Insomniac Games, Spyro: Ripto’s Rage
(This review is based on the PS Via version, and available for PS1, 2, 3 on PSN and 4 with PlayStation Now)
The time period of 1995 was the debut of Sony’s original PlayStation which brought 3-D gaming into the mainstream and a host of great titles were made for the system and introduced many iconic franchises such as Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid.
One such franchise of the PlayStation era that was introduced in 1998 and became one of the most beloved of PlayStation’s franchises was Spyro the Dragon. The original from the PlayStation era was highly received from critics and audiences and praised for its soundtrack by Stewart Copeland, creative worlds and being a franchise that appeals to children in a time period where games for the PlayStation were more focused on older audiences.
In 2012, the original trilogy became available in a bundle on the PSN (PlayStation Store) and can be played on the PS3 and PS Vita and the original is a lot of fun on both consoles, and possibly better on the Vita.
The question remains: Has the original Spyro the Dragon stood the test of time, or is it a game that was only meant for the original Play station?
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In a time of peace for the Dragon Kingdom, an interview with the elder dragons of the Artisan World has one of the elder dragons badmouthing the game’s villain Gnasty Gnorc. Gnasty Gnorc in his home world separate from the dragon world is angered by the dragons and casts a spell that crystallises the dragons throughout the Dragon Kingdom. All but one small purple dragon were crystallised and is the game’s protagonist Spyro who sets out to save the Dragon Kingdom from Gnasty Gnorc.
The protagonist displays his character through the interactions of the dragons he saves, and that character is of an upbeat and confident dragon that isn’t expected from someone his size. The dragons he saves are all mostly vocal and display a royal English personality. The game’s villain Gnasty Gnorc is a simple but forgettable character and the complete absence of his presence through the Dragon Kingdom until the disappointing final battle makes him one of the weakest parts of the game, but the story isn’t the most important aspect of the game.
It’s a very simple plot that creates a cartoon fantasy world that the player loses themselves in through its settings, the reactions and actions of the enemies the player encounters and well preserved 3-D graphics.
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The gameplay is broken into flying stages, collecting objects to enter the next level and boss levels. The game will have the player travelling through the Dragon Kingdom collecting gems, recover eggs from thief’s and rescuing the dragons from their crystal prison. The flying stages are thrilling areas where Spyro is granted the ability to fly and under a time limit to destroy a certain amount of objects and this bonus challenge is in every area of the game besides the final level.
The majority of the game play will have the player in levels were they collect gems, eggs and release dragons and collect a certain amount of these objects before accessing the next world. The smooth and responsive controls go a long way in making every level enjoyable to blitz through and with an easy to understand control scheme.
A fault with the controls is that camera movement is done with the L2 and R2 and feels uncanny in today’s gaming world where camera movement with the right stick is pretty much expected from 3-D game worlds. This control scheme isn’t problematic on the PS3, but on the Vita, L2 and R2 are mapped to the rear touch pad which is more intrusive than helpful. This issue can be elevated with the triangle button that centres and zooms in front of Spyro, but can be a problem where in an enclosed area and the player needs to see their surroundings.
There are a total of six worlds in the game and each differ in theme and enemies with the enemies all having unique designs and a real sense of imagination put into them. The player has the tools of gliding, fire breath and charging that works together with the smooth controls to make the gameplay the best aspect of Spyro the Dragon. A negative element of the gameplay that is more a disappointing and not fully realised aspect than an unpleasant feature are the boss battles. While they have whole levels dedicated to them and memorable designs, the lack of complexity with their patterns and unique gameplay elements make them feel like regular enemies with extra hit takes. This is especially evident with the final boss against Gnasty Gnorc in which it’s more a cat and mouse chase than a climatic finale that has the player using all there learned skills.
But the gameplay as a whole is enjoyable with its great controls and medium sized levels that will have the player coming back for the replay value form its short length and levels that have an easy/medium difficulty.
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The graphics of Spyro use a technique in which polygons became more detailed the closer the player was to them and less detailed the farther away the player was from them. This technique plays a big role in preserving the graphics of a 16 year old game that looked amazing for its time and has aged well in current times. The six game worlds differ in environments and ascetics from the mystic and lonely mountains of Magic Crafters to the dark and ominous misty marshland of Beast Makers, and these environments set in a world of dragons create a mythical and fantasy backdrop with childlike wonder conveyed through the enemies the player encounters such as the conveying and teasing thief’s that stole eggs, the cowering mooning soldiers of the Peace keepers and the goofy fools of Dream Weavers.
Observant players will notice some texture pop in and distortion, but is something that most of the time isn’t overly glaring in normal play and other PlayStation titles at the time look uninteresting compared with Spyro’s cartoon fantasy inspired graphics. The music by Steward Copeland use of strong drum beats with electronic piano sync create a mood of adventure, beauty, mystery and terror represented in different levels of the game.
The original Spyro the Dragon was an exceptional title in for its time and even with elements that were not fully realised such as the villain and bosses, the sequel built upon a strong foundation and all elements were vastly improved. Today, Spyro the Dragon is an eternal PlayStation classic with its well aged graphics, simple and fun gameplay and a short length with high replay value. If one seeks a game that can deliver an enjoyable good time, Spyro the Dragon’s fantasy cartoon world shall have the player remembering it’s simple yet endearing purple dragon.
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