There used to be a time where even the notion of remaking something adored by so many would be enough cause to light the torches and wave the pitchforks. For a lot of properties, this is still very much the case, but occasionally, a remake transcends the norm, resulting in the public outcry being to go ahead and do it rather than burn the developers at the stake. Such was the case with Crash Bandicoot in 2017, and following hot on his heels thanks to community enthusiasm was the perky purple punk dragon, Spyro. Successfully revitalizing an old and overlooked genre, Spyro Reignited Trilogy (and Crash, to be fair) showed that these beloved older series still have a lot of life left in them, for new and returning fans alike. So with that in mind, let’s fire them up and see why they’re back in the spotlight after so many years.
Before we get started, it might be advisable for me to point out that I never, and I mean NEVER, played the original Spyro, or its sequels, or the Tobey Maguire soft reboot that was just kinda meh. Oh, and definitely not the abomination that he became when he was hamfisted into Skylanders. It’s not that I disliked the character or anything, it’s just I never got around to his series. I was a Nintendo kid, through and through, so apart from the occasional time I swapped my N64 with my friends PS1 for a weekend, and he didn’t have Spyro, I didn’t have the opportunity to experience them. That’s going to make this review perhaps a little different than others because I’m not speaking from a place of nostalgia.
“What a lovely day to inflict sixth degree burns on anyone I encounter.”
So with that out of the way, what the heck are these games? Well, the super basic take away is that Spyro is an action platformer from way back in the good old days, competing for kids attention (and their parent’s wallets) alongside the likes of Mario, Sonic, Banjo-Kazooie and even console buddy Crash. All the usual staples of the era of collectathons are present here, from the myriad of various things Spyro stumbles upon, such as gems, dragon statues, gems, orbs, gems, talismans, gems, dragon eggs, and did I mention gems?! Yeah, lots of those. I don’t know what the economic state of the Dragon Realms are, but these things are literally everywhere and amount to little more than paperweights except to one particularly pompous bear. Also present are the ever so slightly clunky controls familiar to a lot of old-school platformers, but aside from a few nosedives off cliffs, wobbly gliding or frantic full-speed dashes into walls, Spyro handles quite well, and I got to grips with his quirks pretty quickly.
The various other series mainstays of the genre are present as well, such as quirky goofball characters, timed challenges, hidden collectables and book-ending boss battles. Nothing really out of place for the kind of games we played back before the turn of the century. Where Spyro aimed to be a little different, though, was in how it tried, and mostly succeeded, in reinventing itself between only three titles. The first game is your fairly standard world by world progression, but the second and third games slapped in a bunch of extra characters, side missions, cart tracks, shooting challenges, new moves, backtracking and so on. While I blitzed through the linear nature of the first game reasonably fast, the second and third had me slow down a touch and take it all in.
“You want me to save the land? I don’t even know where I am!”
Now, given that I never played these games the first time around, I can’t speak to the upgrades except to say that everything I saw while playing through all three games was just lovely. The loading screens can occasionally be a bit long, but at least you get to fly Spyro around and fwoosh fire while you wait. The Unreal Engine has been employed to bring these games up to modern console standards, and after a quick bit of Googlin’ to see what they looked like before, I gotta say, well done. With the kind of graphics we have nowadays, these new visuals aren’t anything miraculous, but compared to their previous versions, it’s a heck of a step up and brings Spyro’s world to life better than ever before. This upgrade does, however, lead to a negative point though, in that the visual overhaul can make certain aspects of exploration more difficult.
For example, I have an issue with some breakable stone walls in the second game. It took quite a while to work this out, as nothing had indicated that they were breakable, unlike boarded up walls which I could burn or dash through. Especially considering in the original version, their cracks were more pronounced when seen alongside other walls. In the remake, these sorts of details are everywhere, and they blended in too well. Maybe a few bricks could have been removed and dropped on the floor. That would have worked. Easy enough to miss, but not impossible to spot. There was even one wall in the first game, identical to all the others, which was an illusion I guess because you can walk right through it, the only time in the entire game that occurs. I had to Google that one. At least in Super Mario 64, when you bumped an invisible painting wall, it wobbled.
“Hmmm… you think he’s compensating for something maybe?”
Minor issues, I know, but there are a few more. From the second game onwards, with the inclusion of side missions, you’d occasionally find yourself with no clue as to what to do next. It’s not that this is bad, it’s just that some of the objectives were never fully explained in the originals and that seems to have been carried over to the remake. Then we get my last issue, which is, surprise surprise, the camera. Now, I know it’s generally a silly point to mention camera controls in old games, and Spyro has pretty decent ones, that is until you get to boss battles. You can move the camera around, but it’ll always quickly refocus on the boss. I found that I died quite a bit on these bosses not because they were difficult, but because the camera would whip around when the boss got close, my controls would go wonky, and I’d get hit. A sizeable pain in the butt, especially when I was going for the skill points that required a perfect run and I couldn’t reset levels to try again aside from dying. I ended up killing myself in lava so much I started getting Terminator 2 flashbacks.
As neither a good or a bad point, when you see that the entirety of the original games has been brought over with little to no attempt to smooth out flaws, it’s interesting to see that the developers were happy to add things that offer nothing to the overall game, such as the aforementioned skill points. In your handy guidebook that details your progress in the current world, you can see a special menu requiring you to perform particular tasks, such as complete a race under a certain time or burn all instances of something in a level. Most of these are ridiculously simple, but then there are a few that are super misleading and some that are downright frustrating (the perfect boss ones, for example). Having completed them all, I’m also a bit bummed, because you don’t get anything for them. These are just for completionists, which yeah, I am one, but still, a bit disappointing.
“Day 7,369. Have resisted the updated graphics. No one suspects a thing…”
What isn’t disappointing are the quality-of-life updates the trilogy has received. Most notable are all the character models. Spyro is the standout, of course, but I adored Elora the fawn and Bianca the rabbit compared to their earlier versions. Hunter is very animated and funny and also much less disturbing than his first appearance. One thing I consistently enjoyed were the dragons and dragon babies in the first and third games. Taking a look back into old gameplay footage showed each dragon had the same design and voice and was one of only a few different colours. In the remake, every single one is a unique design and has a variety of voice actors playing them. Carrying on from that, the voice acting in this remake is substantially better than it was previously. Tom Kenny (of Spongebob fame) returned to re-record all his lines as Spyro from the second and third games as well as new ones for all of the first game, replacing Carlos Alazraqui.
Finally, there is the music. Stewart Copeland (the drummer from The Police) composed the original soundtracks for all three games, and he returned for this remake. Taking his existing work and remixing it or redoing it in different ways was a lovely touch and throughout all the levels, the soundtrack was a great fit and always succeeded in setting the intended mood. For the diehard nostalgics out there, however, if you’re humming along and it doesn’t go the way you remember it, don’t fret as there is an option to switch to the original soundtrack for each game. The developers were very considerate to include this option for returning old-school players.
“No no, don’t wave goodbye, do a thumbs up. Trust me, they’ll get it.”
For someone who had never played any of the Spyro games before, these three titles were a thoroughly enjoyable experience I’d recommend to anyone. For the diehard nostalgics, there is a lot to love, and for all the newbies, the Spyro Reignited Trilogy is an excellent jumping off point for experiencing one of the series that made early 3D gaming so great. Aside from a few minor gripes, these are solid games and show that these old titles can hold their own today in a radically different era. Now, all we need is to see is the same love given to other classics. Until then, I’m delighted that after getting sidelined (and mutilated) in Skylanders, Spyro the Dragon is back, blazing his trail better than ever and flying high in his original series, the way he was always meant to be.