Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage

With the success of Spyro the Dragon, Insomniac attempted something more ambitious with Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage, which included missions and a bigger story, while addressing some of the issues with the original game. This entry released to critical acclaim one year after the original Spyro the Dragon and has stood the test of time. Looking back on it now, however, I feel I have a more mixed opinion on the more drastic changes to the original formula.

Compared with the original game, Spyro 2 has more of a plot. Sometime after the events of Spyro the Dragon, Spyro wants to go on a vacation to Dragon Shores. When he and Sparx exit the portal, however, they wind up in Avalar instead. They were summoned by Elora the Faun, Hunter the Cheetah and the Professor to take out the evil warlock Ripto, who they inadvertently summoned while experimenting with portals. Spyro agrees to help and sets out to collect talismans from across the worlds of Avalar to take down Ripto and his minions, Crush and Gulp.

Along with the increase in story elements, there are noticeably more cutscenes that advance the plot or fill in some of the blanks. Each world that Spyro visits also has its own mini-story complete with opening and ending cutscenes. I liked this storytelling approach, as it made the worlds feel more alive and introduced some interesting background stories, like how certain worlds are at war with each other and you’re helping in their efforts. As for the main story, it’s a good follow-up that has similar stakes to the original game without necessarily repeating the same story.

The Professor brought Spyro to Avalar to stop Ripto.

If you’ve played the original Spyro the Dragon, you can expect Spyro 2 to control very similarly, including the primary attack methods of ramming and burning, as well as, unfortunately, the bad camera controls. However, the game does introduce some changes that improve the experience. Spyro can now swim and hover at the end of a jump, which opens up many possibilities for exploration and lowers the number of things that can harm Spyro. Although Sparx will now always eat a butterfly, instead of just when he’s hungry, gaining an extra life simply requires eating a blue butterfly either from the environment or occasionally released by animals.

New Speedway levels operate similarly to the flying levels from Spyro the Dragon, but no longer require rapidly tapping Cross for faster flight and have more manageable time limits, which significantly lowers the frustration of playing this type of level. Unlike any of the bosses from the original game, including Gnasty Gnorc himself, all three bosses in this game actually put up a fight and can more easily drain your lives. An improved pause menu also displays your progress in each of the game’s levels, which gives a better idea of what you’re missing either for normal game completion or going for a full 100%.

Speedways fix issues with the flying levels from Spyro the Dragon.

The many improvements also extend to the graphics. Compared to its predecessor, Spyro 2 has more detailed environment and character models thanks to a higher polygon count, which helps inject more personality into each level. Spyro’s model also receives an update, enough that his level of detail matches the rest of the game.

Spyro 2’s biggest differences become more apparent as Spyro travels through the three realms of Avalar. Instead of freeing dragons and collecting gems, Spyro must now collect talismans and orbs from every world alongside gems to advance the story. Gems also serve a different purpose, acting as currency for the character Moneybags, a new cast member who will gladly manipulate the environment or teach Spyro new skills in exchange for gems. These skills, swimming, climbing and the headbash, introduce some minor backtracking, but otherwise open up new platforming possibilities. Additionally, enemies no longer drop gems and instead release spirit particles that collectively activate certain gates or temporary powerups within a level. While Moneybags is indeed greedy with his gem requirements at times, you’ll still have plenty left over by the end of the game and even get them all back after defeating Ripto.

Moneybags will more than happily take your gems.

Talismans and gems are fairly easy to come by, but then there are the orbs, which allow Spyro his chance at facing Ripto during the endgame. Most orbs are collected when Spyro completes missions of varying difficulty levels, which can range anywhere between activating a series of lights to burning hatching dinosaurs before they can eat several villagers. These missions add a lot of variety to the gameplay, but can get very annoying at times. Two of the biggest offenders include a trolley mission in Breeze Harbor and an escort mission in Fractured Hills. The former requires some split-second decisions, you’ll be hearing “Trouble with the trolley, eh?” a lot when you fail, and the latter requires memorizing the exact pattern that an alchemist will take as he walks past every single enemy in the area. The worst thing about the escort mission is that headbash is required for the mission immediately afterwards, so if you completed the escort without that ability, you have to repeat the whole thing again when you return.

Should you go for 100% completion, all 10,000 gems and 64 orbs, a new area will unlock in Dragon Shores that awards a permanent Superflame powerup, which makes certain levels and missions significantly easier and can carry over into a New Game+. I thought this was well worth the effort, especially since it’s actually not too much to ask from the player, but I didn’t feel the same way about the unlockable epilogue. This game introduced Skill Points that are awarded for completing specific hidden tasks, which are more or less a staple of Insomniac’s games, especially Ratchet & Clank. Collecting eight of them unlocks the epilogue and collecting all sixteen unlocks an extra segment. While I did collect a handful of Skill Points, I learned the hard way that it's best to try and earn them as you go if you don't want to replay too much of the game.

As far as the sound is concerned, Tom Kenny notably takes over the role of Spyro and becomes more or less the character's official voice in this continuity of the franchise. Since he provides some of the additional voices, I also thought the Electrolls sounded more or less like SpongeBob SquarePants. Throughout my playthrough, I ran into an issue where the pause menu sounded louder than necessary. Since this issue mysteriously cleared itself up, I wasn’t sure if part of the hardware I used was to blame. Aside from this, I found Fractured Hills’ bagpipes and use of valley girl accents a little annoying.

While I enjoyed my time with Spyro 2, I couldn’t ignore how easy it was by comparison to Spyro the Dragon and its de-emphasis on platforming in favor of the mission system. It’s still an easy recommendation as a classic game, both in its gameplay and interesting world and characters, but the change in direction does introduce a minor identity crisis at such an early time in the franchise’s history.

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