Spyro Reignited Trilogy Review
Fresh off the back of the Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy, comes Spyro Reignited. For many 80s and 90s born kids, the original trilogies of both Crash and Spyro, will be among the highlights of their gaming back catalogue. Whether you loved both, or a chose a side, both series offered a lot. The appeal of these games wasn’t solely exclusive to a younger demographic neither, as the games offered interesting and difficult challenges for those who wished to push themselves more.
Crash focused more on tight platforming, and more linear level design. It experimented with some other ideas, but generally this was the case. Spyro was the Ying to Crash’s Yang, whereas Spyro aimed to do the complete opposite. The development team focused on level streaming technology, that allowed assets to be streamed in off the disc dynamically, as well as creating open and expansive levels that used a (what was then new and cutting-edge) level of detail system to keep the rendering costs down. Spyro was a great example of how mip-maps (varying levels of texture quality) and level of detail (using 3D models of varying detail levels, become worse the further out they were from the player/camera) could be used on limited hardware, to push for bigger results.
Spyro was also focused on other things such as mini-games, hidden-object collection, and unique enemy interactions. Crash had very well designed and creative enemy types, but Spyro’s had various quirky reactions and behaviours that made them stand out more. Breathing fire on a tall and cloaked human-like enemy for example, would reveal two sheep on pogo sticks. It was this long list of various reactionary enemy types that gave these games their charm. Mixed with beautiful open world locations, Spyro had a lot of appealing features to offer that were very different from Crash, despite their shared genre in a general sense.
So put simply, the original trilogy was great. Is it still great? Yes. The original Spyro trilogy is still run in various speedrunning videos, both casually and seriously. Many people still go back to play through the original trilogy, with the goal of getting 100% in each game (with the first going to 120% and the 3rd going to 117%). The formula works very well even now, and I would argue it has aged better than Crash’s formula has. Whilst Crash is still fun to play now, its simpler on-rails design has lost some of its appeal at this point in time. Whilst the N-Sane Trilogy was great fun to play through from start to finish, I found myself losing interest halfway, once I had experienced the general gameplay once more. For Spyro Reignited however, that same fatigue hadn’t set in whilst playing. From beginning (the 1st game) to the end (the 3rd game), the experience was exciting and just as fun as ever. I think what has helped the trilogy’s original formula carry through, is its better humour. Be that through dialogue, or through the characters and their behaviours, but the heavier focus on narrative in Spyro was what did it for me. Its variety in gameplay objectives also kept things fresh throughout.
Not to say the N-Sane Trilogy was bad, it was very well developed. Just that Spyro’s formula has aged much better. What formula is that? Collecting gems and other important collectables, whether by finding them in the level organically, or receiving them as rewards from various challenges and objectives. Some of these are easy to obtain, others require skill and patience, and in the worst case they require tolerance and persistence. What I mean by that is that some of those challenges remain broken. Broken in various ways, but still retain their annoying quality in the name of authenticity to the source material (for better or worse). Personally, I would have preferred these problematic areas be patched/polished, as those who aren’t aware of them will hit very steep difficulty spikes randomly through their playthrough. However I respect their inclusion/preservation, as purists will obviously want to experience the games as they were and remembered as.
Those bumps are very infrequent, and are rare at most. I can only remember about 4 or 5 occasions where challenges/events became a problem/annoyance, and remember these 4 or 5 events are within a long list of well over 100, if not 200 challenges/events. So brushing those minor problems aside, what works? Well the combat is still as engaging as I remembered it. Enemy types are widely varied, meaning that each enemy requires a certain approach to defeat. You have flyers, those immune to fire, those immune to being rammed by your horns, and some requiring explosive projectiles to take out. That’s just the system in place for Spyro’s attacks. On top of this, you also have timed/situational engagements. Some enemies are too large to kill, and you have to wait for a specific moment or event to take place before you can take them out. These styles of engagements that aren’t solely reliant on player interaction and tactics, but also simply on the environment and other factors around them, makes Spyro’s enemies some of the best and creative in platforming even now.
Spyro’s moveset evolves as the 3 games continue. The first game limits you to only charging, breathing fire, and gliding. You have flying levels, but charging in these occurs at regular speeds, where future entries will give you a sped-up charge attack for these sections. They also lack secret areas in them, where a character will offer an additional mission/challenge for you to complete. The 2nd game adds in the ability to do a little vertical boost at the end of your glide, in order to lift you up onto platforms at the end of a long glide that isn’t quite enough to make the distance needed. You gain the ability to climb ladders later on, do a ground-pound headbutt, and swim underwater. These must be earned, but they carry forward into Spyro 3 where they are already known obviously.
The controls feel fine, but there’re a few glitches that I think need patching. For example, charging sometimes locks up the camera, and you can’t see where you’re going. The camera is supposed to turn with Spyro precisely, but its rotation freezes occasionally, meaning you have to restart the charge again. Another is that having the game run at a value greater than 30fps or unlocked can glitch a few level cycles (magicians wouldn’t open a door in one level to progress). Thankfully this only occurred once as far as I’m aware, but there was another minor situation I can’t remember. There are also a few moments where the glide triggers randomly and sporadically, despite not pressing the button for gliding and simply holding a jump. I tested with a different controller and had the same issues occur, so I’ve put it down to unpolished code. The originals had snappier controls where you could jump-hover glitch up higher ledges you weren’t supposed to reach, and Spyro at least felt apparently more responsive. The code may be identical, but whether it is due to the more lively animations or differences in movement code, he now feels weightier than before with a few quirks/glitches that would occasionally rear their head. Again, an incredibly rare occurrence, but enough to notice. Also the way the environments are laid out, there are a few ledges that are placed awkwardly, or simply measured poorly enough that it creates problems with gliding distance, and the difficulty can spike randomly for that reason. Enemy placement can sometimes catch you off-guard too (whether these are due to preservation of the original games’ layouts or a newly developed problem due to a slight re-design, I couldn’t say for certain). Perhaps these issues stand out more now due to being vividly realised on screen in high-definition, whereas before they could be forgiven in a low-poly and primitive game in comparison? Simpler shapes and silhouettes being easier and quicker to read etc.?
