Spyro: Year of the Dragon – Everything is better with friends… right?

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This is officially the first time I’ve beaten this game 100%, and is the third game in a trilogy of Spyro reviews. Like those two reviews, this one will cover the Reignited version of the game instead of the original. I definitely understand some people might be bummed by this, but I feel like core gameplay and level design are what makes- or breaks a Spyro game for me, and both of these are kept fairly intact between both versions. I don’t feel like playing through essentially the same game twice in a row, especially not for a non-profit blog. I do own the original game on PlayStation 1 however, so maybe I’ll play through it in the future again and possibly update the review where necessary.

Despite being the third game, this review will mostly be stand-alone and understandable to readers who have never played a Spyro game in their whole life. That said, I may make references to the first two games to further strengthen my arguments. The game was 100% completed before writing this review, including all collectables and skill points. As mentioned before, the version I’ve played is the Reignited version through Steam with a controller.

And now we arrive at the final game in the trilogy. I covered the second game last time on this blog and frankly, I hold it in very high regards. Suffice to say, I could not wait to jump into the third game immediately after. Just like with Ripto’s Rage, I initially stopped after the first game because I had this curse following me where I could not enjoy playing games from the same franchise back-to-back. This means that I have little to no experience with Year of the Dragon, though I was familiar with the main selling point of the game due to the Game Boy Advance games. Pretty much all of the animal companions show up there, so I already knew who the likes of Sheila and Agent Nine were. Given the fond memories I have of these games and also how much I enjoyed the second game, my expectations were pretty high. Hopefully those expectations were met, but the only way to find out is through reading the review, so no more stalling! Today, we are ending the mini Spyro marathon with the final game: Spyro Year of the Dragon!

Spyro: Year of the Dragon was released in the year 2000, which was coincidentally ”the year of the Dragon” in the Chinese Zodiac. You can probably already guess why the game has this subtitle and indeed, that was simply the reason and nothing else. The game was in development for almost a full year, taking inspiration from many other titles such as Doom and Crash Bandicoot. This can be seen in the addition of the animal companions, who take on a wide variety of gameplay styles that aren’t necessarily just platforming. You can definitely see why this was done because, despite the positive response towards all three games, Insomniac Games stopped developing Spyro games after this one, with the main reason being a lack of ideas on how to improve future games. The other reason is that they also wanted to develop something else for a change, which resulted in many games we now know and praise–including the two heroes that can partially be seen as a spiritual successor, Ratchet & Clank. Fortunately for us, the franchise would not see its end here as it went on for many years, with some unfortunately much worse than others. Hopefully the Reignited Trilogy will remedy that! For your daily trivia: did you know that Spyro: Year of the Dragon is famous for being one of the games with the best anti-piracy measures to date? Games being pirated was common even back then, so Insomniac implemented a lot of countermeasures such as eggs being removed from the inventory and even your save data being deleted halfway through the game.

(Thank you do Adonaldumich on YouTube for archiving the TV commercial for Spyro: Year of the Dragon)

The story starts and Spyro can take it easy for once! No wait, hold on, he is not allowed to relax. Introducing Bianca the Rabbit, who steals all the dragon eggs and leaves for the other side of the world by just digging there. Either the world is super small or that’s the strongest rabbit I’ve ever seen!

Surprisingly, the game brings in some extra lore regarding this side of the world as it is where dragons originally ruled, until they were banished by a fat lizard known as the Sorceress–who is also the main antagonist of the game and needs the dragon eggs for her evil plan… even though she puts them in the most dangerous places like a rocket that’s heading towards space, so I have no idea what she plans to do with them anymore.

But with the goal in mind, Spyro: Year of the Dragon feels like a mix between the original game and the sequel in various ways. There aren’t multiple collectables to be found anymore and instead just eggs. Lots and lots of eggs. And if being the anti-Medusa in the first game wasn’t enough, now Spyro is also a walking incubator because the eggs hatch immediately upon retrieval. What bothers me though, is that every single dragon is named despite being born only a second ago. Nobody was around to give you names, how do you all have names, I hate it!

While there are still multiple species in every stage, the main enemies are Rhynocs in weird outfits again. Apparently Rhynocs are just everywhere on the planet, almost like they are a plague or something. But if that wasn’t enough, our friend Hunter and murder target number 1 Moneybags have also hopped over. Why Moneybags? He’s working for the Sorceress now for whatever reason, though it’s just an excuse to rob us of our gems again. He even holds animals hostage that he so generously frees from their cage for a small fee. But don’t worry, the developers listened and know how much we dislike this fat bear, so there are quite a lot of occasions where we see Moneybags getting the treatment he deserves. No spoilers, but you are going to enjoy it, trust me.

If you’ve seen the cover of the game, you know that these specific animals are more than just targets to rescue. This is because, for the first time in the franchise, Spyro is not the only controllable character. There are a total of four companions to be rescued, each in their own homeworld, who all become playable after being freed from the hands of a greedy bear. They all have their own stage, but also their own section in other stages. And I am glad to announce that my main issue with the second game–the stages resetting after each leave–is gone. But for whatever reason, so are the charming cutscenes at the beginning- and end of a stage. Problems were solved… but at what cost?

