Saturday, August 26, 2017

Game Talk #21: The Spryo Trilogy

I wanted to talk about the original three Spyro the Dragon games, because I used to play the hell out of them way back in the day and over the past year or two, I purchased and played them again, to see if they were as good as I remembered.

And they pretty much were.

But it also made me realize just how good the original trilogy was. So obviously that made me want to create a Game Talk about it. So let's get started.

Spyro the Dragon was one of those games that I remember from my childhood...because I played the absolute shit out of it. I was like ten or eleven when I first started playing it, and I became obsessed, my obsession only made worse by the fact that I didn't even have regular access to a copy. I never owned a PS1, my cousins did, so I only got to play when I was over at their house, which was kind of rare.

When I decided to pick up a copy of this almost on a whim last year (2016), I didn't know how much I would remember of it, or if I would be any good at it. I've lost a lot of patience for video games as I've gotten older, especially ones that have more unfamiliar difficulty. Except for a very narrow selection, I never got into like, platformers, for example. I mostly just like first or third person shooters nowadays, with some exceptions.

So I had no idea if Spyro would be an awesome nostalgic trip or just annoy the shit out of me.

Turned out, it was both.

It was great, because pretty much as soon as I fired it up, all the memories came flooding back and I beat like a quarter of the game in one straight go. It was a lot of fun.

For the uninitiated, here's a brief synopsis of the game. You are Spyro, a young dragon, living in a world of magic, dragons, and other things. One day, Gnasty Gnorc, who is lord of the gnome-orcs, (gnorcs), and a total dick, decides, "You know what? Fuck dragons." And turns every adult dragon to crystal. You, apparently the only adolescent dragon in the world, managed to slip under the radar, so now it's up to you and your awesome sidekick, Sparx the Dragonfly, to rescue the dragons, recollect all of the stolen treasure (gems), and defeat all the varied bad guys, as Gnasty has also transformed the gems into tons and tons of enemies.

The game is pretty addicting and, for being a PS1 game, has pretty good control. Although maybe I think that because I was playing it on PS2 this time around. It's also pretty expansive, with five distinct worlds, each with their own sub-worlds, which comprise most of the levels. You get a really nice tracking system that lets you know exactly how far you are in each world and what's missing, and an overall percentage on your save file.

That's a seemingly small feature, but it's really satisfying to see. Although the original Spyro actually goes to 120%.

The game has a pretty good mix of challenges, as you pretty much come into each world blind and have to explore it, scouring it for gems and dragons to rescue. Some of them are pretty well hidden and require you get fairly creative. There's also a lot of variety to these worlds, not just in environment but also the aesthetic of the worlds. There's a huge melting pot of enemies to deal with. The game designers did pretty well to keep the gameplay mixed up.

There's not much else to say about the game. It's a solid PS1 title from back in the day. And hey, I managed to beat it all the way again!

The team followed up Spyro the Dragon with an immediate sequel the following year: Ripto's Rage. The basic premise of this one is that at some point after defeating Gnasty Gnorc, Spyro and Sparx are forced to endure a particularly long string of rainy days and decide they need a vacation at sunny and luxurious Dragon Shores. However, while heading through the portal to get there, they are inadvertently redirected to another realm: Avalar, which has been taken over by a magical lunatic named Ripto and his minions. The locals beseech Spyro to help free their land, and, well, he just can't say no to being a hero again.

One of the things that I really liked about this, and the subsequent sequel, (the last of the original trilogy), was how consistent it was. All of the original gameplay elements were there, but there were a few new ones added, new moves and abilities, a few new styles of gameplay, lots of new enemies and environments and cool little touches added in.

There were new characters, too. Hunter the Cheetah, who's heart is in the right place but he's kind of an idiot. Moneybags the Bear, who basically acts as an artificial block for the game. You need to pay him gems in order to access new parts of the game. Elora the Faun, who is probably the only competent person in Avalar. And the Professor. He's apparently a mole. He's sort of the cliched unstable, absentminded genius scientist character who's always tinkering with stuff and blowing shit up on accident.

After having basically nothing but dragons that cropped up every now and then to offer like two lines of dialogue apiece, it was nice to have a more expanded and consistent cast.

