Review by Kwing
"Lots of Problems"
Because of Spyro's legacy, as well as having played Attack of the Rhynocs for the GameBoy Advance (and Dawn of the Dragon on Wii, briefly), I decided to try the original game.
The game begins with a bunch of dragons verbally abusing a troll-like critter called Gnasty Gnorc. Gnorc turns around and curses all of the dragons, freezing them and sending them to remote locations all over the world, and Spyro must explore every area and find those dragons to free them and ultimately confront Gnorc. Oh, and Sparx doesn't have a speaking role yet (and where's Ripto?).
Despite being a really cartoony story, Spyro has some pretty dark undertones. Gnorc never strikes you as being a very malevolent character - in the grand scheme of things, he never incited anything or did anything unprovoked. Spyro, on the other hand, is a heartless killer. He kills hundreds of innocent creatures regardless of whether or not they're of Gnorc's species, he destroys everything from flowers to tents, and he takes all of the treasure he comes across. Spyro's voice would have actually fit better if he'd been voiced by Kratos.
Spyro fall strictly under the platformer genre. Most of your time is spent exploring giant maps and collecting, either by finding treasure, chasing down thieves for dragon eggs, or finding and saving crystallized dragons. There's not even much going on in terms of puzzle elements.
Exploration is broken down in several ways - there are six worlds in Spyro, each with four normal platforming levels and a bonus flight level. All five levels are connected by a sixth platforming level called Home, which allows players to travel to any of the other maps on that world via portal-like gates.
Each world also has a hot air balloon operator, and on your initial playthrough, he requires you to fulfill certain circumstances before allowing you to continue onto the next world. These deal solely with the amount of treasure, eggs, and dragons you've found, and the requirements are seldom difficult to fulfill.
Onto level design, I feel like the way levels are divided into worlds is done very well, and each level is also quite enjoyable, having its own style and overall just being a massive game environment. However, it's more the gameplay itself that raises some issues for me.
First of all, just about all of the difficulty in this game is in the platforming. Although Spyro has a kind of life gauge, you're a lot more likely to lose entire lives at a time from screwing up a jump than you are from enemies taking all of your health. Common causes of this happening are not jumping quite right and Spyro hitting the corner of a platform before falling to his demise, pressing the triangle button with the wrong timing, causing Spyro to drop out of his glide at a fatal moment, or holding square too early, sending Spyro into a dive before he clears a gap. The former issue is an extremely common problem in the flight levels, and it makes them ridiculously hard and frustrating.
In addition to these annoying reasons for dying. lives are replenished rather slowly, with enemies who have already dropped treasure dropping little balls on repeat kills which turn into an extra life when you get enough of them. Enough = an annoyingly high number.
Even if you do die, the game just puts you back at the area where you last saved a dragon, with everything you collected intact. If you lost your last life, you get a game over screen and are sent back to the home area of that world with four lives, still with everything intact. The game is lenient with collectables, but this is one thing that I do like about the system - I can run around and collect stuff, and even if I'm lost I can say, "I don't know what I'm doing, but at least I'm not wasting my time if I die." The bad thing is that it makes the game too easy when you just respawn so often.
Moving on from the lives system, I'll go into combat as well. Spyro is equipped with a flame attack and a charging attack. Big enemies can only be flamed, and small enemies frequently have fireproof shields requiring you to charge them. Plenty of mid-tier enemies are large, but summon small monsters, forcing you to use a variety of moves to take them down. There's also a dodging mechanic, although there was really only one enemy type that gave me trouble and its attack was a spread of fire that wouldn't have worked with Spyro's siderolls anyway. Plus almost all enemies die in one hit.
Charging is really the star feature of the entire game. Holding square will cause you to charge extremely fast, and will also center the camera behind Spyro. Finally, the controls are also altered such that the side directional buttons steer Spyro rather than simply making him move in another direction. This makes the charging mechanic a lot more like a driving game, while there rest of the time it feels like a platformer. The fusion of the two genres is seamless and makes the game incredibly fun. It also makes chasing thieves the single most fun thing to do in the game.
Spyro's flame on the other hand is so-so. You don't have much range, it's not always the easiest to aim it, and overall it's just not that fun to use it against enemies.
One big issue with Spyro which jumped out immediately is that aside from moving on to the next world, you really have no reason to collect all of the stuff in the game. You can't spend your money, or earn experience or upgrades or anything. After you beat the game, your only real reward is a bonus level for 100% completion, though you get absolutely nothing in between minimal completion and 100% completion. One of the things I really missed from Attack of the Rhynocs was that Spyro could learn to use ice and thunder breath, as well as gaining super attacks for all three. With features like that absent, it can be hard to stay motivated as you play. Yes, the level design is fun enough that you don't mind running through the levels again, but it's the exact same experience as the last time you played it - there are no areas accessible later after you're able to jump higher or anything like that.
Bosses. This is a big issue. There are very few bosses in the game (two or three?) and the battles are really awful. Bosses only take one or two hits before running into another area. Most of the time spent fighting them is really just catching up to them before you flame them again. The final boss is literally one big chase scene divided into four segments, and while you're incredibly unlikely to take damage, one fall into the lava means you redo the entire battle.
Ultimately, Spyro's gameplay seems incomplete. The game could use upgrades, unlockables, puzzles, and more detailed combat mechanics. On the bright side, the level of exploration, and the amount of fun you get from charging through levels at top speed, almost compensate for all of these shortcomings. Almost.
Spyro is a late PS1 game. The textures and shapes are simple but somewhat attractive, and it's easy to excuse fine details when you see the magnitude of most of the levels. There are even small things such as flowers being affected by your fire that show that for what the system was capable of, the developers went above and beyond in including all of the bells and whistles.
Honestly the music is unremarkable in my opinion. One or two themes might have been kind of catchy, but it didn't really stick with me. Neither did the sound effects.
Where Spyro really shines is voice acting. Though the game has very little dialogue, what you do hear is great. Spyro and the dragons he rescues all have interesting and unique voices. Some might find them over the top or obnoxious, but because the dialogue itself is not particularly interesting, the voices themselves are what make 10 second cutscenes as entertaining as they are.
Spyro seems like a moderately long game for a platformer. Maybe 10 hours of play? Then another couple hours finding all of the things you missed the first time around. I could see myself getting 100% in the game, but I don't think I'd want to replay it from the beginning, given how much of a hassle the mechanics can be.
I'm going to have to say that most of Spyro's problems come from its age, and that doesn't have anything to do with the console it was on. No, Spyro suffers from a myriad of problems because it's the first game of the series. Going by the other games I played, it seems like these issues were sufficiently dealt with in later installments.
Spyro the Dragon IS a good game, but I wouldn't recommend it, much as I would recommend the series as a whole. Find a later version of Spyro, because this game has been redone so much better. Or if you want another game altogether, try Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom. As I played Spyro, I was taken aback by how similar the two games were, although Battle for Bikini Bottom appeared much more polished. Bottom line: This was a good game when it came out, but it's gotten better. Don't settle for less, get a newer one.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 09/27/13
Game Release: Spyro the Dragon (US, 10/25/07)
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