For the first time in the franchise, Spyro is not the only controllable character.

These four animals actually bring a lot of… hit-or-miss mechanics with them for me. While I praised the second game for having many objectives that complimented Spyro’s gameplay, the same can’t really be said here for most of the game. The primary examples would be the new animals, but Spyro also has some objectives that have nothing to do with his gameplay, such as skateboarding. Personally, I don’t mind different gameplay styles too much, but they have to fit the game or at least play well. So ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me that they’re different but whether they are fun. So, let’s analyze all the different playable characters- and objectives!

The first two animals to unlock, Sheila the Kangeroo and Sgt. Byrd, are the most similar to Spyro from the bunch in terms of gameplay ideas. Sheila can jump high and deal out hard kicks, while Sgt. Byrd can fly for an infinite amount of time and launch missiles of death and destruction. Both of them are a variation of Spyro’s abilities and unsurprisingly, I enjoy playing as them too. What’s also great is that their gameplay slightly changes in each stage, like how Sheila has a 2D Platformer segment in the Tomb Raider rip-off level–complete with a rat called Tara Croft that also has Lara’s outfit. You can’t get references more obvious than this.

These gameplay changes are especially noticeable in the segments of the final rescuable animal, Agent Nine the Monkey with a family-friendly gun. A prime example of a gameplay style that has nothing to do with Spyro’s expertise as Agent Nine barely platforms at all, but at least a gameplay style that functions well. But the fun part about his gameplay is that every segment of his is a different kind of shooter, alternating between first-person, third-person, and even on-rail. I personally enjoyed playing as Agent Nine, but this is definitely one of the hit-or-miss gameplay styles this game has–especially in the original version due to it being far clunkier. I didn’t really face any problems in the Reingited Trilogy however.

But smart readers might be thinking ”Nep, you dumb nut, you said there were four companions but you mentioned three, has no one taught you math?”. First of all, shut up, I got an A for my final math exam so praise me. Second… I lied, because there are actually five companions! But let’s talk about the third animal first because Bentley the Yeti… is not fun. I genuinely disliked whenever a section of his came around. His own stage is fine since it’s an over-the-shoulder action game that’s over pretty quickly, but he has to participate in the most awkward boxing match in one stage that downright sucks, while he has to play whack-a-mole in another that… also downright sucks.

That leaves us with the final companion who was secretly hiding among our ranks the entire time: Sparx! Now, this gameplay style is a guilty pleasure of mine as it is the exact same as the one used in the Game Boy Advance games, namely a top-down shooter. Upgrades to find for Sparx’s… spitting ability or something, a maze to go through and more; it’s all here. It does control a bit more awkwardly than an actual top-down shooter since this one isn’t twin-stick but oh well, I can’t bring myself to hate these.

What this comes down to for me personally, is that the majority of the animals at least control nicely even though their style doesn’t fit a platformer. However, the worst of the bunch will always leave a sour taste in my mouth that I will keep remembering about this game. Funnily enough though, Bentley isn’t even the worst offender of throwing in an unrelated gameplay style, as that title belongs to this stupid skateboard that is found in multiple stages! Now, I’m guessing this was done to cash in on the popularity of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skating just like how there is a level designed after Tomb Raider, but in that case… why not just make it a single level? Skateboarding has absolutely nothing to do with Spyro and while it’s not that hard to do, I am still playing a platformer–not a game about a dragon skateboarding. There are even races on skateboards where you have to do tricks to gain boosts. WHY.

This {insert not-so-family-friendly word here} skateboard…

But alright, that’s enough complaining. So far I’ve mostly talked about the animals and the different gameplay styles because frankly, that’s what defines this game and differentiates itself from its peers. Everything else is still mostly the same, like how Spyro’s controls are unchanged. Though fortunately he took some notes from Mega Man and does not lose his abilities learned in the second game, so that’s one less reason for Moneybags to steal our money. The gliding- and charging are still as satisfying as ever, and so is firebreathing to take care of whatever enemy stands in your way. There is also an ice breath that is used only once which feels like a bit of missed potential, but elemental breaths are prevalent in later games so it originated here and I am thankful for that.

The gliding- and charging are still as satisfying as ever, and so is firebreathing to take care of whatever enemy stands in your way.

The same can be said about the stages which, yet again, feel consistently good in quality with no real stinkers to be found. Charmed Ridge, Enchanted Towers, and Crystal Islands are definitely some of the highlights for me, especially the latter two as they are some of the few stages that either has an animal- or power-up that allow free flight throughout the entire stage. Most objectives are now separated into their own area through a portal instead of being integrated into the stage itself, meaning that some objectives that allow flight won’t let you take it outside of that portal. I do slightly miss just walking up to somewhere and finding a hockey field or something but oh well, it’s not necessarily something that bothers me and I guess it’s good for balance. This was apparently also done to make stages themselves bigger but I didn’t really notice that; they still feel about the same size as they’ve always been. Also new to this game–at least, back in 2000–are the minimaps displayed in each stage which is definitely helpful.

