"Alongside Crash Bandicoot, the Spyro the Dragon series sat as the hallmark of PlayStation platforming, this third outing being the last both on PSone and to be developed by Insomniac, before being handed over to other developers with mixed results. The first Spyro game was a solid platformer with a genuine adventure feel and the second outing a year later was a decent follow-up, re-using the basic formula but unfortunately traded off challenge for too many mini-games. The success h..."
Alongside Crash Bandicoot, the Spyro the Dragon series sat as the hallmark of PlayStation platforming, this third outing being the last both on PSone and to be developed by Insomniac, before being handed over to other developers with mixed results. The first Spyro game was a solid platformer with a genuine adventure feel and the second outing a year later was a decent follow-up, re-using the basic formula but unfortunately traded off challenge for too many mini-games. The success has made Spyro seem like an annual franchise, but what does a third title contribute to the successful formula?
The little purple dragon Spyro certainly has no problem taking on the big-boys, sending the Gnasty Gnorc first-class post to hell and excessive mockery of Ripto’s inferiority complex saw him land into the raptures of the lava. Brave as a lion yet cockier than the school stud, Spyro’s services are recalled to defeat another dictator, a slightly unruly Sorceress. Fed up with being forgotten and in a bid to restore magic and prestige into her forgotten kingdom, the Sorceress and her bossyboots sidekick Bianca have kidnapped a good 150 dragon eggs and scattered them around the world. Old pals from Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer make a return, including Hunter, a top athlete leopard who teaches you various movements alongside setting some tasks throughout the game; fat-ass bear Moneybags who just loves standing in the way of paths unless you can cough up a *ahem* small fee and Zoe the fairy returns to zap you at various continue points. It’s up to Spyro to retrieve those eggs before the Sorceress steals the magic, can you get them all?
Spyro: Year of the Dragon doesn’t bring many radical changes to the formula, many of the tried-and-tested game-play mechanics remain intact but this should be no disappointment to fans of the series. The level infrastructure is the same as before, with four worlds that each have a home level acting as a hub to access other levels in that world via portals. Completion of every main level is compulsory to grant access to the next world, but you’re first taken to a boss before you can get there, bosses this time being typical rhynocs turned into super-monsters from a touch of sorceress magic. Instead of finding dragons or collecting orbs, you’re collecting eggs by completing tasks or looking in discrete places, characters seem to have all kinds of excuses for having it (“yeh, we were gonna fry this, but you better have it”). The ever-present gems are scattered through all kinds of places throughout levels, whether it’s charging boxes or finding keys to unlock chests, all necessary for Moneybags to open up those darn access doors in levels as gems have “magical powers”. So he says.
Despite an instant similarity with its predecessor, even down to menu fonts, it isn’t to say that no improvements have been made to the formula. The most apparent of these is the inclusion of four new playable characters, who are introduced one-by-one throughout the four worlds. The characters vary greatly in personality: starting off with Sheila, a jovial high-jumping kangaroo; followed by military penguin Sgt James Byrrd who flies with jetpacks whilst blasting his burst of missiles at unruly rhynocs; the brick-house box-smashing yeti Bentley him has a heart of gold inside him and finally the gun-crazy lab-monkey Agent 9. Each character has to be unlocked by paying fat-ass bear Moneybags a small fee to access their home level, completion allows you to take part in their mini-games scattered through Spyro’s levels throughout the world. Although the approach taken by Insomniac could easily have led to a gimmicky selling affair, the way the side-challenges or side-levels have been scattered around the worlds has been used effectively and makes for plenty variation in the gameplay, gun-blasting with Agent 9 or aerial missile blasting with Sgt Byrrd deter from the charge and flame Spyro formula that’s getting a little old.
The basic core gameplay in levels usually consists of a character telling you that rhynocs have taken over the level (rephrased somehow), get to the end and getting congratulated for your efforts where a portal home appears (a little pointless as you can exit the level via the pause menu), but the range of tasks and levels makes it far less repetitive. The mini-games are accessible through challenge portals slightly hidden throughout levels, with a variety of shoot-outs and guiding characters to a point to skateboarding challenges and such. Mini-games based around characters adds more to the action, with yeti boxing and an arena bout with Sgt Byyrd, not to mention actual mini-levels as extensions of Spyro’s levels for the characters. Fortunately mini-games have been tucked away better this time, one of the main problems with its predecessor was simply throwing in endless mini-games in linear levels. Mini-games do still feel as throw-ins to justify the game-play quite often, remember the original Spyro didn’t have any but was still a classic, but nonetheless they add to the fun factor, if sometimes frustrating.
The levels environments are vividly designed, a noteworthy quality of the Spyro series and kept up with this outing. Each and every level has their own unique theme and design, the worlds themselves are themed on a time of the day (Sunrise Spring and Evening Lake as examples), Sunny Villa is set in a town full of cartoony Mediterranean style buildings; Spooky Swamp is full of characters speaking to you in Haidaku poems, and any swamp swimming will cause an early death; Dino Mines attempts to fuse an unlikely combination of dinosaurs in a Wild West ranch whilst Fireworks factory remains self-explanatory with two giddy characters running it irresponsibly let the rhynocs in. The bright cartoony feel of the levels, alongside the detail of the characters whether it’s Spyro and Hunter or the NPC’s makes for a visual feat to the PlayStation and a real cartoon gaming experience, even with cut-scenes that can actually bring a laugh. The superb voice-acting with every character speaking adds to the cartoon factor, Bianca’s dry-threats and Hunter’s cool guy attitude is executed great. The music on the other hand is above-average at first hearing, but soon feels repetitive especially when tunes are recycled in other levels to drabben the experience a little.
So let’s be honest, the basic ideas of Spyro: Year of the Dragon are essentially the same as before. But is this a bad thing? It certainly isn’t, Insomniac held onto a successful formula that the fans have praised and churned out a new game with some notable enhancements. The game is more of a challenge than Spyro 2 and puts more emphasis on traditional platforming action instead of churning in five mini-games per level. It still doesn’t match the pure adventure qualities or the challenges set by the original but its still a fun platform game with flair with plenty to do and should be a good 15-20 hours for most. Unfortunately the Spyro series hasn’t enjoyed an all new next-gen shift-up with the now multiplatform mascot being mixed in quality, for Insomniac had since moved onto the successful Ratchet and Clank franchise mostly on PlayStation 2. For PlayStation fans it’s certainly more than a cheap thrill and although it hasn’t seen quite the “classic” status as games such as Mario 64, along with Crash it’s as good as PSone platforming gets. Insomniac, we salute you. 8/10
Community review by bigcj34 (December 13, 2007)
Cormac Murray is a freelance contributor for HG and is a fanboy of Sega and older Sony consoles. For modern games though he pledges allegiance to the PC Master Race, by virtue of a MacBook running Windows.
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