Tag Archives: Spyro

Spyro: Reignited

My memories of playing the original Spyro games are some of the fondest of my childhood. When the news broke that the first three in the series were being remastered for the PS4, I was ecstatic. While the current-gen versions of Skyrim and Bioshock Infinite are gorgeous to behold, their remastering does feel a little premature. But bringing back old 3D platformers from the late 90s feels as fresh and exciting as if the games were new. It seems less like a cynical cash-grab and more of a gesture that’s rooted in passion for gaming. The Spyro games were rebuilt from scratch, and because they’re so old, the contrast between the original trilogy and the remastered one is breathtakingly jarring.

2

I was delighted when my brother called me on his lunch break last November to disgruntledly tell me that he’d accidentally purchased two copies of Spyro: Reignited, and had decided to give me the extra copy for free. Tee hee.

I’d like to examine three things in this post:

  1. The quality and depth of the remake efforts
  2. How well the original games stand up after all this time
  3. My own gilded nostalgia

 

Spyro: The Dragon

Spyro Reignited Trilogy_20181120145635

The first game in the series is the one I remembered the least. I’ve always associated it with vomit, because the last time I played it I was 9 years old, sitting cross-legged in my pajamas, and I had the sudden feeling that I ought to go to the bathroom. After feeling fine just a few seconds before, by the time I reached the toilet I puked everywhere. The whole thing was pretty traumatic at the time. I felt like I puked my entire body weight into that toilet. My throat was burning hot but my skin was trembling with cold. At one point my dad was like “Good Lord, there’s so much of it, it’s even coming out of his nose!” and it was like my entire insides were trying to escape me until all that remained was a dry and desolate husk.

For some reason I blamed the episode on the first Spyro game and vowed never to play it again as long as I lived. There was just something about the game that seemed to lack the charm of the other two. Anyway, it’s all important information, because I’m now 26 years old and I still haven’t thrown up since.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy_20181121224818

The first thing that struck me about the game when I played it again in its remastered form was just how beautiful it was. The levels have so much more detail, depth, and texture. They’re as bright and colorful as a Pixar movie, and the swaying blades of grass, rippling castle flags, and cascading waterfalls are all imbued with this animate, living energy. I spent my first few minutes simply wandering around the hub world admiring the ambient sounds and smooth character animations. Just watching Spyro prancing around in such a fluid and crisp way made the whole experience feel fresh and whimsical.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy_20181123211006

It was only when I entered one of the levels that I remembered why my younger self was so quick to dispense with the game. I quickly became bored- and I’d only just started playing the damn thing! There didn’t seem to be any sort of context for what was happening. None of the levels have any sense of narrative or personality. They each evoke some kind of time period, place, or culture from the real world, but they just feel shallow. They feel like movie sets rather than real places, and there is little variation between them beyond murdering every living creature in sight and unfreezing the dragons. As I progressed through the game, I became more and more tempted to give up and start playing Spyro 2. I was that bored. Each level felt like a chore, and I had no motivation to play except to finish it. The final boss fight in particular annoyed me. Gnasty Gnorc was the only thing giving the events of the game the slightest context, but he doesn’t say anything and just runs away from you. There are no checkpoints so when I died I had to go through the rigmarole of the whole thing again. It just felt poorly designed and lacking in the excitement and intensity of a final showdown.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy_20181123211928

This might seem unfair given the technology available at the time, but I think it’s important to remember that one game shouldn’t be considered better than another by virtue of it being released earlier. Wolfenstein 3D is undoubtedly a more influential, innovative, and revolutionary shooter than Wolfenstein: The New Order, but no one can straight-facedly claim that it’s the better gaming experience. Spyro 1 established the central gameplay mechanics that would make the series a success, but beyond that, I found it a real slog.

 

Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!

