Review by MaxH

"Read this review or die, inferior being!"

With an utter lack of quality 3-d exploration platformers, it looked like fans of the genre had nothing to look forward to on the playstation. Little did they know that this unknown character (A character not based on a cartoon license? What is the world coming to) would set their world alight *snicker*.

The story to this unexpected hit is the usual generic platformer dross: There are five dragon worlds, each the habitat of a different type of dragon, there are other creatures too but most of them fit in pretty well with the dragons. Except one. Gnasty Gnorc, an evil green, er, thing was far too unruly to live with, so the dragons dumped him in their wasteland and that was that. Or so they thought, gnasty gnorc managed to get hold of a source of power, the name of which eludes me (But I think it's safe to assume it was featured in many irrelevant legends that had place names like Klavisar). So he uses this to cast a spell to turn all the dragons into stone, but this flew right over the head of young Spyro, who must set out to defeat Gnasty Gnorc and free all the dragons from their rocky prisons.

It's not that awful and it's completely unimportant, but something a little more original would have been nice. But the uninspired story is completely pushed out of your mind when you are thrown into the game. You begin not in a claustraphobic corridor or a boring old level map but in a stylishly drawn, beautifully expansive green field filled with towering stone structures, a real world. And you love it.

When you breakdown Spyro's gameplay elements it sounds pretty boring. Run around big levels, kill enemies, collect gems and jump across platforms. But it's the exploration and the characterisation and just the superb atmosphere that makes Spyro such a joy to play. It's like nothing you've seen before. You must still have to get from one end of the level to another, so it's linear in that fashion. but that only serves to get you back to the main hub, finding the end of a level isn't the goal at all. You soak in your surroundings and then exploit them. If that cliff is in sight, then how do you reach it, if that wall has a crack, what's behind it? It's the discovery of new things that keeps you hooked.

And Spyro isn't a dragon just because market research says the kids go crazy for those things, his dragon features are taken advantage of fully. Some of the more breathtaking moments of the game are witnessed when gliding high above your world, the spectacular sight that fills your screen can't really be described. The effect of breathing fire is also quite impressive, sounds a bit like a tissue being ripped by a weedy arthritic old woman, but the marvel of orange fire spreading about spyro's purple head is very good to look at.

It's not quite like anything else in that it mixes a bit of comfortable linearity with a lot of welcomed freedom, but it can't really be called original. But it is polished, engrossing and impeccably presented to the end. It's really the fantastic level design and it's ability to keep you in constant awe that makes it so good. And it's fairytale presentation makes for some interesting and detailed worlds. Running around and collecting gems is a strangely enchanting and rewarding tasks, and uncovering the location of one of those stone covered dragons is very satisfying, as it requires quite a bit of thought and skill.

The character animation is hilarious, endearing and always of extremely high quality. Watch the more cowardly enemies' jaws literally drop as they spot you and then run away wildly searching for somewhere to hide. Other enemies engage in a bout of aggressive happiness when they spot you, waiting for the chance to pound you. The sheep, one of the species that create a source for your energy by slaughtering them (Don't worry kiddies, no blood here, just a puff of smoke and they transform into a butterfly when hit, for you to eat. Yum), even bounce away panic stricken when they see you. So as well as the lovingly crafted levels, you've got a mad and likeable bunch of characters to populate them. The dragons you save are also animated appropriately according to their world they live in. The dragons in the magical world (I forget the world names, the instruction manual is missing) and mysterious and rather spindly, while the Crafter dragons are tough and mountainous in size.

So the atmosphere is right, the gameplay compelling and the style refreshing, so why not the score a nine or higher? Well, although it pains me to say this, Spyro is lacking in any extra ideas or any form of variety at all, making it occasionally, well, repetitive. I really can't say that it's one of those games that is hard to turn off. It's not boring, it's just that it's quite slow paced (Which, in itself, is good) and it takes quite a long time to finish a level. And since the next level basically entails exactly the same thing, you really don't want to do it all over again just yet, which is a shame. So really, Spyro's already excellent gameplay is in need of some variety.

The other fault is that it's far too easy. There's quite a lot of it, and collecting EVERYTHING is a lengthy and worthwhile task, but I mean it's consistently easy to get through. The difficult of the first level is just about identical to that of the last. Sure, the stuff hidden stuff gets more hidden and the enemies slightly more irritating. But losing lives is still quite a rare occurrence.

As I've said, the game is a looker. It's sharp graphics give it a much cleaner feel than most rough around the edges PS game. And the high polygon characters make them look almost as good as they do in their promotional rendered stills. The level of detail in your surroundings is stunning, scenery, castles, terrain, all done with amazing flair. And so it all comes together to make a stylish, magical visual gem of a game. And yes, no slow down or pop up.

But one thing that deserves a special mention is the sound. No patronising forced cheery melodies here. No, we have an old eighties musician from a band called the Police (A sad place for your career to go when you used to be famous, but it's a good thing for the game) doing the score. The result is a deeply mythical relaxed and atmospheric set of tunes. It REALLY does add to the mood of the game immeasurably. It's all of high quality and often quite catchy. The sound effects are also a pleasure to hear. The sound of collecting gems and frightened sheep bouncing off into the horizon are just two highlights. And it's worth doing the charge attack just to hear the exceedingly cool pattering feet noise.

So overall Spyro is an absolutely wonderful game. Yes it could have used some more variety, but that's really not too bad a fault, the game formula is fun and absorbing as it is. And with that it teeters on the brink of a nine, but when it's such an effortless experience, and it isn't original enough to make up for that, it can only get an eight. But for those who like their platformers, this is exceeded on the playstation only by it's sequels.

Enter{tain} the dragon
+ Jaw dropping and consistent presentation
+ Expansive worlds that leave you dribbling
+ Excellent and compelling level design
+ It's more contained than Mario 64, but not linear
+ Refreshingly relaxed pace for a platformer
+ Charming fairytale atmosphere
+ Seemingly boring level tasks are turned into fun and engrossing ones
+ Brilliant characterisation
+ It's fun to play through it again after completion (I speak from experience)
+ If you go for the hidden level, getting everything will take a LOT of work

It doesn't half 'drag-on' *snicker*
- Could use more variety
- It's never difficult, which is disappointing
- The bonus levels are fairly mundane and repetitive
- Too idyllic for some?
- Not as good as the fantastic sequel

If you like this....
Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer (Ripto's Rage in the US) - playstation: Simply the best platformer on the Playstation, fixes all the faults of this game and builds on the good points too
Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon - Playstation: Far too many gimmicks and not enough focus on the main adventure. But it's still very fun.
Super Mario 64 - N64: The game that set the rules for the genre really, it's amazingly well balanced fun.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/30/01, Updated 11/03/01


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