Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Spyro Reignited Trilogy

After the success of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy in 2017, a similar remaster of the original Spyro trilogy went into development and released in 2018 as Spyro Reignited Trilogy. Since the game required an additional download to have full access to everything, I didn’t buy it at first out of disdain for the practice. Eventually, however, I caved and got a copy so I could compare it to the original PS1 games, which I owned. While I think Toys for Bob made a valiant effort at bringing the original trilogy into the modern day, it does have issues that got increasingly more difficult to ignore with each game.

The first thing any player will notice is the major graphical overhaul. Environments are greatly improved from the original games, with a greater amount of detail and a much clearer idea of what some objects and enemies actually look like. Spyro’s animations feel more fluid and realistically weighty compared to the stiffer animations of the original and everyone looks more expressive, especially Bianca in Year of the Dragon, who no longer looks constantly smug. I don’t have many complaints about this aspect of the game, save for some clipping, the fact that grass can sometimes obscure previously obvious gems and the fact that Dino Mines in Year of the Dragon was the only level where enemies were still allowed to use real bullets and explosives.

Spyro looks better than ever.

Among the many quality of life changes, Spyro’s movement, ram and flight speed, jump height and turn radius were also tweaked for the better, now letting him complete levels in a timelier manner while still giving the player excellent control over when and where he starts and stops. Unlike the original games, the Passive camera mode now uses the right analog stick instead of the shoulder buttons and his entire body can turn while in Look mode, which feels much more natural and modern, although Look mode while underwater doesn’t have the same treatment. Sparx will also now eat multiple butterflies at once, instead of each one individually, and his abilities from Year of the Dragon that let him point to missing gems and warp Spyro to any level from the highly-responsive pause menu make completing levels and backtracking an absolute breeze by comparison to the original release.

While load screens still exist, sometimes longer than necessary for a PS4 game, you can now manipulate Spyro during level loading screens as a minor distraction. On a very minor note, the DualShock 4 and DualSense controller lights now display Sparx’s health with a color that matches the one onscreen (no health will display a red light). If you have the latest patches, you can also finally see subtitles across all three games.

A new musical score accompanies all three games and while each track sounds familiar, they also sound fuller than in the original version. If you prefer the original recordings, however, you can always switch back to the original recordings from the pause screen.

With all of the collective changes out of the way, here’s a breakdown of the change in experience for each individual game:

Unlike Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, there aren’t many gameplay tweaks for Spyro the Dragon specifically, he can’t hover like in the sequels for instance, but there is a subtle difference. As with the original PS1 version, you can gain extra lives by picking up twenty orbs from defeating enemies. This time, however, they also added in the butterfly system as presented in the sequels, meaning that animals will occasionally drop a blue butterfly that restores all your health and grants an extra life. With both systems in place, it’s easier to farm lives than in the original and I found myself even less pressed for them.

Thanks to the updated controls and some tweaked behaviors, Flight levels felt a little easier than in the original, but still are still the most frustrating part of the game due to their low margin of error. If you miss something in your line and there’s no way to circle back later, your best bet is still to intentionally crash and start over. This was still better than the treatment of the bosses, however, which are still an absolute joke.

I loved how after three console generations, all of the dragons Spyro encounters have unique designs and a sense of personality in their animations compared to the copy and paste designs in the original. Their lines also sounded more distinct, with new voice recordings for each dragon using pretty much the exact same script as the original release. Similarly, Tom Kenny rerecorded all of Spyro’s dialogue, which adds a greater uniformity to the trilogy. I personally didn’t mind this decision, as I preferred his take on the character anyway.

Overall, I somehow found my playthrough of the Reignited version easier than my playthrough of the original PS1 version. This could be familiarity, but I also think it has to do with the tweaks made to the game’s behaviors in general that make certain sections less frustrating to complete. I would also say this playthrough felt a little faster, but despite playing this version of the game on a PS5, which would theoretically brute force through any issues, I experienced load times as long as twenty seconds, which somehow felt a little longer than the PS1 version. Considering the time gap between the original and Reignited, this is less forgivable.

Spyro the Dragon also has Skill Points for the first time, which brings it more in line with the sequels for an additional challenge.

While there are likely several small changes in Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage that I either didn’t notice or didn’t specifically look for, I still noticed a few. I liked that the animations for collecting Orbs and Talismans were streamlined and paired with more expressive reactions from Spyro, but found it odd that the swimmable parts of water looked opaquer on the surface than in the original PS1 version, which made swimming a little more inconvenient. Perhaps the best change, however, was the addition of an aiming reticle for Spyro, which made firing objects at enemies less of a guessing game.

Some orbs received some quality-of-life changes that made collecting them far less frustrating. For example, the “Turtle Soup” Orbs in Sunny Beach heavily downplay the number of turtles Spyro has to save and spaces them out so they’re more manageable. I also noticed a lower difficulty on the hockey-themed Orbs in Colossus, but mainly it the sense that each round opened the exact same way and the AI felt more exploitable, especially on the supposedly more difficult version of the challenge. In this sense, it almost felt a little too easy. By this same token, the boss fight against Crush felt far easier than the original game for some reason, as I managed a perfect victory on the first try.