Spyro Reignited Trilogy_20181130181048

To me, this will always be Gateway to Glimmer, which was the title given to the game’s European and Australian release in 1999. This was the first Spyro game I owned. Back in the day I would go to my friend’s house after Line Dancing on Friday nights and watch him play Spyro 3. I begged my dad to get the game for me. He couldn’t find it at the store, so he bought me Spyro 2 instead. The second game in the series is widely considered the best among fans and critics alike. It’s certainly my favorite in the franchise, and I realized upon playing the remastered version that almost all of my memories from the series came from this game in particular.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy_20181129234407

As soon as I started playing Ripto’s Rage I felt immensely satisfied. Right off the bat we have firm context: an experiment in interdimensional travel goes tits-up and a megalomaniacal warlock with a raging hard-on for dragons is inadvertently summoned to the magical realm of Avalar. With the help of his semi-sentient dinosaur thralls, he proceeds to conquer Avalar and impose himself as dictator. The realm’s deposed government-in-exile, respectively a bipedal cheetah, a hyper-intelligent mole, and a sexually-frustrated fawn, decide that the most logical way to retake power is to summon a dragon to their world because Ripto hates them so much. I feel like this is a reckless move, because none of them have ever seen a dragon and the last time they pissed about with wormhole technology they opened up their realm to a cosmic invasion. They should be grateful they didn’t end up summoning fucking Smaug. I’d like to see how far Elora’s sass gets her when Alduin conjures a meteor storm and starts belching Gamma Rays at every living thing in sight.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy_20181128162854

Luckily, they end up with Spyro. At first they seem disappointed not have gotten Draco as portrayed by Sean Connery, but as the fate of Avalar becomes increasingly dire, they hinge all their hopes of success on him, and it’s up to Spyro to reverse the coup d’état. The game begins, and at this point the player is invested. When I complained about the lack of narrative in the first game, I wasn’t thinking we needed something along the lines of The Count of Monte Cristo. It doesn’t need to be that complex- these games are aimed at kids after all. It just needs to have a little conflict and a dash of color in its cheeks. From the outset we have enough motivation to take down Ripto- he’s arrogant, snarky, cruel, and power-hungry. He’s tearing apart the harmony of this magical realm. By comparison, Gnasty Gnorc has about as much depth and personality as a tetherball with a smiley face drawn on it.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy_20181127195009

But it’s not just the macro elements that make Ripto’s Rage stand out. Playing the game I got the feeling that every level had been carefully designed. For starters, there’s an intro cinematic that takes place every time you enter a portal. Each level has a conflict of some kind, and it’s up to you to solve it. Right at the beginning of the game you find yourself in a place called Glimmer. The land is populated by a race of sentient jerboas known as the Gemcutters. Not only does it have a native species, but it has a sense of life, commerce and industry too. The Gemcutters of Glimmer are renowned for their mining. However production comes to a halt when a hostile race of giant lizards shows up. At this point the Gemcutters enlist you as a kind of traveling pest control service, and you proceed to systematically exterminate every last one of them. A lot of levels follow this kind of pattern- each one begins with a cutscene that shows how the equilibrium is upended, and it’s up to you to restore the status quo. It never occurs to Spyro to solve the given problem using diplomacy, but I think I’ll save my thoughts on his morality for another post.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy_20181127193447

The format of having us dip in and out of these self-contained stories works really well, and you find yourself motivated by the desire to check out the next cool environment and funky cast of characters that awaits you. The effort and attention afforded these levels is not just aesthetic however- it translates to gameplay too. As compared to the previous game in the series, there’s more variety on display. Each level has various optional challenges and side quests, calling upon you to swim, fly, ice-skate, chase, stealth, and puzzle-solve your way to success. You do everything from ride high-speed mining-carts around carelessly-laid boxes of TNT to herding cutesy bovine-elephant hybrids into a pen.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy_20181201202623

The game is structured very well, and its three boss battles are excellent. They’re equal parts challenging and fun, as you utilize various creative power-ups via fast-paced gameplay to take down Ripto and his mates. Each encounter feels dramatic and significant, a feat achieved by the game’s teasing the bosses at earlier points in the narrative, building up to them with various steps and hoops in your way, and some appropriately climactic showdown music.