Speaking of which, the levels are fantastically designed visually-speaking. They maintain the original layout and presentation of the originals, but are obviously given a facelift in the Unreal 4 Engine. The lighting is fantastic, with Spyro’s fire breath dynamically lighting the environment, casting his own shadow backwards, and casting shadows from all of his surrounding objects and enemies. Textures exhibit some banding noise from his breath’s lighting and give off a bit of a fuzz too, but generally these artefacts are visible in a lot of Unreal 4 Engine games. There’s also dithering noticeable on a lot of transparent objects, as well as when objects such as trees begin to go transparent when obstructing the player’s view. Water ripples and animates stylistically, reacting to Spyro’s movement too. Ignoring engine-based quirks, the art style is very much a Pixar movie in motion, and Spyro has never looked better. Various other graphical techniques such as Screen Space Reflections mean you can see Spyro and other objects reflected in the floor, metal pots, and various reflective materials such as ice. There is also a nice use of Subsurface Scattering to help light come through Spyro’s wings and horns organically, giving them a hollower/thinner like appearance when they are placed between the camera and the sun.
We can’t talk about Spyro’s aesthetic without also covering the music. Stewart Copeland (drummer of the band The Police) was responsible for composing the music back in the day. Personally I played the game mostly with the original soundtrack, as it has a sharpness and edge to it that the remastered soundtrack lacks (less punchy). Both soundtracks are great, but the midi-like instruments of the original give it more definition and charm I feel. Thankfully, the option is given, and is done simply by changing the option in-game on the fly. Sometimes I would even play halfway through a level until I heard the music loop enough, then I would switch to finish the level off with the opposite soundtrack. I feel that the music is heavily ingrained into what the series was and is. Without Copeland’s soundtrack present, I feel a lot of the games’ personalities would have gone along with it. As he was a drummer, the music’s main hook is the drum section, with rhythmic chords, and simple melodies carrying the song. The bass is usually quite heavy too. Those who know the tracks will know what I mean, and those unaware will find a soundtrack style that is very unique, memorable, and catchy. They’re the kind of tracks that are easy to remember quickly as they loop mostly, and will be stuck in your head long after as a result.
As a final conclusion to everything, I just want to end by saying that despite focusing on a few negative points, I’m wholly for the Reignited Trilogy being the ultimate way to play these games casually. If you’re a speedrunner, then I’m not sure if things such as hitboxes and level/enemy cycles are true enough to the original to be able to pull off your personal records anymore, or whether things such as the jump-hover glitch remain for getting more air to reach higher platforms, but generally speaking this is the best way to experience all 3 games in the present day. The visuals are outstanding (despite a few engine-specific quirks I mentioned), the music still packs a punch even now, and the gameplay loop is still engaging and addictive. I played all 3 games back to back in the span of a week. Had I taken an entire day off to play the trilogy, I could have. It’s impossible to put down, and has aged the best I think between itself and Crash.
I completed all 3 games 100% for good measure, and that alone says everything that needs to be said about these games. Those annoying challenges remain exactly as I remember them, and that’s probably a good thing overall. I feel a few more problems have appeared compared to the original, as a few ledges felt incorrectly placed despite me making them easily in the past on the originals. The physics may be tweaked differently, or hit boxes misaligned compared to before, but again generally speaking, everything remains engaging and approachable. The multi-layered nature of the game means that the minimum requirement for completing them is easy enough for young gamers to play and enjoy (boss battles still being noticeably difficult however if you don’t know what you’re doing), but achieving total completion taking a much higher skilled gamer. For me, the experience was in the region of 20-30 hours (7-10 hours per game), but that was taking my time, knowing where everything was from casual speedruns of the game in the past, and of course leaving the game turned on sometimes whilst I did something else. For a returning player who’s forgotten everything or for a first-timer, then the experience should get you equal mileage. Around 15+ hours per game if you want to 100% them all, and maybe 10 or so if you just get the essential items required to complete them. A lot of that time will be finding obscurely hidden items, or meeting vague requirements that only veterans will know straight away. Persist and you will find them I guarantee.
So there you have it. A fantastic remastering of one of my favourite trilogies of all time. I would even argue the best. To bring 3 separate titles to the modern day, do so accurately and faithfully, as well as bring things up to snuff visually, is an impressive achievement. With warts brought over from the originals, as well as some newly developed ones, I can overlook these minor and incredibly rare inconsistencies for what is still 99% an amazing experience that everyone should try. I believe that everyone will enjoy at least one of the 2 main platformers of the era (whether that be Crash or Spyro), but I find it incredibly unlikely that someone would enjoy neither. I still believe Spyro is the better of the 2 personally.
Images Taken From: https://twitter.com/SpyroTheDragon/media