Spyro the Dragon
Review by BigCj34
"Even today, it stands as a platform game classic."
The Spyro the Dragon series made its debut on the PlayStation in late 1998 and was developed Insomniac games, who previously had developed the then acclaimed Disruptor. Alongside Crash Bandicoot who by this time was on his third outing, Spyro the Dragon went on to become a key PlayStation series before Insomniac moved onto Ratchet and Clank on the PlayStation 2. Since the PSone days the Spyro series has seen mixed results with different developers, ranging from mediocrity to good but never reached the standards of its PSone prime.
Spyro the Dragon is set in the peaceful dragon lands split into five worlds, each with different dragons of a different nature: the Artisans lived in the tranquil rolling greens and castles and spent a lot of time crafting sculptures and writing music; the more war-like Peacekeepers combated any invaders in their barren desert-world; the solitary Magic Crafters lived up in the remote snowy mountains; the Beast Makers lived in the dragon land swamps and the Dream Weavers lived up in the sky castles, there for anyone who had bad dreams would consult the dragons up there for help. Unfortunately the evil Gnasty Gnorc decided to break a few rules and was dejected to the dragon junkyard in which he immediately renamed it Gnasty's World. He turned every single dragon to stone except for wee Spyro, as the shot went over his head, then animated the gems into enemies, and locked the rest in chests. Spyro, as the last one standing, has to free the dragons and retrieve all the gems!
The formula used in this game isn't anything sparklingly new but is used to maximum effect. The game doesn't rely on sheer linearity, there are six worlds that consist of a home world and other levels are accessible via portals scattered around them. The progression of worlds is linear, certain criteria must be for fulfilled by freeing enough dragons or retrieving enough gems for Marco the balloonist to allow you to move on. In each world you can expect a chaotic homeworld, a few portals for levels alongside a boss level and a flight level, a mini-game level where you need to destroy enough items without running out of time or hitting the water. This is easier said than done, tight corners and moving obstacles alongside wondering where the last chest is enough to send you to a watery peril or out of time. The boss on the other hand is like any other level but this boss is going to take more than one burn of the flame, but once they're down you can expect a handsome reward in gems.
The typical platform collectables come in three flavours: gems, dragons and eggs. Gems range in colour, different colours indicate a different value, and are obtainable from killing enemies first time or just scattered around to more discrete areas, they're everywhere. Some chests require you to flame them, whilst others require special means such as either finding a key, supercharging into a chest or light a corresponding firework. Although the majority of gems can be picked up by just casually exploring the level, it's always the last few that are in that impossible to reach room or even ones you simply missed, an extra touch of the typical platform madness. Dragon eggs are collectable throughout the first three worlds by chasing down runaway thieves, whilst dragons are freed by walking up to them but nonetheless they're well spread out and requires plenty of searching to reach them all. They all need to be collected to an extent to move on, so no skimming!
It's the true platform game qualities incorporated into Spyro the Dragon that make it a hit, the way it tests your reflexes, timing, common sense and your explorative skills in general. The many types of levels remain faithful to the theme of the world, most in the Artisan world are quite straightforward and include a tranquil castle or a beautiful villa town; the Magic Crafters are based in high mountainous areas with plenty of jinx-minded enemies, a simple curse has the ability to push you off a platform; the fantasy dream nature of the Dream Weavers world makes for levels with floating buildings and enchanting music, the amount of themes varies substantially and adds a genuine adventure feel. The challenges are vast, many parts of levels (usually where dragons are hidden) require pin-point timing for gliding, you may have to find the right combination of various supercharge platforms to run through in order to reach a remote island off the level, or execute a flight right at the top of a jump, all getting to the point of sheer frustration. Enemies can often outwit you often from an instant change of form when unexpected or cheekily whacking you when not looking, and there's plenty of different types of enemies to annoy you so keep your eyes peeled!
One of the unique features of Spyro the Dragon is its stunning, bright cartoon style graphics. The level design varies throughout each and every one, whether it's the beautiful sunset skies or the effect of a villa town there's so much variation. The music has a unique feel through all the levels in Spyro, giving a real sense atmosphere: Icy Cavern encapsulates a real misty sounding' effect; Gnorc Covegives a jolly, yet solid battle-like beat highly appropriate for enemies throwing TNT at you in a harbour level; the magical sky-based Lofty Castle gives a chromatic, enchanting tune, although some melodies are a little drab. Voice-overs are excellent, most of the dragons have something to say although the occasional one is glad to simply be released.
All the secrets, gems, dragons and thieves eggs take masses of exploration, ensuring that you'll be spending some time with this adventure. It's a unique kind of platformer that gives a replayability appeal, one where you'd come back to it every now and then, the challenges always feel fresh even when you've done it all before with plenty of areas that require a one-off fluke to get to. What you get isn't particularly original, there are only few innovations and it's all been done before, but it makes the best of the ideas it uses, and makes it one of the formats best platform games. There are a few shortcomings, most notably the ease of the first two worlds and the non-progressive storyline but throughout the later stages the game really is at large and sets an epic that not even Spyro's sequels have reached. If you get a chance to buy this game, (it's available through the PlayStation Store if you own a PS3) go for it. You'll even come back for more. 9/10
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/12/07
Game Release: Spyro the Dragon (EU, October 1998)
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