 

Spyro: Year of the Dragon

Spyro Reignited Trilogy_20181213224712

This game’s an interesting one. A lot of our favorite characters return from Spyro 2, and the same sense of charm and personality is present in the game’s many cutscenes. But the game as a whole just smacks of trying too hard to emulate the success of its predecessor. It’s still fun, but it doesn’t feel all that original. Everything that worked well in Ripto’s Rage is carried over and ramped up to the point that it comes across as contrived. For instance, the characters of Spyro 2 added a real sense of humor and soul to the game that was missing in the first installment. The third entry in the series therefore massively expands this cast of characters and even lets you play as some of them. This isn’t an inherently bad idea, but it just isn’t executed that well. Sgt. Bird is a pain in the ass to maneuver, Bentley’s fat ass takes up the whole screen, and the monkey with the ray gun comes across as painfully bland- in both game design and personality. I thought Sheila’s jumping mechanics were fairly original and interesting, but none of her sections stood out as particularly exciting. You can even control Sparx in a series of Gauntlet-style dungeon-crawler missions, which I found utterly inane. None of it feels necessary. It seems like they’re just throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy_20181209181851

Another thing that worked well in Spyro 2 was its optional puzzles and mini games. Once again, the developers decided that this was an easy and fool-proof strategy for critical success and gave Year of the Dragon mini games up the ass. Some of them work, but a lot of them feel lazy and pointless. The skateboarding can be fun and the thief-chasing is as good as ever, but the overabundance (and varying quality) of these mini games just makes Year of the Dragon seem flabby and decadent. I’d rather they focused on just a few recurring mini games and gave them greater depth and more enjoyable controls.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy_20181201215003

The main plot? It’s fine. I like the idea of this mysterious kingdom on the other side of the planet, whose natives have to reach the dragon world by burrowing into the earth and tunneling through until they pop out the other side. It’s kinda like The China Syndrome meets Alice in Wonderland meets Gears of War. Anyway, the ruler of this antipodean kingdom is a female tyrannosaurus with a rather threatening array of magical powers known only as the Sorceress. Quick aside- I find the image of a dinosaur wearing makeup and lipstick really unsettling. Anyway, the Sorceress sends her minions to the dragon world to steal all their eggs while they’re sleeping. It’s a pretty good plot device, meaning that Spyro is the only one who can travel to this strange new world to retrieve them since the tunnels are too small for the other dragons. It’s also interesting that the Sorceress has an army of bipedal rhinos at her command, which makes all the levels and hub worlds feel connected. This time you’re the outsider, and you’re up against the entire military apparatus of this kingdom. The Rhynocs are present throughout the various levels, acting as garrisons to oversee the many races they’ve subjugated and the many lands they’ve annexed. The bureaucracy is tantamount to the Roman Empire in a lot of ways. Of course, Spyro comes in and massacres them like the bloodthirsty revolutionary he is. Freedom fighter or terrorist? I honestly don’t know anymore. The fact he never even attempts to solve anything other than through violence started to alienate me. Sure, the Sorceress is a tyrannical despot and all that, but presumably the Rhynoc sentries are just doing their jobs, trying to get by in a cruel world, and can’t be held accountable for the atrocities of the wider system they’re a part of. Right? It’s hard to root for Spyro when he’s flat out goring Rhynocs that are surrendering to him.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy_20181204221555

Overall, the third game is good but it tries too hard to emulate its predecessor and comes up short in that regard. The boss fights have none of the build-up and context of Spyro 2’s encounters, and each one feels like a shallow imitator of that game’s arena-with-power-ups model. The bosses themselves are introduced right before the fights, and their designs lack the simple yet effective tones of Crush and Gulp. I liked that there was a secondary villain in Bianca; her inclusion reminded me of Alora from Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. Sadly though, you don’t get to bloodily rip her limbs off, which was a disappointment for me because I’d been thinking of nothing else ever since that time she boasted I’d never find the dragon eggs she’d hidden right as I could see one in the background over her shoulder.

