Gaming Writer Tom Martin looks at the new remaster of the Spyro Trilogy. Is it a red-hot remaster or perhaps a Drag-on?
I remember it like it was yesterday: after a hard day at school with my friends spent struggling to make our Beyblades clash instead of spiralling off into the nearest dint in the floor, I would return home to my trusty PlayStation 2. Whilst other kids were playing Call of Duty: World at War, Fallout 3 or in the weirdest cases Spore, I would be booting up PS1 classic Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer (known also as Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage). Or, rather I would be booting up the first level of Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer for I didn’t have the PS1 memory card, leading to me having to replay the first few levels every time. In what can only be described as a prime example of Stockholm Syndrome, “Glimmer” cemented itself as my favourite level of any game.
For this reason, I will admit the bulk of my time with the game has been spent in Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage, I felt that this was the game I played most in my youth, and thus this was the game I’d be most equipped to assess the game as a remaster. I have however played small amounts of the first and third in the interest of maintaining the stalwart ethics of gaming journalism so that r/Spyro doesn’t come after me with the same anger they came after the remastered baskets.
It seems like an obvious place to start, and is perhaps a given for a remastered game, but what should be noted how beautiful this game looks. As a long-term fan of the series its truly remarkable to gauge how far gaming has come. At one point in the level the player is asked to utilise the “look function” (‘Δ’) to check around the cavern, this moment truly brought a sense of wonderment to my inner-child. The Unreal Engine may be the cruel and vengeful god that gave us Fortnite, but the way Spyro looks inside of it is nothing short of beyond what 10-year-old me would have ever thought possible. The softly-edged cartoony style of the remaster brings Spyro into the modern day whilst still retaining a sense of sentimentality for the sharper polygon style of classic games.
With the exception of Spyro himself, the remastered cast felt strangely unfamiliar during the marketing for the game, leading me to speculate whether I would struggle to love the characters in their defined forms as much as I did when they were blocky nightmares. This anxiety was put to rest immediately however as the faithful scripting and largely returning voice-cast immediately reinserted me into the light up trainers of my young self. Special mention to Tom Kenny for once again bringing to life the Purple Dragon, the unstoppable voice-acting force of nature that was voice of my childhood seems intent on being the voice of my adulthood too. I quickly settled into the new character designs, and before long I was quite happily watching Moneybags charge me for my help in HD.
In another throwback to the original trilogy, the player is given the opportunity to enjoy the game to the tune of Stewart Copeland’s classic soundtrack, or to a painstakingly reimagined version headed by Stefan Vankov (in an interview with the PS Blog, Vankov revealed the team behind The Reignited Trilogy painfully “reconstructed all 120+ themes from the original trilogy, transcribing each piece note-by-note”!).
Whilst the option to return to the original music is a very thoughtful addition – providing a nice few minutes of schmaltz as I made a cup of tea with the game running in the background – as the updated soundtrack retains the fun energy and simplicity of the originals so well that I didn’t feel the need to swap whilst charging around the splendorous new surroundings. It felt as a whole that the new soundtrack fitted better with the crisper sound design (the ‘patter’ Spyro makes as he runs is literally the most incredible feat in gaming).
I also appreciated the addition of a “dynamic music” option, which fades the music to a transient atmospheric style if the player stops moving. This, alongside new idle animations for Spyro, makes the game weirdly fun to watch as well as play. Whilst stopped, Spyro might surprise the player by adorably yawning and stretching; he can also surprise the player by sneezing, setting light to a nearby patch of grass. The idle animation which brought a genuine squeak of excitement out of me however was Sparx the Dragonfly’s breaking of the fourth wall, adorably coming close to the screen before smiling and waving out at the player.
In all its new reignited splendour the game is also incredibly satisfying to play. I find just as much joy in holding ‘square’ and charging from basket to basket like some sort of alternate reality Beerus come to wreak havoc on all that is wicker. Familiar players will have no difficulty diving back into the game, within minutes I was seeing the ones and zeros, collecting hidden gems and obtaining even the most challenging orbs like that kid from The Wizard.
