We’re doing another one of these? In the middle of an ongoing one? Alright.
Dragons. A mythical legend that has been the centerpiece of many fantasy tales throughout history. When you think of dragons, you would normally think of a giant fire breathing beast that flies through the skies. You probably wouldn’t think of a little purple ball of flightless spitfire, and yet that’s exactly what we’re here to talk about today. Spyro the Dragon is a franchise that hardly needs an introduction, but it’s my job in these retrospective things to explain shit so listen up.
The franchise started on the PlayStation 1 in 1998 with the eponymous little dragon quickly capturing the hearts of millions and making a name for himself in a crowded mascot market that already included the likes of Mario, Sonic, and Crash Bandicoot. Even more surprising was the game’s ability to stand out in a year full of heavy hitters like Resident Evil 2, Banjo-Kazooie, Pokemon Red and Blue, Metal Gear Solid, Crash Bandicoot Warped, and Ocarina of Time (among many others, but hey I gotta get on with the show). But what exactly helped distinguish this unlikely mascot? That’s what we’re here to look back upon.
I do want to note something before we begin that this is a retrospective of the original trilogy only. Everything after the PS1 era is… fucking shit to be honest. One passable game and the rest don’t even deserve to bear the name of Spyro. Kind of like the Crash Bandicoot franchise, anything after the PS1 is garbage. I really think Spyro the Dragon deserves the same treatment that Crash got: a PS4 remaster to brings these games back to life for a new audience. Maybe one day. But with that out of the way… How well does this trilogy hold up, what worked, what didn’t, all that jazz. I’m Screaming Rowlet, the retrospective owl, and we’re getting right into this game. Let’s go!
The story for Spyro isn’t anything special. The game starts with an interview segment with an old dragon speaking to some kind of news crew. I don’t know if they’re dragons or humans but roll with it, they’re just doing their job. Anyways, the old dragon speaks of the five (or maybe six?) worlds living in harmony: The Artisan World (where they are currently located and the first world of the game), Peace Keepers, Magic Crafters, Beast Makers, and Dream Weavers. The reporter asks about a Gnasty Gnorc character, who lives within his own sixth world called Gnasty’s World, because rumor has it he has a spell that can turn gems into warriors. A second dragon interjects and says Gnasty is not a threat, calling him ugly, stupid, and simple minded. Of course, Gnasty won’t take that shit and casts a magic spell encasing every single dragon in crystal. Our boy Spyro, who due to his height being on the vertically challenged side, was spared the crystallization spell and is the only one who can step in to save them all. Aided by his dragonfly companion, Sparx, Spyro sets out on a journey throughout the six worlds to free all the dragons, collect all the treasure, and rescue dragon eggs that have been stolen by thieves… who may or may not be Gnorcs? I’m not really sure, but I don’t think they are because they appear in all three games so I assume they’re just little hooded bastards with their own agenda. I’ll touch on that more in the gameplay. Spyro travels through each of the home worlds fulfilling his duties until he reaches the final world and faces off against the big bad gnome orc (Gnorc) himself, Gnasty Gnorc. Defeating him saves the world and Spyro receives a victory interview from the news crew.
Not much of a story, but hey, it’s fun. Moving right along, the gameplay in this game is your typical platformer on the surface. You jump and run across the land, overcoming little parkour obstacles and the usual fare. I say on the surface because, as a dragon, Spyro is granted the gift of wings. However, I don’t know if it’s Spyro’s age or what, but he can’t fly except in special stages. So he glides around when he needs to and that helps you reach further away ledges and cliffs that would normally be inaccessible. You use these simple abilities to, as mentioned before, free crystallized dragons by stepping on their pedestal that they rest on. Some dragons will have helpful advice, tips for the level, or gameplay in general, yet most of them are useless little shits who just say “Thank you for releasing me!” and scurry off like some kind of mooch.
The other two kinds of collectibles are gems and eggs. The gems are the treasure in this land. They serve no other purpose but to be collected. The eggs are similar, but they’re a little harder to collect. There are twelve of them and each one is carried around by the aforementioned thieves, who you need to chase down and either flame them or charge them to death. Trust me, you will grow to despise these assholes. They taunt you. Constantly. The same laugh: “Nana nanana!” OVER AND OVER AGAIN LIKE THE LITTLE FUCKING HELLION DEVILS THEY ARE! THE LAUGHS… THEY TAKE OVER! THEY FUCKING INGRAIN THE NOISE IN YOUR HEAD. IT HAUNTS YOU YOUR DREAMS. YOU HEAR IT IN YOUR SLEEP. MAKE IT STOP! THE MOST ANNOYING ENEMY IN GAMING EVER!! FUCK THESE THINGS!!!1! So… Yeah. It’s bad. They’re annoying fucks and you’ll feel so damn good about everything when you kill one of them and shut them up. Luckily, they’re only in the first three worlds, so the second half of the game is “NANA NANANA!” free.
