Spyro The Dragon – PlayStation
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Entertainment America
Release Date (NA): September 8th, 1998
Nerd Rating: 9/10
Reviewed by D34D_F0X
Let’s face it, we live in a time rife with dragons, almost as saturated in our time period as zombies, with titles like Dragon Age, Dragon’s Dogma, Skyrim, How To Train Your Dragon, the list goes on for miles. If you throw a rock into pop culture you are bound to hit a scale or two . In most of these depictions dragons are portrayed as heaving, fire-breathing leviathans of chaos. They are living, flying scourges of the human race. But, once upon a time, there was a dragon that proved that you didn’t have to be be large and terrifying to be a dragon, that dragons could come in small, cute purple packages… and still be a total bad-ass while doing it. Enter Spryo.
The story goes like this, everything is as it should be in the artisan world of dragons. It is beautiful and sunny with plenty of sheep to burn. An artisan elder dragon is being interviewed by a television crew about the apparent prosperity and is asked “What about Gnasty Gnorc?” The elder dragons response is laced with hubris and goes something like this “What about him? He’s too big, too dumb, and too ugly. What is there to worry about?” Well as you could probably guess, the nefarious Gnasty Gnorc was watching the broadcast from his lava-ridden abode and is none-too-pleased. He responds harshly and swiftly by encasing all the dragons, across all the worlds in crystal dragon-shaped prisons. All but the tiniest, toughest, and youngest dragon of all, Spyro!
Spyro wants to take the fight straight to Gnasty Gnorc himself, but that wouldn’t make much of a game. So first he’ll need to free his crystal encased brethren, recover stolen dragon eggs, and collect a crap-ton of gems and treasure, all while kicking a bunch of orc butt along the way.
Spyro the Dragon is a 3-D Adventure Platformer that will have you jumping, gliding, headbutting, and torching your way through 6 gorgeously illustrated and diversely populated worlds. You’ll begin your adventure in the artisan world I spoke of before. It’s worth mentioning that there really is no straightforward tutorial to be found anywhere in this game. Instead you learn everything you know organically from the “adult” dragons that you rescue. This can be anything from the basic functions, tips exploring the current level you are in, or simple comical back-and-forth between Spyro and his newly freed elders.
The mechanics are simple. Some enemies who are shielded will require you to charge and headbutt them, being that their armor makes them invulnerable to your flames. Bigger enemies though, require a little more finesse from our tiny hero and he’ll have to run in close and then spout flames to take them down. L1 and R1 control a barrel roll of sorts that you can go through the entire game without using, but if you are more of an advanced player, it can be quite the life saver. Your only defense from these baddies is your best friend and dragonfly, Sparx! Sparx takes the hits for you, a maximum of three. Instead of having the typical health bar, Sparx will denote his health through his color , ranging from gold, green, blue, and then disappearing all together. Fear not though adventurer, he’s easily conjured back to vitality through burning various critters across the worlds, somehow turning sheeps and chickens that you torch into butterflies for Sparx to consume, oh video game logic.
As always, in any game that bears the term platformer, the true enemy at most times is your environment. To help you combat this treacherous foe are your awesome (yet slightly under-developed) wings! a key feature in Spyro the Dragon is to master gliding at the top of your jump. Later in the game if you are a true explorer, as am I, you will have to be deadly precise with this feature. Also, true explorers, there will be cleverly hidden secrets that require a bit of ingenuity to uncover. To give a short example: try aiming those militant orc’s cannons at various spots in the environment and then lighting the fuse with your snout. The resulting cannonball (if aimed properly) will destroy portions of the landscape to free treasure and also expose secret levels. To pass on to new worlds you will have to talk to the hot air balloon guy, who will have ever-changing requirements as to what you’ll need to proceed. Also worth mentioning here are the Star Fox-like flying levels, which are a nice departure from the standard gameplay. There you will be granted the ability to actually use those wings of yours. You will have to fly through various checkpoints, torch gold chests, torch light towers, take down orc planes and boats, etc.
The music and sound are phenomenal. The soundtrack is whimsical and well-placed, and the voice acting is well-performed and engaging. It’s rare that I don’t see minor cut-scenes as distractions, In Spyro though, this was never the case. Even when I was being taught something I was being entertained, and that is no small praise (just ask any of your friends in the education system). There is an option to skip these cut-scenes which is nice, but you will probably never be tempted to do so. Even the enemies emanate quirky fun noises while you bash them with your head, and that memory will stick with you nostalgically long after the credits roll.
The gameplay is surprisingly tight for its age and does a very nice job of scaling as you progress. The beginning level (the Artisan world) feels like a leisurely walk in the park with very little challenge. Once you get 2 to 3 worlds in though you will be losing lives left and right if your jumps, glides, and dashes aren’t eloquently well-timed. The rising challenge keeps you on your toes and keeps the fun flowing. My only gripe with the game, sadly does stem from its gameplay. It’s a problem that plagued a lot of first batch 3-D titles and that, ladies and gentleman, is the camera. It is not altogether intolerable. You actually do get some control of the camera with L2 and R2 moving the camera left and right respectively. However this interaction is still somewhat slow and occasionally you will be taking leaps of faith…. or plummets of death.
The graphics really held up to my expectations which is rare with a game from your childhood. Its edges, while still jagged in places, remain crisp and its signature art style makes the polygon nature of the PlayStation 1 play to its strong points. To add to this is a really vibrant color palette. This game practically pops off the screen and to add icing to the cake, each world is very easily distinguishable from the next. Not only does this praise extend to the maps but even the enemies which inhabit them. The Artisan world is peaceful, the dragons there are older in general, and the orc enemies are relatively more afraid of you than you are of them. The next world however is “The Peacekeepers world” which is barren and war torn with volatile purple sludge flowing in canyons and crevices; the enemies are now more militant (and apparently a more eager to “Moon” you). This kept the progression invigorating and fresh for me because not only did I have to adjust to new challenges, I was able to enjoy new scenery and aesthetics in the process.
In closing, this game is a very complete package. It has a sense of humor that is suited for most everyone, especially those of us who are too old to grow up. The worlds are fun and challenging to explore. The gameplay is varied, organic, and well paced and the visuals are uniquely cartoon-ish and immersing. It’s no wonder that this title launched two handfuls of sequels spanning multiple console generations that are still loved to this day. It is a jewel of the original PlayStation and I urge you to experience and see for yourself that when it comes to being a dragon… size truly doesn’t matter.
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