Way back in the PS1 days there was a mascot who could hang with the big guys like Mario, Crash and Sonic. He had a good run totaling three hit games on Sony’s first console, but then Insomniac moved on to other things and Spyro was relegated to also-ran status. There were a number of outings on handhelds and a couple on console from other developers but nothing clicked like the original trilogy. Spyro fell by the wayside until developer Toys For Bob got to use him in its Skylanders series, and while it was nice to see Spyro return, he was still demoted from leading icon to guest star status. The little purple dragon deserved better and he’s finally getting a new shot at lead billing in Spyro Reignited Trilogy.
Relaunching a series that’s seen better days can be done in a couple of ways, either by completely reimagining it Tomb Raider-style or by diving into nostalgia, and Spyro Reignited Trilogy takes the latter route. That only works if the games hold up to the test of time, of course, but the original trilogy was popular because of its quality and that still shines through twenty years later. Reignited is a compilation of Spyro the Dragon, Spyro: Ripto’s Rage and Spyro: Year of the Dragon, not so much remastered as completely reconstructed. Tossing the old games through an emulator with some fancy graphics tricks isn’t an option here, so Toys For Bob is straddling a delicate line to both preserve the originals near-exactly as they were in the level design and gameplay department while also making them look nice enough to pass today’s art requirements. With the release being only a couple of weeks away, the version I got hands-on with is just as close to final as it could get without actually coming on disc and it plays exactly like I would have hoped.
My demo was four levels long, the first level from each game plus a more advanced one for video capture, with Spyro the Dragon getting Stone Hill, Spyro 2 seeing Idol Springs, and Spyro 3 getting a trip through both Sunny Villa and Dino Mines. Despite the limited time I utterly failed to fight the obsessive-compulsive need to collect every single shiny gem I could see while searching out the ones I couldn’t, charging and blasting fire at every unfortunate critter and enemy along the way. Spyro was always a bit overpowered for his adventures but as an all-ages hero that was appropriate and it felt great to see him dominating the old familiar levels.
While the rough level geometry is identical to the originals, the first and most obvious upgrade is to the graphic presentation. Buildings that were made of straight lines with textures that were (to put it politely) exceptionally well done for the PS1 are now ornate structures with plenty of detailing. An archway is in the same spot it always was but the surrounding decoration, whether it be castle, cavern, or saloon, is far prettier than ever before. Grass rises up from the ground and blackens when flamed and also has a secondary effect of making the little critters Spyro can singe for health a little harder to see. A hill that might have been hardly more than a handful of large polygons arranged so they weren’t perfectly horizontal now looks like a proper rise in the earth, with dirt paths wandering over its top. The levels may not be any bigger than before, but they stretch out into the distance beyond the play area in a way the PS1 simply couldn’t do. It’s great to see these areas given such a complete makeover, but they’re still the same levels they used to be if you strip out the fancy upgrades.
This holds true to the characters as well. There’s been a lot of work turning incidental characters that were only lightly differentiated into full personalities with a huge amount of storytelling layered into their designs. The dragons Spyro rescues in the original game, for example, have outfits reflective of their positions, each of which speaks of a character that could hold a game in its own right. Other major characters like Sheila the kangaroo get upgrade from “funny animal” to “full furry” status, matching the style of bunny-bad-girl Bianca who’s much closer to her original design. Every part of the game looks like it was gone over with a fine-tooth comb to perk it up and make it prettier while still remaining true to the original intent.
Which isn’t to say there hasn’t been some modernization as well, most notably in the use of the right stick for the camera. It’s easy to forget just how unwieldy the original camera in Spyro was for all three of the games, but back in that time it was still standard to put the controls on the left and right shoulder buttons. After playing Spyro Reignited I went back and played the same areas in the originals to get a sense of comparison and it’s hard to overstate how vastly improved the 3D camera has gotten since 1998. On the one hand it does make the games easier but on the other, fighting the mechanics for situational awareness is not the way to add challenge. For traditionalists, though, you can still hit the triangle-equivalent button to look around even if it’s not so useful as it used to be.
As for the rest of the games, they’re just like you might wish you remembered them without having to mentally paint over their early-3D-ness. Run around the levels, collect gems, toast or ram enemies, and take a relaxing soak in the memories of twenty years ago. There’s no question that the levels are smaller than those a new game made today would have, but maybe it’s not so important that every mascot-platformer have massive sprawling intricate worlds that require the soul of a navigator and a PhD in cartography to comprehend. The relative simplicity is honestly refreshing and it forces the levels to cram as much as possible into the space they’ve got available. It was great to spend a little time in Spyro’s original worlds in Spyro Reignited Trilogy, diving into nostalgia while enjoying all the advantages of twenty years in gaming evolution.