Free-flight speedways are still as satisfying as ever, having the ”achieve 4*8 objectives in a certain about of time” mission, Hunter being hidden somewhere in the stage and new to the party: actual races. Hunter is now technically playable as well but just in these missions with his super high-tech gear, which I’m admittedly not always a fan of but they’re done before I can complain so I won’t. The races can definitely get difficult as some timings and turns are pretty precise, but these also shouldn’t take too long to beat. And hey, you can still cheat and hurt your opponents. No idea why this is allowed but that’s dragon logic for you!

We did go back to one single collectable with the dragon eggs, but at least they are more commonly required to open new stages in the HUB worlds so there is a purpose to hunt them all down. As always, you need nowhere near close to all to just beat the game, but the completion reward is definitely worth it. Though I would argue that it’s my least favourite completion reward of the trilogy because of one thing that keeps haunting me: that stupid dang skateboard. Everything else about it is good though, but I won’t deny that I’m slightly disappointed that there isn’t a lasting effect after the bonus like the second game had.

And as it is tradition with this trilogy of reviews, let’s end with the bosses before we move on to the verdict. And like the second game, I’m satisfied with the quality of boss battles. The battles take place in a small arena through multiple phases, with our animal friends dropping something on the field for us to use. I wouldn’t say they are as memorable as the Ripto goons, but the battles are at least nice.

Small spoiler here though so feel free to stop reading immediately and move on to the verdict, but there was actually one boss that was very disappointing. As you can probably guess from this being a spoiler, I’m talking about the final boss: the Sorceress. It is just one phase, and you have to use vehicles that control awkwardly to damage her. And then the battle ends… and the game also abruptly ends, with no closure to this underwhelming villain. And you’d think they’d fix that when you fight her again after specific conditions have been met but while that was a nice touch, that battle is just as underwhelming and the closure regarding the Sorceress is still bad. Bring Ripto back.

Spyro: Year of the Dragon definitely took some risk with the introduction of a lot of different gameplay styles, but with the exception of a few, the results were definitely favourable. Unfortunately with most negatives, they are remembered more often when reminiscing about the game, and I am not looking forward to playing as Bentley again or going through the several skateboarding sections. This is arguably the biggest issue with this game as several of the unique gameplay styles just don’t compliment Spyro’s moveset, but the majority of these different objectives at least control nicely so it merely depends on personal preference. I genuinely enjoyed playing as Agent Nine who takes on all variations of the Shooter genre, but I also understand other people will not. Fortunately for them and arguably for me, Spyro himself remains the main character and everything about him and the stage design remains consistent throughout the entire game. There is a slight loss in personality as the bosses don’t really feel memorable and there are no cutscenes before- and after stages anymore but that’s just a slight nitpick, as everything else about the game lives up to the quality we’ve seen thus far from our favourite purple dragon.

8.5

Nepiki's Rating

Overall rating

Game Score
8.0
Fun Score
9.0
Positives
  • Introduction of a bunch of new animal companions that are fun with a few exceptions.
  • Stage design remains consistently good.
  • Spyro still controls as good as he always has.
Negatives
  • A lot of objectives have nothing to do with platforming (stupid skateboard).
  • Slight loss in personality with not having cutscenes before- and after each stage.

And that’s a wrap! I am so glad I’ve finally played through the original trilogy now to full completion. My love for Spyro has always been big due to all the other games I’ve played, and now I can gladly join the discussion on the original games. Even though I definitely have criticism with this game, I had a blast playing through all three of them again and if I didn’t have other games in my endless library to play, I wouldn’t mind doing it again soon. Who knows? But when I return to the Spyro franchise in the near future, it might instead be a marathon of three games that I’ve brought up multiple times during these reviews. But that, dear reader, is just a tease, so stay around and maybe that day will come!

With the Spyro reviews done, I have a few miscellaneous reviews to finish that will hopefully come out soon as well. I hope you will look forward to them!

Now that the trilogy has been remastered in HD, what would you like to see happen to our favourite purple dragon?

This is going to be the common answer, but a new game like Crash Bandicoot got not too long ago would do wonders for Spyro. Just sticking to the original storyline would be more than enough for me, as the humour and cartoony way of storytelling fit the games very much. Having the gameplay from the first three games but with new additions like the elemental breaths would also work very well. I’m not objected to the animal companions returning, but I would like the objectives to be more complementary of Spyro’s gameplay.


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!

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thegamerwithglasses

I’d love for there to be a new Spyro game. I think the series went under after they kept making so many games that to me as a kid were way more difficult than the originals. They felt less platform like. I can’t remember the one I’m thinking about since it has been at least 10 years. I’d like a new game that maybe brings Ripto back or a Crash and Spyro crossover.