But perhaps this is what concerned me, I was able to so enjoy the game as a returning player, able to bypass the game’s strange tendency to drop gameplay hints at points where you’ve already had to utilise the abilities to get there. For example, in the first home world in Spyro 2, ‘Summer Forest’, the player is taught how to jump, glide and hover by Hunter. By the time of reaching the home world the player has already completed the first level and made their way through a portion of ‘Summer Forest’ which requires gliding.
I might suggest that Hunter might not know the player has had to go through this because he’s a coward and has never worked for anything in his life. But in all seriousness, waiting for someone to learn to ride their bike before giving them training wheels is a strange way to go about things. This is especially the case in a remastered game such as Spyro: The Reignited Trilogy. Unless your primary aim is to alienate new players, it is always worth making sure your remaster has (optional) clear and accurate hints and guidance. All newcomers are gifted in the trilogy is a new – albeit handy – mini-map.
What I tolerated in gaming as a 10-year-old, I will probably not enjoy as much as a 20-year-old. Returning to old favourites in the past such as Spider-Man 2 and Sonic Heroes recently has made me all too newly aware of just how janky controls were back in Spyro’s era of gaming. Unfortunately, it must be said, these awkward controls seem to return in the remasters; albeit only when I got the chance to watch a less-experienced Spyro player attempt to grapple with the game’s mercilessly awkward camera.
Jankiness in all its horror is especially problematic in some of the game’s notoriously hard sections. My my best point of reference for this is Spyro 2’s ‘speedways’, which some might not consider hard but it is worth mentioning that as I was playing ‘Ocean Speedway’ one of my housemates walked past and loudly exclaimed that the level could “go f*** itself”. Here the dissonance between how the camera follows Spyro and how he moves – which during flight can itself be slightly sluggish – can be a problem.
I myself also took issue with one in particular of the game’s brand new controls: In the original Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage, the player was able to cause Sparx to point in the direction of the nearest gem by holding both bumpers and both triggers – ‘R1’, ‘R2’, ‘L1’ and ‘L2’ – at the time (a secret code only known to the true Spyro elite). In the Reignited Trilogy however this has been changed to the simple act of clicking in the left stick, the bumpers instead cause Spyro to roll left or right. On more occasions than I’m proud to admit, this resulted in my innocent wish to amass shiny things leading to me rolling into the downswing of some giant club or even just off the edge of the level itself.
There are positive additions to the controls however. In a touch that reminded me of an old Destiny/Destiny 2 controversy, players can now control Spyro in loading screens as he flies between worlds. You can: Press ‘X’ to make Spyro flap his wings, press ‘R1’ and ‘L1’ to make him Barrel Roll right and left respectively, control his flight up/down/left/right with the left analogue stick and press ‘O’ to breathe fire. I am also happy to report that some of the original secret codes still work in the game. These allow players to change Spyro’s colour, dimensions and head size. So, it is thankfully still possible to save Avalar looking like a rejected NBA Jam character.
In the interest of bringing my dissection/nostalgic diatribe to a conclusion, I will simply say that the truth is I was anxious to return to Spyro after the strange fever nightmare that was the Skylanders series, the previous incarnation of Spyro under the development of Toys for Bob. Thankfully however, in Spyro: The Reignited Trilogy older and perhaps similarly disenfranchised players will find a beautifully faithful rekindling of the much beloved series. As with the Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy however I do doubt how much draw the game will have with a younger, newer audience; in a world filled with fast paced shooters and vast cowboy sims, a small game about a purple dragon and his dragonfly sidekick collecting gems, head butting sheep and burning flags might seem just a little bland.
Nevertheless, as I finish this review, I am filled with excitement at the prospect of heading home to my trusty PlayStation 4. Whilst other kids are playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Fallout 76 or in the weirdest cases still Spore except now it’s even weirder, I will be booting up Spyro: The Reignited Trilogy.