A game where you’re a purple dragon with a dragonfly partner questing for gems and imprisoned dragons. Does it still hold up today?
|Publisher||Sony Computer Entertainment|
|Purchase||Purchase from Amazon.|
|Purchase||Purchase from eBay.|
|Purchase (Collector’s Edition trilogy)||Purchase from Amazon.|
The Spyro the Dragon franchise has an odd history. It started off as a set of adventure platformers on the PlayStation, with two unsuccessful sequels on the PlayStation 2 and the Nintendo Gamecube and some releases for the Game Boy Advance.
Then it got rebooted into a darker and edgier series of action-adventure games with an emphasis on combat. This series didn’t really catch on and only appealed to a niche crowd, resulting in only three games.
And THEN, the character turned into an ugly reject to sell more toys for Skylanders.
Seriously, I STILL can’t get over how ugly they made him!
But enough about that. Let’s start from the beginning.
This game certainly brings back memories. What you’re seeing here is one of the big hits of the console, with two even bigger sequels. It was fairly unique for its time. While there were quite a few animal mascot type of characters that came out before, you never get to really play as a dragon.
Spyro himself is a tiny dragon, but he can still do some of the cool things they can do. Breathe fire and fly (well, sort of). I’ll explain in a sec.
The game opens up with a cutscene, where an elderly dragon was being interviewed about a creature named Gnasty Gnorc (portmanteau of “gnome” and “orc”). And somehow, Gnasty himself got word (from his hideout) that he was being called “simple,” “no threat,” and “ugly.” It’s a little confusing, seeing as how we’ve never seen one television in the entire game and that we’re expected to believe there are TVs in this “ye olde fantasy” world.
The news report ends up pressing Gnasty’s berserk button and he turns every dragon in the Dragon Kingdom into crystal statues. However, Spyro—who is apparently the ONLY young dragon in this world—has managed to escape and he decided to take it upon himself to free the dragons, recover the stolen treasure, and take down Gnasty Gnorc.
Immediately, you get to free your first dragon and he gives you some instructions on what to do from there. From there, you’re on your quest to collect as many things as you can. Spyro himself controls rather satisfyingly, though mainly with the direction pad. On the control stick, he’s very slippery. You can also glide, which gives you access to hard-to-reach spots—though it begs the question on why he can’t just fly like in the “Flight” levels.
Spyro also has a dragonfly named Sparx, who serves a similar purpose to Aku Aku from the Crash Bandicoot games. He represents Spyro’s health and also makes it slightly easier to grab gems when Spyro walks up to them. By killing specific creatures called fodders (such as sheep), you can release butterflies which will heal Sparx. If Sparx dies, Spyro will have a more difficult time in collecting gems and will die from one hit.
[insert game hint here] “Thank you for releasing me, blah blah blah.”
While dragon statues and gems tend to be out in the open, dragon eggs can only be obtained by defeating these blue thieves who run away when you approach them. And some… are just sitting ducks…
Nice place to hide, idiot.
The level designs are pretty much centered around gliding, with some exceptions like the Tree Tops level. It makes every level feel open-ended, which is a good thing when you like to explore and take in your surroundings. This can also be a detriment, if you miss that one little gem but just can’t find where it’s hidden.
You can use the flame attack to take down larger enemies while you can use the charge attack to take down small, shielded enemies. Unfortunately, most of the enemies falls under a formula—a problem that will persist in later Spyro games—and it is always easy to guess on how to defeat an enemy. It makes defeating them feel like more of a routine than a challenge.
*Yawns* I’m sorry, were you saying something, buddy?
You start in the Artisans homeworld and you have to visit five more in order to reach Gnasty Gnorc. But to access those other homeworlds, you need to figure out what the balloonist wants. He will either ask you to free more dragons, collect more gems, or find more dragon eggs. Overall, just stuff that you were already doing.
In each homeworld, there are several level portals you can visit to find any of those things. There is also one boss portal among them, which allows you to play through a relatively normal level but with a boss at the end.
Unfortunately, these bosses aren’t very challenging or memorable for that matter. Most of them come across as stronger or trickier versions of regular enemies. While Metalhead is probably the most unique fight in the game, the bosses are disappointingly easy—including Gnasty himself.
And though this is a great 3D platformer for the PlayStation, I do have one major complaint: the endgame. I know it might be unfair to expect a great video game ending from this era, but older games have managed to pull this off better.
Basically, the endgame has three levels. There is also a bonus level after you free all of the dragons, collect all treasure, and find all of the dragon eggs. These levels in particular aren’t suspenseful and are just more padding before you finally fight Gnasty Gnorc.
And the Gnasty Gnorc battle… is unforgivably easy. Basically, it boils down to hunting down two thieves and chasing down Gnasty himself. You would think a creature of his stature and power to bring down almost all of the dragons would put up a good fight, but he’s nothing more than a coward who flees from you.
And he dies from just two flames. Two. Flames. If the damned sheep boss can take three, how is it this so-called intimidating final boss so damn weak?
The bonus level isn’t really worth the trouble either. It’s just chasing down more thieves and ends up being one big collect-a-thon for a shit ton of gems. That’s it. No extra boss either. Just a silly epilogue with a “here we go again” ending.
Overall, the story isn’t all too spectacular. The only times you see Spyro’s personality in the game is through the dialogue exchanges with the freed dragons. He’s pretty much a generic snarker. Spunky and adorable, but not much else to him.
And of course, Gnasty Gnorc is a terrible villain. He only gets dialogue from the very beginning of the game. And from there on, you learn nothing about him. He’s just a jerk who wants to be taken seriously and that’s it. Add to the fact that he is a terrible final boss, he’s one of the worst aspects about this game.
The graphics for their time look pretty good, though quite a few character models look oddly scary because of how angular their facial features look. They just look so… weird…
And of course, the soundtrack. It’s catchy and just fun to listen to.
Now, here’s a little bit of trivia. The soundtrack composer is Stewart Copeland, the former drummer of the Police. That’s why you get the occasional electric guitar in some of the soundtrack, because it’s meant to be rock music.
But here’s something even stranger. For one of the music tracks (specifically the one used for the Wizard Peak level), there’s a very familiar tune for a late ’90s TV show.
Don’t recognize it? Well, I’ll give you another hint. Remember when Amanda Bynes had her own TV show?
That’s right! It’s the theme song for The Amanda Show! No seriously, it’s the same song. Stewart Copeland actually composed it!
Damn, way to flash me back into the ’90s. I can’t ever play that level without thinking of The Amanda Show. It’s just so bizarre.
So how does the game hold up now?
Well, it has definitely aged. The graphics have gotten a bit disturbing too. The enemy variety and boss battles aren’t great, but the gameplay is still very solid. It’s a fun, quirky journey through a fantasy world as a little dragon and it still remains one of my all-time favorite PlayStation games.
Spyro the DragonPrice Varies
- Exploring the levels and finding the collectibles are an addicting sensation, making you not want to put the controller down.
- The environments can be fairly imaginative and have a unique feel that other games haven’t quite captured.
- The soundtrack composed by Stewart Copeland is very catchy and well done. It gives a sense of adventure in a somewhat modern fantasy world.
- The story and characters are bland and forgettable.
- The endgame is mediocre overall, with a terrible final boss.