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Spyro the Dragon (PlayStation) artwork

Spyro the Dragon (PlayStation) review

"Level designs often pair different sorts of beasts and toss them into a compact space. In Alpine Ridge, you’ll face armored rooster people that try to smack you with their scepters. In the same general vicinity, you’ll also encounter grotesque bears and druids that have a habit of moving platforms around. "

I can count the number of games I can stand playing through multiple times without running out of fingers. Most of the replay value I find in RPGs comes from their expansive worlds and engaging plots. Other genres appeal me because they offer suspenseful, fast-paced shooting like you’ll find in Doom and Half-Life. Very few of the games that I find to be endlessly enjoyable fall within the platformer genre. That’s why Spyro the Dragon holds such a special place in my heart. As corny as it sounds, I can’t help but love the purple little guy. He’s got guts… and horns… and he breathes fire.

Since its initial release, Spyro the Dragon has seen numerous sequels, spinoff titles and even a reboot trilogy. Despite all of that, the very first game in the series is the one that still sticks in my mind. For one thing, it kept things simple. Spyro’s breath attacks are limited to fire alone, he can’t hover or swim, and he doesn’t have any unusual companions like the saber-cat Hunter.

Even so, there are plenty of elements within the title to keep things moving. Your quest is to stop the villainous Gnasty Gnorc, who has crystallized all the dragons in the land and robbed their hoard. He also has created monsters that exist solely to terrorize each of the five worlds. In order to restore balance to the universe, Spyro must free all the dragons and reclaim their stolen treasure. The concept may sound archetypal and shallow, but the journey itself is very rewarding.

From the very beginning of that journey, you’ll encounter toad-faced Gnorcs that will do anything from flee in terror to lob grenades at you. Level designs often pair different sorts of beasts and toss them into a compact space. In Alpine Ridge, you’ll face armored rooster people that try to smack you with their scepters. In the same general vicinity, you’ll also encounter grotesque bears and druids that have a habit of moving platforms around. Because of their armor, scepter-wielding foes can only be defeated with charge attacks, while bears only succumb to fire due to their size. Though Spyro can kill druids using either method, he’ll have to time his jumps and glides carefully (lest he fall into a bottomless void).

My favorite level occurs much later in the game, though. Haunted Tower takes place in the Dream Weavers world. Enormous armored husks lie slumped on the castle floor until you walk near them. Once they reanimate, they’ll either try to flatten you or simply block your way. Their sheer bulk and protective armor makes them invincible to anything Spyro can throw at them alone. Fortunately, there are fairies hidden within the tower that grant the adolescent purple dragon extra spicy flame breath. The enchantment only lasts a short while, which makes those special moments where you can charge through and blast anything that moves feel all the more exhilarating.

This level is also one of the few to incorporate a super charge ramp. That ability serves as more than just another way to defeat otherwise impossible foes. You’ll gain invincibility yourself, extraordinary speed and (most thrilling of all) a tremendous boost to your glide when launching from inclines and soaring through the air. Of course, you’ll still have to ensure you don’t run into any walls before you reach your desired goal.

Bonuses such as the super charge truly add to the excitement of exploration. Much of the dragons’ stolen treasure can be found just lying around, but finding some of it will require a great deal of skill and forethought. The aforementioned super charge plays a dominant role in the Treetops level, where half the treasure requires spectacular height to reach. Then there is Dry Canyon, which features some of the most complicated glides in the game. You’ll have to leap off the tallest point in the level just to reach a platform with a locked chest. Getting the key requires a bit more precision, since you’ll need to reach a ledge that is completely invisible from your original launch point.

Confronting the game’s bosses provides a terrific challenge of its own. You’ll only face a boss towards the end of each level, meaning that you’ll often have to fight minor enemies and collect gems along the way. The challenge comes from the fact that bosses take several hits to beat and often have only one weak spot. You’ll only be able to scavenge enough food within the actual level to sustain a few hits when you face the boss.

Should you grow bored of Spyro’s standard offerings, you can always attempt one of the flight levels. These diverge from any of the game’s other experiences. They essentially serve as a time trial mode, where you must race through or destroy each of four types of objects before time expires. As long as you’re in the air, you’ll move forward automatically. If you crash into the water, you’ll lose, but the only penalty for landing elsewhere is that you’ll waste valuable seconds. The mode represents a nice distraction between worlds, but achieving the maximum gem output requires a great deal of patience.

I feel comfortable saying that Spyro the Dragon will remain a favorite game of mine for a long time to come. While it may not offer the improvements that its sequels did, its overall quality remains undisputed. Diverse worlds, unique level designs, tricky platforming segments and strategic combat all combine to keep this older game current. And let’s face it: this is one of a few series in which you can actually play as a proper dragon. Isn’t that awesome enough to merit a look?


wolfqueen001's avatar
Freelance review by Leslie Dickson (February 03, 2013)

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