In addition to collecting gems and now orbs instead of eggs, you also need Talismans from each level, although they can't really be missed. And then there's skill points, which are harder and require you to do something beyond the basics. Generally they're a pain in the ass, but they aren't insanely difficult and they unlock a cool epilogue.

Except for the turtle soup challenge.

Fuck that challenge.

All in all, Spyro 2 was kind of a perfect example of a sequel. It both continued the story and expanded the universe in a meaningful way while simultaneously maintaining the mechanics of the previous game while improving upon and adding to them.

Also, I beat it!


Although there were parts of the game I remember as being annoying, (sometimes maddeningly so), the vast majority of the game was fun.

Spyro the Dragon 3: Year of the Dragon.

Less than a year went by before we got Spyro 3, which is actually just called Spyro: Year of the Dragon. I wish they'd have kept the numbered titles.

Not that it would have mattered beyond this game.

Continuing the marathon that is the Spyro Trilogy, Year of the Dragon has pretty much everything I said before about the first two. It continued the good stuff while expanding on it without changing it too much.

As for new content, there was a lot of it.

Instead of just adding in some more characters to fill out the cast a bit, now you get to actually play as other characters, each with their own mechanics and style of play. Hunter's back, and you get to play as him in a few challenges. You get to play as Sheila the Kangaroo, Sergeant Byrd the Penguin (who has shoulder mounted rocket launchers), Bentley the eloquent Yeti, and Agent 9 the Monkey. Elora shows up briefly and the Professor is back as well. And you even get to play as Sparx the Dragonfly! There are four top-down shooter levels for him.

The story in this one is that Hunter has come back with Spyro to kick it in the dragon worlds from the first game, and during the Year of the Dragon, when new dragon eggs are hatched, a bunch of bad guys drill up from underneath the ground, coming from apparently the other side of the world, and steal a bunch of dragon eggs. So naturally Spyro and Hunter are like 'fuck that' and go after them, finding themselves in a strange, forgotten land. Apparently dragons used to live in these lands a thousand years ago, but for whatever reason abandoned them, and now the magic is gone from the lands.

The main antagonist is the Sorceress, a dinosaur-like despot who claims to be using all the eggs to harness their natural magic to restore the magic-starved lands. So it's about the same: fight the evil army, defeat the antagonists, recover gems and eggs, all the good stuff.

On a side note, I have to say again that I just love their data tracking system. Even from the first game you get a menu that gives you detailed access to every level and every world. If you're missing some gems, you can at least discern which level they are missing from. It's up to you to actually track them down, but it really helps narrow it down. And it's just nice to have an overall percentage counter and a clear, concise database.

Another thing that really impressed me, not just in Spyro 3 but across the whole trilogy, was how many different, distinct, unique worlds they managed to come up with. Each of them is fairly separate from the others and each has a clear theme, and there are a LOT of levels and worlds.

Unfortunately, I did not conquer Spyro 3. It conquered me. Although I did beat the game, (no thanks to the fucking boxing challenge. Seriously, the turtle soup challenge from Spyro 2 is nothing in comparison to this fucking nightmare), I just didn't have the patience for the post-game stuff. It was a fucking nightmare and I just wanted to be done with it.

That's how far I got out of 117%.

So that sucked.

But whatever, it was overall a fun experience. The Spyro Trilogy is great. I did end up trying to play one of the new ones, as someone got me a copy of one of the 360 games, but I hardly played it all. Whatever magic Insomniac captured with the original trilogy seemed to have been lost immediately. They managed to capture lightning in a bottle for three games. I'm not sure whether or not I can recommend it, because if you're like me and you played it back in the day and remember it lovingly, then you already know how great it is.

But if you didn't? I don't know how well it holds up today. I mean, it seemed like it had pretty good mechanics and gameplay, but it's a lot harder to tell, because I'm not a good judge of stuff like that. All I know is that I got decent at it back in the day and then I remembered it, so I know what to do. I don't know if it would be easy to learn sitting down to it right now.

If you do get it though, plug it into your PS2, since plays better there. You'll need a PS1 memory card, though.