Spyro is one of many cartoon animal mascots that fronted 3D platform games in the late 90s and early 2000s. They were trying to ride the wave of Sonic the Hedgehog's success a few years earlier. Followed by Super Mario 64 showing that the future of games lay in the third dimension. A large chunk of game boxes were slapped with the grinning face of some computer-generated creature. Usually with the "cute with an attitude" vibe. This is also true of the Spyro Reignited Trilogy!
To remind you of how many there have been, here are just a few: Banjo the bear, Gex the gecko, Ty the Tasmanian tiger, Conker the squirrel, Sly Cooper the racoon, Croc the crocodile, Bubsy the cat, Kao the kangaroo (anyone?) and Scaler the chameleon (anyone at all?) On top of this, you had more humanoid characters like Mario and Rayman, as well as games based on existing characters like Disney and Looney Tunes. With this much competition, platformers had to be pretty good to make a lasting impression. Many of my friends who stopped gaming as they got older still have fond memories of Spyro. They never mention Glover the glove or Billy Hatcher. For those who are unfamiliar, he is the boy dressed as a chicken.
Back in My Day...
The original 3 Spyro games were released on the original PlayStation. Following their success there were many follow-ups, none of which were as well-received as the first trilogy. These were a mix of sequels and reboots, including jumping on the trend of trying to make the main character edgier; pretty tricky when your hero is a stumpy purple dragon. I haven't played any of the later games, but I've seen some box art where he's scowling at the camera like he wants to murder you #NotMySpyro.
When Spyro Reignited Trilogy was announced as a remake of Spyro 1 to 3, I knew I'd be getting it straight away. Over the years, I've often crossed paths with the original games, long after getting rid of my PS1. A university friend had Spyro 2 on an old PS2, and later I stumbled across Spyro 3 on PS3's online store, which happened to be shortly before Spyro Reignited was confirmed. This meant I had recent experience of the originals to compare to when playing the new versions.
Reignite My Fire
When new games from an older franchise like this are released they can be remakes, remasters or reboots. There are some grey areas between these, but I'm going to put myself out there and declare that the Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a remake. That's right, I'm going to disagree with Wikipedia, who call this a remaster. It has stayed faithful to the originals despite being rebuilt from the ground up because the original code was lost to time. It was developed by a company called Toys For Bob, who also remade the first three Crash Bandicoot games. The "N. Sane Trilogy" proved popular, which showed the developers what the fans wanted - a new way to play their old favourites, without drastic changes.
Not long into playing the Reignited Trilogy, I realised why Spyro stood out among other platformers of the day - these games are really fun. Before I get to why let's set the scene for anyone who is new to the series.
We're Going on a Collectable Hunt
Story-wise, I can't really remember the details. Not that the story is bad, it's just a minor part of the whole experience, an excuse for Spyro to jump around, burn baddies and collect stuff. In each game, there's a generic evil antagonist, who has done something bad to some magical realm and you have to fix it. In Spyro 1, you're unfreezing fellow dragons who've been turned into statues. Spyro 2 has you collecting talismans that have been stolen from the locals. In Spyro 3, you're rescuing dragon eggs.
Pretty in Purple
Obviously, the graphics are a big technical improvement on the originals, which I remember looking amazing at the time. The style reminds me of modern animated Disney films like Tangled and Zootopia, colourful and cartoony without being nauseating. Spyro himself has had a few makeovers in the various sequels and reboots, but his new design is unmistakeably your classic Spyro. This is a relief because in the last round of games he looked like a goat crossed with a scorpion.
Fire in the Booth
Spyro's soundtrack is iconic. The original composer, Stewart Copeland (formerly of The Police, the band which made Sting famous) returned to help remaster the original tunes. Copeland has movie composing experience so these aren't just beeps and boops on repeat; we're talking about dynamic and atmospheric pieces which are simultaneously calming, upbeat and epic. This was no exception for the Spyro Reignited Trilogy!
