Review by MaxH

"Familiarity and inconsistency fail to slay the dragon's appeal"

In terms of variety and visual grandiose, Spyro 3 outdoes both of it's prequels easily. But as for developing ideas, keeping consistent and being a satisfying whole package, it lags behind both predecessors considerably. It's still a fine 3D platformer that houses some beautiful levels and great moments, but it's flaws are obvious. It's main flaw is that the core gameplay remains unchanged from Spyro 2. In fact it is SO similar that unless you had played both of the titles extensively (And I mean a LOT) you really couldn't tell the difference. The game's other flaws stem from this main problem. But I digress, the game does do ONE thing right.

It tells a decent story. The actual storyline is hackneyed and tired but it's implementation and the characters involved (Or one of them at least) make it a lot more enjoyable to follow. Some evil sorceress decides to steal 100 dragon eggs from the dragon worlds and take it back to where she lives, the forgotten realm. With these eggs she can restore magic to the lands and gain power. She does so with an army of Rhynocs (Rhino like cartoon creatures) and the help of an apprentice sorceress Bianca (The only likable character in the game). Spyro, with the help of clumsy irritating Hunter, must travel to the forgotten realm and retrieve all the eggs.

You start off in a picturesque meadow filled with bubbling streams, an orchard, a hidden tunnel also with a river and just generally a pleasant atmosphere and a great design. Everything is as it should be, the same health system whereby hurting innocent creatures will gain you extra hit points, same moves, same everything.

It's still a lot of fun, but it's so familiar that it doesn't have nearly as much impact as either of the previous titles. It's just not ambitious anymore, but that isn't what is truly wrong with the game. What's truly wrong with it is it's overblown attempt to shoehorn variety in at every corner. You can now take control of FOUR other characters, each with sections in Spyro's regular level, and each with a whole level to themselves. Insomniac seem to think that they have created entirely new game modes with these characters but that's the problem, they haven't. These are just regular (But smaller) Spyro levels with harder control systems to get used to, nothing too offensive in itself, but the game relies on this to distinguish it from the others, and it doesn't work.

And the original subtlety of Spyro's game world has been ruined. Rather than integrating the side tasks into the levels seamlessly, big clumsy portals litter the ends of the levels and take you to your extra tasks. There are some nice ones in there, but they all seem to originate from what was seen in the first two games, even these provide almost no new concepts. Except for the skateboarding. Allow me to wretch.

New skating tasks (Only a couple though) serve only as means to frustrate, they never satisfy. I must confess I'm useless at games like Tony Hawk's and the like, and even though the control scheme for this is far easier, it is still horrendously out of place. The race and the skate park are well designed enough but are still too dull to cut it, it has NOTHING to do with Spyro, it's nothing like the game at all. I wanted carefully structured tasks that required the use of skills I'd gained and honed during the actual game rather than a desperate attempt to cash in on a huge craze (And cash in it does, look no further than the box cover on which Spyro is showing off his 'crazy' skills on the skateboard, for proof of this). It's all unpleasantly reminiscent of The Simpsons Wrestling (Although nowhere near as awful).

And this mish mash of extra tasks causes another problem, it takes away from the actual game. The levels are far less vast and carefully designed than in Spyro 2 (And, at a stretch, the first game as well) simply because Insomniac were slaving over the multitude of side tasks contained in the game. And so that unprecedented feel of wonder and serenity that the Spyro series previously pulled off with such artistry, is down-played considerably here. The game has lost it's main aims, it has no focus, it just doesn't have the soul that the other two have.

But all is not lost. Although the epic sense and concentrated style of the previous installments is missing, I'm always up for a beautiful, intensely enjoyable platforming experience, and Insomniac haven't disappointed. The level design, although lackluster in it's inventiveness, is still well balanced enough (Few moments of frustration and unfairness, and you'll never be crowded by enemies) to provide a setting for a fine adventure. The visual grandeur still forms a big part of the game's appeal, and the styling is more impressive than ever.