Advertisements

Games Of My Childhood

#1 Rayman 2: The Great Escape

40152-Rayman_2_-_The_Great_Escape_(USA)_(En,Fr,De,Es,It)-1

Any discussion of the games of my childhood begins with Rayman 2. This was the first game I had that became an obsession for me. Looking back, I find it interesting that the game made such a strong impression on me, and I am curious as to why this game stood out above the many others I played and enjoyed. I suppose it is necessary to begin with a brief description of the kind of kid I was. As a child I was extremely hyperactive and I spent hours upon hours playing with my imagination, perhaps years after other kids my age had stopped. Exotic or fantastical universes made a great impression on me, and little obsessions would continue to dominate my life right up until my teenage years. Hell, when I was 12, and the other boys in my school were learning all the filthiest swear words and how to unhook a girl’s bra, I became known as the kid that drew pictures of various subspecies of dragons that I laminated into trading cards. You can just imagine what a hit I was with the chicks. Anyway, I was introduced to Rayman 2: The Great Escape when I was about 8 years old, after my brother had been given the PC version of the game for his birthday. In short, it’s about a bipedal sausage dog with no limbs who can shoot balls of energy out of his levitating palms. He lives in a world that aesthetically resembles French faerie tales (think the Smurfs, but with more biomes) called The Glade of Dreams, which is being invaded by a race of sentient, genocidal robotic pirates whose armada has recently wiped out 100 other planets Alderaan-style prior to arriving. I fell in love with the wonder and whimsy of the game’s setting, and frequently drew pictures of the game’s iconic creatures and characters; the margins of my school books were full of giant piranhas, zombie chickens, ninja robo-pirates, and that mystical humpback whale. My obsession even got to the point where my teacher asked me once “What’s that character you’re always going on about?”. When I gave Rayman as my answer, she said that she was filling out my report card to say I had been well-behaved that day for not mentioning him once. Ultimately, I feel like this game paved the way for the games I would come to love as an adult; single-player, story-driven adventure games and RPG’s with exotic settings like Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect and Fallout.

 

#2 Croc & Spyro

A big reason why I love discussing with people the games of their childhood (and also, why I decided to write this post) is because everyone usually has an interesting story to tell. Back then, I didn’t have access to things like the internet, and I wasn’t old enough to get the bus to the city and check out the game store for myself. So what games I got were usually based on word of mouth. I had a friend around the age of 8 or 9 who lived just a few doors down the road from me. I am sure this will seem strange to my American readers (particularly the Texans), given that I am from a small town in the English countryside, but my friend’s mom at that time was the teacher of a popular Line Dancing class on Friday nights. I would go along, and we would dance, but most of the time he and I just hung out. Sometimes, after the class I would be allowed to go back to his house (since he lived so close) and there he introduced to me to two game series that would come to dominate my childhood: Croc and Spyro. Much like Rayman, they were platform-adventure games set in bright, exotic universes rich with fantastical characters and environments. I’ll give brief synopses: Croc details the story of a baby crocodile who arrives via hot air balloon to a lush valley inhabited by a race of magic-wielding Furbies. They live an idyllic life that gets interrupted by a Stalinist tyrant who presides over a race of homicidal frogs that have these fixed, creepy-ass grins. I remember being quite freaked out by them as a kid. During the opening cutscene of Croc 2, one of the cuddly little fur-balls gets cornered by a gang of the grinning frog-things, and the screen fades to black. The same friend that introduced me to Croc used to try freak me out by saying that the reason the screen faded to black was because the fate of the little creature was so horrifically violent, that it was banned from being shown in the game. And me, being the gullible numpty I was back then, believed with my whole heart that some kind of sadistic gang-rape and subsequent cannibalization had taken place, and that footage had been banned upon release. I loved both Croc and Croc 2– both were imaginative, fantastical adventures with bright colors and a variety of settings and characters. Croc 2 is notable insofar as it had a hub world that one could explore more or less openly, and then enter into mission areas; sort of paving the way for my later interest in open world RPG’s. Another interesting point worth noting is that the central conflict of Croc is very similar to Rayman 2. Both are peaceful, idyllic realms that get invaded by totalitarian societies whose main aim seems to be the genocide of the native, pacifist inhabitants. I find it intriguing, because I’m wondering how I would approach Admiral Razorbeard and Baron Dante if I were writing a literary essay on them the same way I would Claudius or Iago. There’s no other way of saying it, other than that their machinations constitute a holocaust. Fascinating. They are evil without qualification, and as a kid I never thought of things like ethnic cleansing as a subject.

