Remakes and remasters are one of those things that feels ironically modern, and whilst they’ve had a place in the industry longer than some people think, there’s no doubt that companies are seeing dollar signs in their eyes when they look back at older successful franchises. Bleeding us nerds for all our nostalgia is a safe and reliable business practice, but hey, we get to play our favourite old games in a new way, so it’s not like we don’t get something out of the arrangement.
One of the more recent entries into this hallowed remastered hall of gubbins is Spyro Reignited Trilogy, a complete remake of the first three games that made Spyro what he was until toys-to-life became more profitable. It’s been out on other systems for a good while now – and it was announced for Switch with very little fanfare – but now it’s here, and we’re going to delve into how it plays, runs, jumps, and flies, because that’s what a review does.
If you’re unfamiliar with our purple dragon dude, Spyro is a dragon. He runs around fast and collects an awful lot of treasure which always seems to take the form of perfectly-cut gems. We’re not sure what jewellers exist in the Dragon World, but they’re nothing if their not diligent at their jobs but seem to have an issue holding onto their work on the walk home. Gems are everywhere, and you’re going to need to grab them, as well as other collectables, in order to achieve victory.
Spyro moves largely as you’d expect; he’d a quadruped, so he doesn’t quite have the acrobatic skill of a certain red plumber who will remain nameless, and his move set is neither as varied as the Nintendo-branded, moustache-owning individual seen in the likes of Super Mario 64, nor as flowing. What he lacks in jumping however, he makes up for in combat and his piddly little wings. Spyro can charge, yes, but more impressively he can also breathe fire out of his gob and glide over longer distances than any Mario game (save Odyssey) would dare.
Spyro controls in a somewhat stiff manner, meaning you may be wrestling with the controls at times for what feels like no good reason. The developers have been shamelessly diligent in their recreation of the classic games, right down to the dated controls, and whilst that may put some people off; it’s a very bold decision and one that, in our eyes at least, just about pays off. If you’re going to remake a game, you need to do so with respect towards the originals, right down to the foibles. That’s not to say there aren’t delicious little quality of life improvements here and there, but they’re definitely few and far between, and really only serve to show you the games as you remember them – which, if we’re brutally honest, is probably through rose-tinted lenses.
The first game in the collection, simply called Spyro the Dragon, is understandably the simplest; Spyro has a basic move set that never really evolves, and all you’re tasked with doing is grabbing gems, smashing into enemies, and touching the statued forms of your dragon brethren because Gnasty Gnorc has emotional problems. You’ll explore a handful of hub worlds that each house portals to standalone levels that can be completed to 100%, or you can just touch the bare minimum of dragon statues to progress further – it’s your choice.
This entry has a very arcade-like feel to it; each level feels separate from one another, the collectables aren’t varied, and it’s almost entirely platform and combat-based. There are a few levels that task you with soaring around trying to fly through rings and burn objects, and these are a welcome change of pace. The game is undeniably great fun, but you can see the growing pains in full force here. What’s more, the interactions with the dragons you free can feel a tad stilted and out-of-place; they give you solid advice for sure, but it’s fairly clear that this is based on a game from 20 years ago. A very good game no doubt, and we had a blast playing through it, but the identity of the series hasn’t been fully realised.
Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!, on the other hand, holds absolutely nothing back. The interactions between the characters, the world, and the writing feel completely modern through and through. This time around, Spyro gets thrown into the world of Avalar, inhabited by creatures that aren’t dragons (gasp!), and must help the locals defeat the evil Ripto, a misguided magician with a Napoleon complex and a less-than savoury view of dragons.
To do this you’ve got to collect a whole mess of orbs, which is handy because the inhabitants hand them out like sweets at every turn. You’ll also need gems more than ever, as you’ll need to exchange them with the questionably-motivated Moneybags in order to gain new moves and access certain areas. The convenience continues, as gems are colossally more common this time around, with you often left unable to move without slurping them up by the dozen. It’s almost as if the entire world was tailored to Spyro’s exact requirements, if you can imagine such a thing.
Spyro’s move set has advanced and evolved to the point that he has finally stopped being soluble and is now able to touch water without having an aneurysm. This time around we still have hub worlds and individual levels to explore, but they’re much, much bigger. This combined with unique races of people in each land makes the whole world feel much more alive, rather than a series of courses designed only to test your video game skills. So much about this game doesn’t actually feel like a remake of an older game; yes, there are random minigames to complete for orbs such as ice hockey and realising you can just ram into those turtles to save them from the soup pot rather than chasing them around with fire for fifteen minutes, but so much else in this game hasn’t aged a day. It’s a true testament to the design and skills of Insomniac Games, and was easily the highlight of our time with this trilogy.
Our final stop is Spyro: Year of the Dragon, the 'difficult third album' of the Spyro series. We follow a very similar formula this time as we did before, with hub worlds and standalone levels being the core gameplay loop, but instead of orbs this time we’re on the hunt for orb-like casings that contain dragons, which for some reason are referred to as dragon eggs. As expected, Spyro’s move set evolves yet again, with him finally being able to force himself to the soil 'ground pound'-style, but the biggest change here is that Sypro isn’t the only star of the show.
The past two games had a supporting cast, naturally, but you were limited to just one playable character, which is not the case in this third outing. As you enter certain levels this time, Spyro will immediately yield control to another character, and you’re thrust into an entirely new way to play for that environment. Whilst this would be a nice change of pace in small doses, it happens really quite often, and although each secondary character isn’t necessarily hard to control or understand, it upsets the flow a bit more than we’d like. With the first two games, the flying levels were a fun aside; almost a reward thanks to the high-octane speed and freedom of movement, but all the other characters in this third game (and subsequently the levels in which you play as them) feel a bit stilted and not as much fun.
We didn’t enjoy playing as these characters as much as we’d hoped, and all the while we were just honestly wishing we were playing as Spyro; he alone was good enough for the first two games, after all. That’s not to say the rest of the game isn’t fun, no sir! Every time we were playing as our favourite purple dragon the world felt more alive than ever; each level is expertly designed and simply a riot to play through, and whilst we’re sure the prospect of playing as multiple characters will have been seen as technically impressive and desirable back in the space year 2000, it’s the one thing that we feel has aged the least gracefully.
But what about the overall experience? Well, you’re getting three fairly meaty games in one here, and what’s more, they’re three pretty fantastic games that are beautifully presented. Spyro Reignited Trilogy is just out-and-out gorgeous, which makes us feel even more confused as to why there wasn’t more of a fuss kicked up about this particular version. Shadows are crisp, the animation is insultingly smooth and emotive, and the art style will remain fresh for longer than the consoles it’s been made for. Performance on Switch is pretty great as well considering, even with the busloads of anti-aliasing thrown in, sticking at 30fps or thereabouts for a vast majority of our playthrough. We did encounter a few dips here and there, but it was nothing that spoiled our ability to play the game, or indeed enjoy it. There is an option to enable motion blur when playing in TV mode, but we felt more comfortable with it off.
Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a wonderful love letter to a classic series, keeping everything that made the original games what they were, but slapping on a fresh coat of paint for the HD era. There are a few creaking bones showing their age here and there, but only due to the developers’ desire to keep things as accurate as possible. The Switch version looks absolutely stunning and runs surprisingly well, so if you’re looking for a classic 3D platforming experience, you should definitely give this a look-in.