With Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy setting the charts on fire last year, and with Sony set to revive PS1 classic MediEvil in 2019, Spyro Reignited has a lot to prove. It needs to reassure fans that these retro games are actually worth re-playing (and rebuying) in an industry where so many remakes or HD ports have been unacceptably slipshod.
So is Spyro Reignited Trilogy actually any good, or are we just getting excited about Activision’s latest venture with the benefit of rose-tinted glasses? In our opinion, it’s a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B: Toys for Bob’s take on Insomniac’s trilogy remains a decent platformer with some nice ideas (and incredible production values), but unlike the immortal dragons that inhabit his world, Spyro has aged noticeably over his 18 year hiatus.
As a ‘90s baby, this writer was seven years old when the first game came out. Unsurprisingly then, Spyro has cemented itself in my memory as one of the best (read: first) 3D platformers ever made. Crash Bandicoot occupies the same pedestal, with Final Fantasy VIII taking the crown of best RPG (again, your first equals the best, right?)
Even a wyrm will turn
So this current trend of seeing everything getting remade, reskinned, rethought – with new devs using Unreal Engine 4 like Crispr to splice and edit the genes that were left by their creators – seems like it would be perfect for a nostalgic reconciliation, right? Well, the sad reality is… not really.
Where Spyro Reignited Trilogy does some stellar work modernising these 3D platformers, it also misses some of the key elements that made the originals so captivating. Spyro doesn’t handle like a tugboat anymore, and for that, we’re eternally grateful – the plucky little purple upstart now rounds corners like a motorbike, sharp and responsive, his glides and hovers instantly responding whenever you jab the buttons with your gleeful little fingers.
Hitboxes, enemy animations and environmental dangers are all much more readable, too. The vivid, colourful universe of the Dragon Worlds resurrected by Toys for Bob makes a point of beautifying and sharpening everything from Gnorcs to Rhynocs across the trilogy, giving you – the player – a much better time interacting with everything around you.
Spyro has been animated with such personality you’d be forgiven for thinking he was this fluid and sleek all along – the stouter, blurrier dragon of the past smudges into this perfect HD being within minutes, and quickly gets to work rearranging history for you in your head to make you think ‘wait, didn’t Spyro look like this all along?’ No, he didn’t.
He was a husky pug of a dragon before, and this revitalised version of him is so much better. There’s something about his eyes, too, that comes off almost Pixar-esque: expressive, communicative, honest. we don’t think an 8-year-old version of ourselves would have ever imagined describing Spyro that way, but here we are.
Remix to Reignition
In other words, as a Remaster — the Reignited Trilogy is great. The same way the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy was great, and the MediEvil remake is looking great and the upcoming episodic Final Fantasy VII Remake is looking…. Well, we’re not so sure about that one. But if we’re honest, none of these games are ever going to supplant the originals in our mind, because for all the spit and polish and development wizardry the new generation console allows for, there’s something beautiful in the technical minimalism that lead to the game’s creation in the first place.
Take the first Crash Bandicoot, for example. Without the arcane coding skills of one Mark Cerny (you know, the guy that would go on to lay the technical foundations for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita), Crash could never have been born.
Long story short, Cerny and Naughty Dog managed to trick the PSOne into reading three times more data from the Crash disc as it should have at any one time, leading a nervous Sony to estimate the average player would only get ‘about three weeks of playtime’ from the game before the PSOne disc reader gave out. Luckily, the hardware was more robust than the company gave it credit for and the game – and console – became a resounding success.
A remake for the dis-Cerny-ing gamer
Cerny took his expertise over to Insomniac Games and Spyro, crunching an incredible amount of content down into a neat little package that would fit on one disc. The result? A trademark polygonal style, sparing textures, and sound samples that would repeat over and over again.
The sound of Sparx’s ‘nnyyng’ as it collected treasure around you, the rounded chomp as it ate butterflies to restore health, the finger-drumming canter of Spyro when you held down jump and charge at the same time… all of these elements combined to create a short, immediately identifiable audio imprint that (thanks to months and months and months of repeated play) would become a soundtrack to many a PlayStation players’ childhood.
The audio mix in the new games is amazing – it even features a new track from The Police’s Stewart Copeland – and the reorchestration of the classic themes is nostalgic and actually listenable. The MIDI-based originals have aged amazingly in terms of composition – and, playing through the game again, weirdly, Spyro is probably one of the reasons this writer got so heavily into progressive rock growing up, too.
But once again, minimalism wins out: the Toys for Bob rethink of Spyro muddies the mix: the crisp sound of the gems, the mumbles and yelps of enemies, the lovely new music – it all blurs into one and comes off (sorry) almost over-produced compared to what my nostalgia is telling me it should sound like.
The chants on monks on the Colossus level, for example, seem to lose personality compared to the original… because that compressed, droney sample that was used originally seemed to characterise the ditzy monks so well in game that was constantly thrashing against its technical constraints.
The same is true of the glitzy environments throughout all three games. Because the PSOne could only show about 800 polygons on-screen at any one time, developers had to be creative in how they shaded huge gaps, how they used trees, cliffs, walls and architecture to block out the world, always give Spyro an immediate staging area and location. The players’ mind would fill in the gaps. And when thinking back to the murky depths beneath the canopy of Tree Tops, the one we imagined is a much more disturbing locale than the cutesy scene portrayed in the Remasters.
OK, let’s get this straight — we don’t want this piece to come off as whiny. As a shiny celebration of our childhood, we really appreciate what Toys for Bob has done, and you can bet your last Dragon Egg that we’re going to 100% all three of these bad boys. The problem comes more from what this remake represents.
After all the ‘controversy’ regarding Crash Bandicoot’s bevelled feet last year, and how that severely undermined the polygon-perfect platforming that guided many gamers through childhood, we’ve been picking apart these ports and remakes to examine why something so positive, so wholesome, comes off as ‘not quite right’.
Is Spyro Reignited Trilogy Any Good?
For this writer, it’s simple: for people in their mid-20s, as much as we may choose to fight it, nostalgia wins out. The sounds, sights and mechanics of our childhoods occupy this space in our heads that makes us think ‘yeah, the old Final Fantasies are better’, ‘Generation One of Pokemon is the best’, and ‘the original Spyro trilogy is just better’. Even if, technically, that may not be the case.
Toys for Bob has done an exemplary job of bringing Spyro into 2018, and we hope to see Activision continue to experiment with remasters like this and Crash. For new players, this game will delight and entertain (even if some of the more ‘filler’ elements of the game are a little flawed), and for old players, it will scratch that itch you’ve got for 3D platforming nostalgia… but like with our current never-ending hunger for movie nostalgia — it might not get rid of it for good.