And, as a simple platformer, it's still head and shoulders above the rest. It's side tasks disappoint, but only when inevitable comparisons with the previous spryo's are made. As a stand alone game, Spyro three is derivative but still satisfying. Exploring and picking up gems isn't as important as it used to be, but it's still a lot of fun, and their large scale makes for at least one or two impressive set pieces a level, such as the underwater caverns of Seashell shore, or the fantastic, awe inspiring fluffy towers of cloud spires. Gliding, charging and flaming your way around them is a great pleasure, and the actual platforming challenges in the game are far more refined than what has gone before.

As I mentioned earlier, the graphics are nothing short of stunning. This game has more style and imagination in it's visuals than any other on the Playstation. It's a shame that the entire cast of enemies consists of rhynocs (Rhinocerus style guards), as the first two game housed some impressively imaginative enemy designs. But the animation on said enemies and the level's characters is still staggeringly detailed. More advanced than any other platformer on Sony's grey box, they bend over backwards to immerse you in the already impressive fairytale style cartoon world. The size of the levels and the effort and detail put into their look is equally sensational. The game's look is so finely crafted and carefully painted (speaking figuratively, of course) that seeing the game's next world is reason enough to do your best.

The game's music will split opinions, I'm sure. It is far more subtle and unintrusive than what Insomniac have previously demonstrated. At first, it's slightly irritating and wholly disappointing. But it grows on you, and as it does, you begin to see it's qualities and how it enhances the main game's atmosphere. Still, as much as I appreciate the pleasant guitar strumming bits and odd clip clap tunes, I yearn for the more encouraging, rousing score from Spyro 2. The voice acting is acceptable for the most part, and excellent in places. Spyro's forgettable voice is ordinary and totally unoffensive, and each levels's inhabitants are voiced professionally and with a great deal of charisma. There are two exceptions from this general standard, Bianca the apprentice sorceress has some great voice work and her character is helped by some dramatic entrances. Also, there is hunter, the Cheetah who helps you along the way, he voice is exceptionally childish and annoying. Listening to each syllable in his sentences being over-pronounced is infuriating, it's lucky he doesn't speak all that much.

This is probably the most difficult of the Spyro trilogy, and the huge number of side tasks (Some very challenging) will keep you occupied for ages. The game has the usual tough speedways (Destroying and coming into contact with a certain number of objects within a time limit) and the fairly dispensable Sparx levels (Top down shooting affairs which start off fun but the mundane structure soon grates) are there to add extra variety. So there's a wealth of things to do and, although the main game itself is still typically easy, there is a lot more challenge to be had than in Spyro 1 and 2.

It's true to say I was disappointed with Spyro 3, but I was far from horrified. There are enough expertly structured challenges and levels in here to make the game an essential purchase for platformer and Spyro fans alike. But, when you look at it up close, the main game is less satisfying than Spyro 2, and the side tasks aren't as well thought out, in almost all departments it is an inferior game. It still offers up superbly enjoyable, familiar entertainment, but it doesn't shine nearly as brightly as it should.

The Spyro who loved me
+ Still a lot of fun
+ Some great level design
+ The exploring gameplay dynamic still holds true
+ Lots of variety
+ Immense worlds
+ Splendid, jaw-dropping visuals
+ Atmospheric, subtle music
+ A huge challenge
+ Fantastic style
+ Some good voice acting
+ Aesthetically flawless
+ Good pacing

Old flame, same game
- No significant changes to the main body of the game
- Too crowded with side challenges
- Levels not as big as they were before
- Lacking in consistency, balance and imagination in the gameplay department
- Not as good as either of the previous games
- Skating? Ugh

If you like this....
Spyro the Dragon - PSX: Not as varied or pretty, but a little more fulfilling
Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer - PSX: The high point of playstation platforming and an enthralling, unrelentingly entertaining game.
Spyro: Season of Ice - GBA: Deeply flawed and deeply satisfying in equal parts. Satisfying wins out in the end though

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 02/26/02, Updated 02/26/02

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