Dragons are awesome, this is reflected in game developers liberal use of them; the Dragon Age series, Skyrim and World of Warcraft to name but a few. The reptilian creatures appearance is seen as a sign of adventure and danger, embodied by their enormous wings and infernal breath, themes that many games try to incorporate. The draconic beasts aren't limited to role playing game appearances either, many fighting games have them as characters and as is the focus of this review, platformers.
The Spyro the Dragon games take a different view of dragons, instead of the awe inspiring destroyers they are depicted as the saviours of the world with Spyro spearheading the campaigns. In his first outing, Spyro managed to show PlayStation owners that the open world style of Mario 64 wasn't unreachable on their favoured system. With expansive levels and a colourful art style it's easy to see similarities between the two games, however Spyro is also entirely unique.
Whilst Crash Bandicoot was busy inventing new methods of linear platforming in a modernisation of the side scrolling platformer, Spyro was trying to widen the scope, and one of the ways it managed this was through the game-play mechanics.
The amiable hero of the game, Spyro does exactly what you'd expect a dragon to do. He breathes fire, charges with his horns and soar through levels with his wings. All of these individual mechanics combine into a cohesive and fluid experience that, whilst seemingly simple, becomes increasingly rich as the game wears on. In the early levels Spyro jumps from platform to platform, burns a few enemies and rescues a few dragons, but later on the game introduces new ideas that put an interesting spin on existing abilities. Now, you must charge at extreme speeds across the level whilst trying to maintain control in order to keep your momentum, gliding around is no longer straightforward as you search for hidden areas.
Bland and repetitive boss fights invade the otherwise fun experience.
Unfortunately enemy variation is a little lacklustre but the same can be said of almost any game, then and now. There are two main archetypes, ones that you can burn and ones that you can charge. These enemy types are present throughout the whole game and Insomniac try to throw in a few change ups but these don't really add anything fresh and exciting. Boss fights remain equally uninspiring with recycled patterns (bosses adhere to the infamous rule of three) and exceptionally easy encounters being the order of the day.
The games audio is quite impressive, with upbeat music and correspondingly bouncy sound effects accompanying Spyro on his journey. Also, voice overs make an appearance with fully worded characters, and this is all competently done with appropriate accents that fit with the tone of the game.
Characters are all wonderfully vocal.
Visually, the game stands up well considering it is an original PlayStation title, some of the views still amaze me to this day. There is a lot of detail to the environments and the characters are all well animated and designed, however the great graphics come at a cost, some horrid texture pop-in with textures skewing and distorting on occasion, however as this is present in almost all 3D graphics of the era on the PlayStation and as such is only a minor gripe.
There is, alas, not much of a story to Spyro the Dragon, there is a generic comic villain named Gnasty Gnorc who has imprisoned all of the dragons in crystal and Spyro must rescue them from their prismatic prisons and ultimately take down his foe and thus restore peace to the lands. There is exceptionally little development of the story and all it really comes down to is an opening and ending cut-scene into which the developers shoehorn all semblance of a plot.
The worlds are expansive and beautiful.
Whilst this is disappointing, what this really does is open up the world for you to enjoy on your own, however I can't help but wonder as to whether some of the dragons you rescue could have something other than a few hints for you, if only to give the illusion of more depth than the by the numbers excuse to send you on your way.
Spyro the Dragon holds hints of greatness, an adventure that is superbly entertaining for the duration and has surprising depth to its game-play, however it is not the sum of its parts. It fails to capitalise on its ingenuity in so many areas with a few sections feeling disconnected from the rest of the game (noticeably the flying sections which have little to no impact and can be skipped entirely) and a final battle which is anti-climactic to say the least. The purple dragon is well worth playing, even now, but ultimately it feels like a foundation upon which its sequel truly realises the potential.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Insomniac Games
Release Date: September 3, 1998
Number of Players: 1
Platforms: PlayStation (Reviewed), PlayStation Network