Now, there are two main ways to attack in this game. Actually, scratch that. There are only two ways to attack in this game. You have your flame breath and you have your charge ability, which lets you move around faster than walking. Now, these attacks are usually able to be interchanged easily to dispatch most enemies, but some enemies require a bit of thinking. Smaller enemies can be flamed or charged, but some of them have metal armor on. You can’t flame them because the armor absorbs it, so you have to charge them. Then you have the big enemies. They’re too big to charge, so you have to flame them. Then you have certain enemies that are large and armored. They’re invincible and you’re fucked in a one on one fight. Luckily there are other ways to take care of them, but that’s situational and depends on the level.
Earlier, I mentioned the ability to fly in certain levels. These levels are called Flight Levels. Creative, right? I thought so as well; it’s great. Each Flight Level has a theme to the design, but it’s all the same premise. You have a time limit to take out four sets of objectives such as rings, barrels, planes, etc. Destroying an objective grants a small time bonus, and that’s the key to filly completing the level. You’ll get eighty gems for each completed set and an eighty gem bonus for getting them all in one go, which means you can’t use multiple runs to collect everything. It’s tricky at first but simple planning will make it a breeze.
The first five home worlds have five levels to conquer: three regular levels, a flight level, and a boss level. The exception to this is the final world, which has two regular levels, a boss level, and a secret bonus level for completionists. Note that you don’t have to complete every level in a world to move onto the next world, you only need to meet the requirements given to you by the balloonists (who ferry you between the home worlds). These requirements include rescuing a set amount of dragons, collecting a certain amount of gems, or collecting a certain number of eggs. However, not completing each level and collecting everything inside of them means you won’t get to access the super fun bonus level at the end of the game. Also an oddity, the bosses in this game aren’t required outside of Gnasty himself. In fact, you could skip every boss and not miss a thing. They don’t have any impact on the story or anything like that. But they’re fun to face off against regardless, so I recommend it if you wanna squeeze extra enjoyment out of the game and/or extend your play time.
Rescuing every dragon, collecting every gem, taking back every egg from those goddamned thieves, and defeating Gnasty Gnorc will award you with the ability to enter the final level: Gnasty’s Loot. This is a bonus level where Gnasty (I’m saying this name a lot…) hid all of his treasure, 2000 gems worth of it, to be exact. In this level you can fly freely with none of the restrictions from the Flight Levels, however, the catch is that you can only fly up to a certain height and you’ll need to collect keys to be able to increase that limit. You’ll chase down more of those bastard thieves, too, but luckily flying makes them much easier to catch… except the ones in airplanes, they’re a pain in the ass, but your hatred will fuel you to pursue them until they’re utterly destroyed. The final room you unlock is a giant purple room with a large portrait of Gnasty on the wall. It also has a fuckton of firework crates filled to the brim with purple gems. Once you defeat all the thieves and collect all the gems, you will have officially completed everything there is to do in Spyro the Dragon! You’re treated to another interview segment where, during said interview, another spell comes in and crystallizes the dragons again. Spyro quips out “Here we go again!” and the credits roll for a second time.
Now, the gameplay aspects themselves are great, but the controls aren’t so great. They’re not bad at all, but they’re stiff. Like… really stiff. You’re going to struggle on some of the tougher platforming segments and there will be some cheap deaths. The camera doesn’t help sometimes either, so you’ll see yourself losing lives to things that weren’t necessarily your fault. It really sucks, but it was an issue that plagued many early platforming games. Luckily, the later games improved tremendously on this, but that’s for the next retrospective. Other than the stiffness and camera, the game overall performs well. Once you get used to everything, you’ll breeze through the levels and find yourself succeeding in places that once drained you of all your lives.
So the ultimate question: does this game hold up well today? Well yes and no. It’s still a blast to play through, but the controls are definitely going to take some adjusting to at first. If that doesn’t bother you, then you’ll definitely want to try out this classic! Otherwise, well, there are two more games you can play with infinitely better controls and camera. And speaking of two more games… next time we’ll touch on the sequel, Ripto’s Rage, but until then, see you later!