The other game my friend introduced me to was Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon. I was instantly attracted to it and it followed the style of Croc, Rayman, and Crash Bandicoot as a 3D platformer with a dazzling array of exotic locales. Another theme of these games, one that is most exemplary of the Spyro series, is that each mission would have its own little theme, biome, and culture. I begged by dad to get me Spyro 3, but he came home saying that all he could find was Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer. I played it and adored it, and later on down the line my father was able to pick up Spyro 3. What I love about discussing childhood games, and the reason I am sharing these stories, is I love getting a sense of other people’s nostalgia. I revisited Spyro 2 during my time living in Eau Claire, WI, where I learned that the Spyro series was as nostalgic and important to my roommate and his siblings as it was to me and my brother. I also found it interesting that for Americans, Spyro 2 had the subtitle “Ripto’s Rage” instead of “Gateway to Glimmer”. My roommate and I will still talk endlessly about how we acquired these games before the onset of financial independence, and we love recounting some of our favorite levels from Spyro 2 & 3, like “the one with the ice hockey mini-game” or “the one with the robot farm!” or “the lava level with the Flintstone-esque savages and the rapey theropods”. If I had to sum up Spyro 2 in a sentence I’d say the game told the story of a teenage dragon and his mate Sparx, a dragonfly with magic powers, and how they get summoned to a different plane of existence by a sentient mole known only as The Professor, in order to rid their realm of some hellish demons that the Professor had inadvertently summoned. I know nostalgia has a way of obscuring a game’s flaws, but I honestly can’t recommend this game enough!

 

#3 Pokemon Silver & Crystal

601px-Crystal_EN_boxart

As a kid I had this weird thing going on where, if I hadn’t been the one to discover it, I would condemn something before trying it. I turned up to school one day and all the other kids were raving about this Pokemon thing. For some reason this gave anxiety, and for a while I said I hated it, and largely it was because everyone else loved it. Then, inevitably I gave in and became the biggest geek in class. I feel like those Pokemon games that came out for Gameboy Color and Gameboy Advance are worth mentioning on this list, because they were the first true open-world RPG’s that I played. They also formed an important part of my childhood and had a social component to them that the other games on this list did not. As I stated before, these are all games that were attained before I reached the age of financial independence, or the ability to research games on Youtube or the internet to see what I might like. Therefore, they could be gotten one of two ways: as a randomly-selected gift from my parents or as something I requested of them having heard about said game from my school friends. Pokemon definitely fits into the latter category. Every boy in my tiny school (there were literally about 12 of us in our grade) had a version of the game, be it Yellow or Blue or whatever. I remember at first that getting the games, which were essentially about taming wild creatures with psionic powers, was slightly controversial. My parents were hesitant about it, and even after they relented and got my brother and me the games, they regarded them with contempt, and admonished us for playing them too much. I remember coming in the living room one time whilst the 6 o’ clock news was on, and there was a story about a wave of crime related to the collecting of the trading cards off of which the games were based. There were reports of fights and robberies, and I distinctly recall being left with the feeling that if you carried cards around with you, you might get beaten within an inch of your life by a bunch of working class thugs with sparrow-like faces pointing sharply out of flat caps. My most vivid memory of playing the series is my tenth birthday, when I got either Pokemon Silver or Pokemon Crystal. I know I had them both, but I can’t remember when I got them. That day I had all my friends from school over and we were gonna hit up the tobogganing slopes and go for dinner. I remember sitting on the couch before we left and having my friends sitting around me and watching me receive Cyndoquil- perhaps my favorite all time Pokemon- at the beginning of the game. I found the creature so cute that I refused to evolve him, and tried to get him to level 100. Ultimately, I have some great memories of playing these games, and whenever my family went on vacations to places like France or Wales, my little brother and I would be playing our Gameboys in the back of the car. The music used to infuriate my dad, and we were made to turn it down. Whenever we arrived at our destination, my brother and I would still be playing, and insisting that we couldn’t leave the car yet because “you can’t save the game during battles”.

 

I hope you enjoyed reading my nostalgia trip. Please comment and tell me about the games of your childhood!