In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, you couldn’t swing a stick without hitting a platformer with a wannabe star. The post-Sonic landscape gave us everything from Blinx the Timesweeper to Jersey Devil, with most of them flopping. There were successes to be had, though. Banjo Kazooie gave Nintendo another hit series, while Crash Bandicoot proved to be a system seller for Sony. Following in Naughty Dog’s footsteps on the original PlayStation was Spyro the Dragon, who saw three successful releases on the console. Over time, though, like his contemporaries, he fell out of style. Since everything old is new once again, though, Activision has resurrected the purple dragon for Spyro Reignited Trilogy, a lovingly created compilation of only the hits.
Bringing together Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! and Spyro: Year of the Dragon, the Reignited Trilogy is a full-scale remake of the titular dragon’s biggest hits. Developer Toys for Bob has rebuilt each of these titles from the ground-up, but have stayed true to original developer Insomniac Games vision. Every hidden secret, goofy enemy and quip-filled friend is in exactly the same place it was back on the original PlayStation. However, instead of wandering around blocky, dated forests, the visuals have been improved to meet the current standards of this generation.
That may not sound impressive on paper, but what Toys for Bob has achieved with this compilation shouldn’t be downplayed. The problem that often arises when a classic is remade or re-released is that sometimes the nostalgia you have for it doesn’t align with how you feel about it now. However, by keeping everything in line with how Insomniac Games originally intended, but making smart, necessary improvements, Toys for Bob has created something that feels retro, but still fresh. A trio of platformers that don’t feel as old as they should for being released nearly 20 years ago. Just writing that sentence out makes me feel ancient, but it’s the truth.
Despite its overall simplicity, the original Spyro remains a hallmark of the genre. As a child, I was drawn to the purple dragon’s attitude, which grates now, but was cool back in 1998. There’s very little to the gameplay that you haven’t seen done numerous times before and after, but I honestly don’t mind. In 2018, playing through such a straight-forward adventure is a blessing in a landscape of titles rotten with too much content. It doesn’t hurt that the creative level design, such as the devious Tree Tops, remains as enjoyable as ever. It may lack the bells and whistles of its successors, but sometimes, simplicity is all you need.
Ripto’s Rage! transports Spyro to another dimension for an adventure that is similar, but still fairly different from its predecessor. Over the course of his quest, Spyro will have to make frequent gem payments to “ally” Moneybags in order to both open up new areas and learn new abilities. Skills such as climbing and diving underwater add fresh wrinkles to the original’s straightforward gameplay, even if they don’t feel wholly necessary. If there’s one entry in this trilogy that stands highest, I do think it’s this middle entry. It successfully builds upon the mechanics of the first game, but doesn’t overload them like the third outing does. And while I can’t forgive it for bringing in some truly dopey side-characters, I’m trying not to hold that too much against it.
Upon its release, Year of the Dragon was met with high praise across the board. I never played it, but it does stand as one of the highest rated titles released for the PlayStation. Playing through it now, though, I’m not sure I understand where all of that praise came from. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a pretty solid outing, mostly because the developers at Insomniac Games are masters at crafting a good platformer. However, the decision to introduce more mini-games and bring in playable side characters hasn’t aged all that well. The mini-games are all pretty bad, with Spyro’s skateboarding challenges being a chilling reminder of how lame the early 2000s were. And the side-character missions just take time away from the thing I actually want to be doing, which is toasting enemies with Spyro. The tight level design still makes it worth playing, but the final PlayStation original lacks the spark the first two entries have.
If you couldn’t already tell, I’m pretty high on the core gameplay of all three titles included in the Spyro Reignited Trilogy. The level design in each release is sublime, and the challenge of each never rises above moderately annoying. If there’s one issue I do have with it, though, is that it can be a little annoying to control Spyro at times. Gliding can feel inaccurate, and Spyro’s dash is a pain to aim when it shouldn’t be. When he charges, the camera also shifts to a cumbersome perspective that makes it difficult to see where you’re going. It’s an odd design choice, because as far as 3D platformers go, the camera is actually pretty great for the most part. Again, these are just small annoyances, but they do need to be pointed out.
I spoke about it before, but the facelift Toys for Bob have each of these games is excellent. Every level is bursting with color and personality, packed to the brim with details that really makes them stand out. The extra work put into each of the other dragons that Spyro comes across is also well handled. They no longer feel like bland non-player characters — Toys for Bob has refreshed each dragon, complete with their own unique personalities. It’s technically strong, but it’s the personality put into every aspect of the visuals that make the compilation such a treat to take in.
The soundtrack for all three titles has also aged remarkably well. Composed by Stewart Copeland — best known as the drummer for The Police — the bouncy tunes are perfectly suited for each colorful adventure. Copeland even contributed a brand new theme exclusively for the compilation. The option to use either the original tracks or remastered versions arranged by Stephan Vankov is also a nice bonus. Additionally, the dialogue has all be re-recorded as well. Despite how I feel about the characters and plot, the voice acting is solid regardless.
If you’re expecting a reinvention of the genre, Spyro Reignited Trilogy is not for you. The gameplay of each title included is decidedly retro, and the lack of difficulty may be off-putting for those used to a challenge. However, there’s a reason each entry in the classic Spyro trilogy was so highly regarded. Insomniac Games crafted timeless adventures that have managed to withstand the test of time. And with Toys for Bob lovingly recreating the world around Spyro, there has never been a better time to check out these classics.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by Activision.
Lovingly and lavishly recreated, the Spyro Reignited Trilogy is the perfect introduction to three of the best platformers of the PlayStation generation.