RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Feb 24th 2019 at 08:00:00 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under platforming, playstation, ps1, psone, psx, platformer, 3d

The Playstation and Nintendo 64 rarely had games that competed directly. Nintendo has long been going their own way, and that was no different than during this generation. One area where the two consoles did compete was in the realm of 3D platformers. The debate about which console has the best 3D platformers of this era still flares up from time to time, in a way similar to the much more fun 16-bit war between Sega and Nintendo.

The main participants tend to be Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, and sometimes Ape Escape vs. Super Mario 64 and Rareware's various platformers. Spyro was Sony's second major trilogy of 3D platformers. The strange part is that the base of Crash's design is basically a 2D platformer with a shifted camera perspective, there are even some straight side scrolling 2D levels in the Crash series. Spyro on the other hand is 100% 3D from the ground up. From the first game to the third, and beyond, Spyro was all about the 3D aspects of game design. In terms of which of these games has aged the best, and is the easiest and most fun to play in 2019, Spyro is one of the winners. This may be a result of its later entry to the market. This first game in the series was developed by Insomniac Studios and published by Sony Computer Entertainment in the latter half of 1998.

The setup of Spyro the Dragon is rather simple. A television crew is interviewing some of the dragons, and they antagonize a villain by the name of Gnasty Gnorc. He curses the dragons and turns them into crystal statues. The only dragon who escapes this fate is the smallest of the dragons, Spyro. He embarks on an adventure to free his fellow dragons, with the goal of defeating Gnasty Gnorc and his minions. Other than saving the dragons Spyro is to also collect the dragon's treasure. This treasure is scattered throughout the various dragon worlds as gems. Spyro is not alone on his quest, he has a dragonfly companion named Sparx. Sparx is an important mechanic in the game, and serves two main purposes. The first is to serve as Spyro's health gauge. The young dragon can take four hits before dying, with Sparx changing colors based on how many hits he has left. Gold is full health, blue is one hit taken, green is two hits taken, and finally Sparx disappears entirely when Spyro has taken three hits. The second purpose is that Sparx will pick up gems that Spyro gets close to. So when Sparx disappears from taking three hits the collection of treasure actually becomes much more difficult as Spyro must directly run into the gems to collect them.

Spyro's controls are rather simple and easy to understand. It is a game meant for children at its core. Like most Playstation games movement is controlled solely with the directional pad. Analog sticks do not work at all. The X button jumps, and pressing it again during a jump will initiate a glide. Pressing the triangle button during a glide will cause Spyro to drop like a rock. Pressing triangle on the ground zooms the camera in right behind Spyro's head, and the camera can be controlled so the player can survey their surroundings. Spyro even has the ability to roll by pressing the R1 and L1, it ends up being rather useless. The square button causes Spyro to charge, one of the dragon's main attacks. The other main attack is initiated by pressing the circle button, the dragon's flame. Enemies are designed with Spyro's methods of attack in mind. Small enemies can be charged, large enemies must be flamed. Enemies wearing metal armor are immune to flame.

The world of Spyro is actually quite well developed. There are four types of stages in Spyro the Dragon. The first is a homeworld, this is the hub where portals to other levels can be found. However, these homeworlds still have plenty of enemies and dangers within them. The most common level are the normal platforming levels. These are the most straightforward levels where dragons and treasure can be found. Each homeworld has one flying level, which serves as a type of challenge level. Spyro must fly through or flame the various obstacles in each flying level in order to get some treasure, the only way to get all the treasure is to get all the obstacles in one run. The final level type is the boss level, each homeworld has a boss to fight, and each boss level has at least one dragon to save and treasure to collect.

One of the major problems that 3D platformers have had since their inception has been the camera. Whether its camera movement speed, environmental collision, fixed position vs constant movement, getting a camera to properly function in 3D space is rather difficult. In these early years there was no real standard. However, Spyro is the closest from this era to what has become the modern standard. First off, the game's camera has two different modes, Passive and Active. The Passive camera is controlled entirely by the player, the L2 and R2 buttons can move the camera from side to side. The Active camera is more automatic, it works to stay behind Spyro and will eventually come to rest there. The shoulder buttons can be used in Active mode to speed up or hinder the process depending on what the player needs. With both modes, the triangle button can be tapped to zoom the camera behind Spyro. The Active camera is less of a worry in gameplay, as the manual control of the camera in Passive mode is slower than what the game's automatic tracking can do in Active mode. The camera still has problems with environmental collisions, but the speed of its Active mode and ease of control in comparison to many others of the era also served to help the game age better in the long term.

Spyro the Dragon had some fairly important staff in its credits, which may have helped given the game its forward thinking design. Mark Cerny had been in game design for well over a decade, and had previously produced Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for Sega, and had more recently worked with Naughty Dog as Crash Bandicoot's producer and designer. Charles Zembillas was a character designer who began his career working on Saturday morning cartoons in the 80s, and had also been a character designer for Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot. This is a lot of talent that Sony shifted between the two series, giving these two trilogies an intimate link. To compose Spyro's music, Insomniac commissioned Stewart Copeland, who is most known as the drummer for The Police, but has also had an extensive career composing movie and TV soundtracks.

Recently, these Playstation era classic platformer trilogies have been remade for a modern HD release. Spyro Reignited Trilogy was released in September of 2018. On top of just being remakes the laundry list of developers decided to add new features, such as dynamic audio, with the original soundtrack being a toggle option. Certain levels were also used to keep the games more consistent. For this first game, only one level, High Caves, was made to be consistent with the original NTSC release. The voice acting was also completely re-recorded. Spyro's voice actor in the first game was Carlos Alazraqui, but he was changed out for Tom Kenny afterwards. For this remake, they made the voice acting consistent, so Tom Kenny was used for the first game as well. Some cutscenes and graphical changes were also made. The biggest of these differences is the addition of six limbs to Sparx, and all the dragons now wearing clothes and having completely unique models.

The original Spyro games were popular, and as a result their prices are quite reasonable. Unless you want an original black label copy of this first game. The price difference is almost double, with Greatest Hits copies being around $15 and black label copies regularly selling for around $30. Only the first game has this drastic of a price difference. Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage and Spyro: Year of the Dragon have almost identical prices between their black label and Greatest Hits releases. Still, these original releases are more expensive to buy as a whole trilogy than the new Spyro Reignited Trilogy release. Anybody interested in trying the games for the first time or introduce their children to it have these options to choose from, with the newer and flashier graphics from Reignited likely being the better option for younger gamers.

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I never played these back in the day. I was a big Crash fan, but moved to the Ratchet and Clank series on the PS2, completely skipping over Spyro. I've been thinking of picking up the trilogy remaster to try them out, thanks for the info! I didn't realize they actually made some changes to a few things.
Good write-up! I never played the original Spyro around the time of its release, instead opting for the 2nd and 3rd games in the series. My biggest hang-up with the original trilogy is, of course, the camera. Having played through the 1st game now as of 4 or 5 years ago, my biggest issue is Spyro's inability to swim, which was, thankfully, rectified in the subsequent game. Well, swimming, and also the flying levels - boy those are tough. But the character of Spyro is quite charming, and those original games still hold up relatively well. I would tend to agree that appearing later in the console's life gave Spyro an advantage, because they learned from some of the lessons of earlier attempts. Without analog control, I'm not sure this game would have played as well, and we might as well have just had a faster Croc sequel. I'm still on the fence about getting the remastered trilogy set, but as much as I enjoyed these games, I certainly see the draw of them.

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