Spyro the Dragon

Spyro the Dragon was one of my favorite Playstation games when I was younger, so revisiting it now with a more critical eye, it can be difficult to give it a fair score. After all, as children, many of us were generally less demanding or discerning in our tastes, leaving us with fond memories of many things that, perhaps, do not actually deserve our better sentiments. Tearing aside the shroud of nostalgia, however, I found Spyro the Dragon still to be a surprisingly pleasant experience.

As the title suggests, you play as a young purple dragon named Spyro. Rather than being just a gimmick, being a dragon gives you access to a unique moveset, as you charge, glide, and burn your way through various enemies and obstacles to reach your goal. One of the game's strongest assets is how well the game incorporates these abilities into its level design.

Although the game is basically a "collect-a-thon" at heart, it manages to break away from the familiar Super Mario 64 formula by placing emphasis entirely on exploration of the large and colorful worlds. There are no random or abstract tasks to perform in order to make your goals appear; the challenge lies entirely in figuring out how to reach those goals.

The goal in each stage is to free all the dragons trapped in crystal statues (placed strategically throughout the levels as checkpoints) and to collect all the treasure that is littered about. This may sound repetitive, and it sometimes does get monotonous, but the game is saved by some great level-design. Oftentimes, there will be a dragon or gems that you can see, but not reach, and you'll have to think outside of the box to get to them.

Additional obstacles are provided in the form of enemies. You have to kill every enemy in a stage to collect all the gems, so it's a good thing that the enemies are varied in design and the strategies required to take them out. In addition, there are bosses in this game, but they are one of the game's weaker components. They're all pushovers, requiring you only to memorize simplistic attack patterns. They're barely worth calling bosses at all.

The emphasis on collecting treasure can get rather cumbersome, as you may accidentally pass over a gem, then be left scratching your head at were that last gem might be. Thankfully, unlike in most games in the collect-a-thon genre, gems stay collected even when you leave the stage, meaning you don't have to find everything in one pass.

To break up the monotony, there are several hidden "flight" levels that are required to reach 100 percent completion. In them, you are given unlimited flight, as you fly through obstacles and burn targets. Luckily, these levels are fun and challenging, although the controls in these segments could have been done better. Your fire breath also has too short of a range to hit some of your targets.

Control is occasionally an issue in the normal stages, as well. The camera is usually fine, but when you try to charge, the camera pulls in really close to Spyro, which can make it difficult to see where you're going. Other than that, however, the controls are pretty tight.

The game's aesthetics are not that strong, although the graphics have stood the test of time remarkably well. The problem lies in the color palettes chosen for many of the game's levels, which are too bright and sometimes just downright ugly. Some stages look like someone puked all over the walls! Some of the textures also seem oddly warped. However, the enemies are varied and look nice, and the sparkling treasures scattered throughout the stages look great.

Sound-wise, the music holds to a consistent style throughout, although it's a style that's not very appealing. It's a sort of synthesized, whimsical cacophony that fits the game's settings, but has a grating sound. Spyro is voiced by Carlos Alazraqui, the voice of the Taco Bell chihuahua, in a performance I'm not too fond of.

Aesthetics aside, though, Spyro the Dragon is a good game, but no masterpiece. I'm not going to lie: the game's pretty easy, especially early on, although there are a handful of legitimately challenging bits in the later stages. The level design on display is, however, admirable. The developers, instead of filling their game full of extras, mini-games, vehicles, and other crap, created a game where the main character's abilities are exploited to their full potential to bring a fun gaming experience. If they had only challenged the player a little more, this game could have been really great.

If you like games that emphasize exploration, or if you're looking for a gaming experience that's a little lighter (but still good), give Spyro the Dragon a try. Sometimes, nostalgia doesn't lie.