spyro 2 review should be up very soon, followed by the third that’s also close to finished!

      Reply

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