Flaming Good Fun
The gameplay consists of a series of hub levels, that are each connected to a number of worlds where you search for the majority of the collectables needed to progress. The hubs are great for exploring and trying out the controls without much danger. You can then mostly pick and choose which levels to try out, which include a mix of environments including medieval castles, deserts, icy mountains and volcanoes.
Controlling Spyro is simple and satisfying. As you might expect from a character called Spyro the dragon, he can breathe fire. To keep things balanced, he isn't able to torch everything in sight like an angry Charizard, but instead shoots short bursts of flame. His other attack is a charge, where he lowers his head and gains speed to deliver a spiky headbutt. This can also be used as a faster way of getting around, as long as you avoid walls and cliffs of course.
Not as Hard as Dragon Scales
These games are more forgiving than other famous platformers like Mario, Sonic and Crash Bandicoot. In those games, I constantly die from slightly mistiming jumps and brushing one of my pixels against an enemy pixel. I'm also known to slide off ledges into a physical and emotional abyss. In Spyro you take a few hits before you die, and whilst there are plenty of bottomless pits, they're easier to avoid. Overall this is a more relaxing experience, which is generally what I play games for. If you're looking for something to really test your platforming skills, Spyro might not be savage enough.
However, the lower difficulty level is partly responsible for Spyro's success. It allows people to enjoy themselves even if they don't have much platform game experience. I witnessed this firsthand when I let my girlfriend's four-year-old nephew play, who hasn't done much console gaming. Within a few minutes, he was physically jumping around and gesturing with the controller, hoping it would influence the game, completely engrossed in the virtual world. He was able to do all of the basics, without getting frustrated by constantly falling to his doom or getting crushed by enemies.
Having said that, it's not a complete breeze. There are plenty of enemies around. There's an array of weird and wonderful beasts including giant crabs, scuba diving rhinos and wizard lions (or lion wizards?). Each attack is enough to take out most enemies in one hit. However, you have to be tactical as some enemies are fire-proof whilst others are headbutt-proof. I tried fairly hard to complete and collect everything, but still missed a fair few gems and other bits. So if you want to get all the way to 120% completion (yeah this one goes to 120), then that will give you a few extra hours of snooping around (and probably getting some YouTube help).
Sometimes it's a Drag to be a Dragon
So far this review has been a love letter to Spyro's past and present, but I do have criticisms. The first of these are the flying challenge levels. For some reason, Spyro has been cursed to fly for eternity, with a mix of objectives like racing through rings or killing all enemies. All without touching the ground and within a time limit. For me, the frustration outweighs the thrill of the challenge. I never got the hang of the flying controls. This meant I had to replay some levels countless times, getting agonisingly close to completion before running out of time or faceplanting into a mountain. I appreciate the opportunity for a change in gameplay style. It's great when you finally complete them. However, it's jarring compared to the relatively chilled atmosphere of the rest of the main levels.
Another thing that could be improved comes into play in the third game. You occasionally take control of different members of a vague Spyro Justice League. There's a kangaroo who can jump really high; A penguin who can fly for some reason; a yeti armed with a club as big as himself and a secret agent monkey. Generally, they're clunky to control, which is a sharp contrast to Spyro's carefree romping.
I had a great time with the Spyro Reignited Trilogy. I would highly recommend this collection to anyone who enjoyed the originals. There aren't any aspects I can think of that make the experience any worse than the PS1 games. Maybe you'll miss the quaint charm of the original graphics, in which case you can always watch some video playthroughs
Going with my gut instinct, I also recommend Reignited to people who haven't played Spyro before. It is better than most 3D platformers that have ever existed. The decline of 3D platformers means that it provides a fairly unique experience on current consoles.
As a final note, a sequel to the original Crash Bandicoot Trilogy was released on the back of the success of their 2017 remasters. This might mean a new Spyro "4" could be gliding into our lives at some point.