Hot off the tails of a new rumor broken by Kotaku, it looks like the possibility of A Spyro the Dragon Remaster Trilogy could very well be in the works for the PlayStation 4 and later to other consoles. This trilogy would include the first three Spyro games made by Insomniac Games for the original PlayStation: Spyro the Dragon, Ripto’s Rage! and Year of the Dragon. The rumor suggests that Vicarious Visions, the same team that worked on the excellent Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, would be back to bring the little purple dragon’s classic games into the limelight once again later this year. Not only is that a great idea, it’s a great time to show developers exactly how sequels can and should build on their predecessors.
The original Spyro the Dragon was released on the PlayStation in 1998, after two years of development under Insomniac Games. After releasing the well-received (but under sold) first-person shooter Disruptor, Insomniac decided to make a more accessible game in the same vein as Crash Bandicoot. So they decided to focus on a platformer with simple mechanics – Spyro’s attacks consisted of breathing fire and ramming into enemies, with some enemies only being vulnerable to one or the other. Spyro could also glide after jumping and could fly freely in some levels. He could collect gems to unlock new worlds, free dragons encased in stone and retrieve unborn dragon eggs in an effort to reverse the actions of Gnasty Gnorc. It was a relatively short, simple game, but it received a positive reception and sold particularly well.
The next year, Insomniac released a follow up – Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! This sequel retained all the positive aspects the original had, but added more levels, more gameplay wrinkles and a slightly more engrossing narrative. Instead of bringing back all the dragon NPCs of the original, only Spyro and his dragonfly Sparx returned, this time ending up in the land of Avalar. They were summoned there by Elora the Faun, Hunter the Cheetah and the Professor in order to take down Ripto, whose only known enemies were dragons. The game is split into three major hub worlds and orbs were added as a new collectable – most of which could be obtained by taking on side quests from NPCs. Gems could be sold to an odd little thief called Moneybags who would grant Spyro access to new areas, as well as teach him three new abilities: swimming, climbing and an overhead head bash. After defeating a certain number of enemies in each area, a power-up gate would be activated, giving Spyro temporary new abilities like ice breath, super jump, invulnerability and more. The game didn’t sell quite as well as the original, but it received even more positive reviews upon release.
In 2000, Insomniac released Spyro: Year of the Dragon – which was, fittingly, the Year of the Dragon in the Chinese Zodiac. Instead of giving Spyro more and more abilities, Insomniac opted to introduce more playable characters with their own sets of abilities. Though Spyro is still the primary character, seven “critter” characters can be unlocked in their own respective worlds by paying old Moneybags to release them – these include Sheila the Kangaroo who can double jump and Hunter the Cheetah who acts as a racer. Each of these playable characters have their own unique world that can only be played through as them and can be used outside of these in gated areas of other worlds. This kept variety high, as there were 37 separate worlds littered with collectables and various minigames. Year of the Dragon kept tradition up and was longer than Ripto’s Rage, receiving critical acclaim.
What this all boils down to is a developer knowing how to tackle sequels. Insomniac Games would go on to release a trilogy of Ratchet and Clank titles for the PlayStation 2 that similarly got better and better with each release. The games got longer, more complex and simply more enjoyable with each new game – and they were all released in less than a four-year period. Graphics improved, worlds got bigger and more varied, and the reception improved because of it. Insomniac did these sequels right, and even though they decided to move on from the little purple dragon because his actions were limited without having opposable thumbs, they played to his strengths and limitations.
Unfortunately, the series has never been the same since and not a single Spyro game has lived up to the original trilogy. Between Vivendi and Activision gaining the rights to Spyro, a few decent mobile titles were released, some disappointing console games came out and there was a regrettable attempt at a new trilogy. Hopefully Vicarious Visions truly are working on this Spyro remaster trilogy and hopefully that will spur Activision to start making quality Spyro the Dragon titles again – we’re still holding out for the same to happen for Crash Bandicoot. Spyro’s future could be bright and hopefully future developers can continue to learn how to do sequels right from the original trilogy.