I also ran into two very specific problems that added frustration where I originally didn’t feel any during my PS1 playthrough. One involves the fight against Gulp. I’m not complaining so much that he felt harder than the original version, since he runs faster and can more accurately predict your position with his shots, but more that I ran into some weird physics issues. The most frustrating came from how when I flamed the bombs that dropped into the arena, some of them wouldn’t move very far, if at all, which made them far less reliable. I also noticed that one time a barrel that dropped in didn’t fully expand for some inexplicable reason. Speaking of barrels, another one caused a physics issue that I actually exploited for damage. In this case, just when Gulp would eat it, I damaged him, which caused the barrel to hang in mid-air for several seconds and not get blown up when Gulp cleared the arena, so I rammed it into him for quick damage when it finally fell to the ground.

The other specific issue came from a major glitch in Metro Speedway. I completed the hidden “Grab the Loot” Orb mission, but I landed in the water at the last possible second. This caused the game to register my victory as a loss during the victory cutscene, denying me the orb until I tried again. I accidentally left Metro Speedway when the screen popped up, so the Mayor’s congratulatory text was continuously drawn on the screen, even during the pause menu, and wouldn’t go away until I spoke with him again and completely redid the challenge.

As for the voice acting, while pretty much every line was rerecorded and some actors recast, the decision to replace Gregg Berger as Hunter seemed questionable. His replacement, Robbie Daymond, still did a good job and provided a voice that still matched the character, but the recast felt odd anyway considering Gregg Berger still voiced Ripto.

If there’s one thing I can easily praise the Reignited version of
Year of the Dragon for, it’s how they handled the additional playable characters. They now move faster compared to the originals, so their levels no longer feel like an absolute chore. Sheila’s jump arc now has more forward momentum on her higher jumps, closing the gap to certain locations in the level much faster on boosting confidence in her platforming. Bentley moves faster, making backtracking far less painful. Sgt. Byrd’s controls were updated significantly for smoother play and easier use of his missiles. Agent 9 receives the most dramatic changes, with his shooting controls updated with more recent advancements in third-person and first-person shooters, making his missions actually fun to play through.

Beyond that, however, Year of the Dragon had the least polished experience of the entire Reignited package.

For one thing, the dragons you rescue feel even more copy-paste than they did in the PS1 version, with only two, maybe three, different models and a change of color. They kept many of the animations, but for some reason I thought they had a little less variety. For instance, the dragon Ba’ah no longer emerges from a sheep and instead pops out of an egg, which ruins the entire joke behind his name. The dragon Jonah is still inside a whale, retaining a possible biblical reference, but that whale also now has human teeth for some reason and takes much longer for the game to register that you’ve exited the whale’s mouth.

I noticed that this version of the game has trouble with interactions in general. Spyro can move during the very end of in-game cutscenes, specifically before the camera completely shifts back to Spyro. While this might help for speedrunners, the fact that you can’t see exactly where you’re going when you do this can spell disaster since some of these occur near a ledge. Interaction triggers for eggs and NPCs also felt less reliable than the PS1 version. In the original, you just had to approach from a certain angle, but many triggered for me when I approached from the side. One time, in Cloud Spires, I could only trigger an NPC interaction when I walked directly behind them, locking the camera into a certain position while Spyro slowly slid around and then quickly snapped into the proper position before the cutscene could continue.

While the new graphics and camera system generally improve the look and feel of the game, there are times where they can actually make a minigame harder than in the original PS1 version. For example, the lack of reflections in the “Protect Nancy The Skater” egg made anticipating the Hockey Rhynocs harder than necessary and the updated camera system made anticipating moles in the “Whack a Mole” egg more difficult, aided only slightly by broken physics that made moles moonwalk even when they were supposed to be underground. For the latter egg, I also swear that wizards popped up more often than in the original for whatever reason.

The absolute icing on the cake, however, would be the updated physics and how they alter races. While traversing regular levels feels great, the racing stages get increasingly frustrating. You have to deal with the change in the behavior of Blue Stars, since now instead of just having faster movement with the same tight controls, Spyro drifts a little, which means he’ll run into objects more often than not. Even without the drifting, I still somehow ran into objects more often than when I played the PS1 version, though I still barely managed my intended strategy in the end.

As for the skateboarding minigames, these are when the physics really got in my way. During the skateboard races, I noticed that they hadn’t quite polished the physics. Tricks failed more often than in the PS1 version, partly because Spyro didn’t snap back into the right position to avoid a bail as easily. When I flipped in just the right way, Spyro suddenly moved forward much faster, at the expense of a loss of control. I faced the most problems during the race in Super Bonus Round, where I would either slide upward against the side of the track or barely touch the side of something and completely lose all momentum, compromising my placement in the race to the point where if I made even the slightest mistake, I just started the race all over again. These collective issues eventually forced me to play it safe, which made the races take longer and feel less fun than if I could more freely incorporate tricks. This strategy, however, didn’t stop the final skateboard race from lasting about an hour out of complete frustration.

Whether you’ve played the original Spyro trilogy on PS1 or want to revisit the old games with a new coat of paint, Spyro Reignited Trilogy will certainly satisfy. While there are some minor issues you can put up with, it’s worth keeping in mind the relative lack of polish in Year of the Dragon. If the original Spyro trilogy ends up getting a continuation like Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, then hopefully it will feel more polished.

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