Review by MaxH

Reviewed: 12/09/01 | Updated: 12/09/01

If you have a burning desire to love platforming again, relight your passion with this red-hot classic

There's two different types of experiences that sit at the top of videogaming. There's the calm, breathtaking ones that you savour (Hyrule field in Zelda 64, using the first person view in just about any Banjo Kazooie level) and there are the fast furious fun ones seen in games like Crash Bandicoot and just about all first person shooters. Of course you CAN'T have both in a game. Or can you? Overly epic, serene games often need more variety, and the fast furious experiences can prove to be shallow, so why not fuse them together to form a deep, fun experience? And that's what Insomniac games have done, they've made the best platformer available on the playstation.

The plot is a little more mythical than in the previous game (Called Spyro1 from here on). Spyro and his dragonfly friend Sparx enter a portal thinking it will lead them to a sunny beach, but find out they have been tricked into a world called Avalar. The people who lead them here did so under honest motivations. The professor, Hunter the Cheetah and Elora the fawn are being terrorised by a villain wizard called Ripto and think only a dragon can save them. They explain to Spyro that to help defeat Ripto he must collect fourteen talismans from the worlds scattered around Avalar (Get to the end of a level and you receive a talisman). And so off he goes.

Essentially, the gameplay set up is the same as before: wander around the world hubs (Three in this game) and levels, collect gems and get to the end. But there are three important things this game has that Spyro1 didn't have enough of: variety, character and a long-lasting challenge. As well as simply going around the levels collecting gems, leaping over bottomless pits and killing enemies, there are loads of mini-games and side tasks to complete. Other fundamentals stay the same, the speedways are back (And I'm still no good at them) the health system is the same. Your dragonfly will glow gold when there are three hit points left, blue when there are two, green when there is one, and he'll disappear when you are one hit away from death. Killing the innocent animals scattered around the sprawling levels will put the colour back into Sparx.

The first thing you'll notice once you're watching the opening cut scene is the added character. The only real character in the original was Spyro and he had a whiny annoying voice anyway, Tom Kenny plays it much cooler as the purple dragon in this installment. but also there's the tiny, determined Professor, the boastful but easily scared hunter and the rather arrogant Elora. And it doesn't stop with them, every single level has a different set of characters, all with names, and most of them with plenty to say. From secret agent kids Hansel and Gretal to the Buddhist turtles in sunny beach, there's a lot of likable, memorable folk to help out. It really does add a certain charm to the game. The jokes are mostly standard, but hearing the characters bitch about each other is a real laugh.

Those who were afraid that the beauty of the first game would be lost need worry no more. The levels are even bigger than before, and the enemies are just as curiously created. The design is far more vivid than before, whereas Spyro1 offered levels with gorgeous textures and open areas, this game adds extra flair such as appropriate architecture. It feels less sparse than the first game and it's just a more convincing involving world. Gliding over the huge fields and caverns is still captivating, and Insomniac have sneaked even more of these moments into the game. Wandering about picking up gems is even more fun (and strangely calming) than before and is a real joy in itself. But if that were all then this would just be a slightly better designed Spyro1. It's not of course.

You see the side tasks add SO much in this game. Riding on gurneys, freeing trapped Hula dancers, returning energy balls to the generators, it's all very fun, and very frantic. Often a task will ask you to smash or flame a number of things within a small time limit without missing ONE, this makes for very tense play and will take several goes. It's the kind of frustrating (But hugely rewarding) antics that games like Crash throw at you, and it's mixed in well with the atmosphere of the game. The graceful style of the main game is left in tact, but now there's just so much more to do. Some of the side tasks are EXTREMELY hard (I've yet to beat a couple of them after owning the game for two years). It's two different game dynamics mixed with rip roaring success, so this time round there's something for everyone.

And it's all so different. From the logic puzzles, to the reaction tests to the strategic growing of beanstalks every level throws a new challenge at you. One of my favourites (And one of the hardest) is ridding the crops of a robot's farm of insects, you must swoop around the level flaming them away. You'll have to plan your route carefully, you'll have to practice a hell of a lot of times and you'll have to move quickly. It's the kind of challenge the makes you subconsciously shout when you've succeeded and one that will put sweat on your brow for the duration. After that, why not enjoy the scenery and bizarre yokel robot farmers while collecting gems around the fiendishly designed levels. Explore. This is the kind of contrasting experience that typifies the appeal of the game as a whole. It's got the rush and it's got the relaxation. It has just about everything you'd want from a platform game.

And it's even more gorgeous than before. The high polygon character models are now much more detailed and expressive. Everything is done with a little extra panache, if an enemy ran away with clear fear on it's face in Spyro1, it will do so while flailing it's arms madly and screaming in this game. The game is at the same technical level as spyro1, but it's overall design is much more accomplished, levels are more creative, wildly bizarre and thoughtfully animated. Detailed wall patterns and cool daunting structures are one-a-penny. It has the same mysterious, attractive, colourful atmosphere as before, but now with a lot more polish.

The sound, as it was before, is outstanding. It has a subtle, light-hearted and gloriously mythical score. Sometimes breaking out into rousing melodies, but still retaining that almost inquisitive thought-provoking guitar tune in the background. Truly the best music in a platform game, it's unique, catchy and fits the game's stylings like a glove. The sound effects are great, picking up gems, smashing baskets and making the 'patter patter' noise with your charge attack makes gives enough sound satisfaction to please. The voice acting is much better, with some wholesome, lovable hilarious characters emerging at many points in the game. It's obvious Insomniac have made sure the sound enhances the gameplay, and they've succeeded wholeheartedly.

It's much longer than before too. Simply strolling through the levels collecting gems is as effortless as it was before, but the even harder speedways and masses of side-tasks adds hours onto playtime. I still haven't finished it properly. But I still like to play through the whole thing again, it hasn't lost it yet after two years and counting.

So this really is the best platformer you can get on the playstation, and one of the best 3-d platformers on any system. It's easily the most enjoyable, well-balanced entry in the Spyro series and it's just begging for your attention with spectacular atmospherics and widely varied challenges. Avalar needs your help....

Relight my fire
+ It retains the vast, impressive explorable level styles from the first game
+ Everything is generally more accomplished than it was in spyro1
+ The side tasks add a massive amount of extra challenge, and make the game appealing to a wider range of gamers
+ Loads of weird and wonderful characters to interact with
+ Atmosphere is enhanced in countless ways
+ A good solid, challenge
+ Controls are tighter than before
+ Good, involving story
+ Charismatic, enthusiastic voice acting
+ Perfect music
+ It looks sharp, colourful and immensely detailed

- It's still not quite as good as it should be
- It's restricted from reaching it's full potential by the system's limitations
- Despite the side tasks, it's very much the same game as the original

If you like this....
Spyro the Dragon - playstation: The original Spyro, thoroughly enjoyable but inferior to this.
Spyro: Enter the dragon - playstation: It's still good solid fun, but it's lost it's appeal somewhat. Relies too heavily on the side tasks.
Spyro: Season of ice - GBA: I haven't had the chance to play it extensively yet, but it seems like a real treat of a handheld game, and one that has that Spyro feeling.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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