Following in the strong, deep footsteps of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy comes another remaster of a 90s classic. Sam Brooks reviews Spyro: The Reignited Trilogy.
The plumber. The bandicoot. The lady with the triangle shaped boobs. The electric yellow rat. All of these gaming mascots have survived into the present day whether through sequel, reboot or remaster. But that other mascot – the purple dragon – has been absent. Until now.
In the vein of last year’s Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a full remaster of the trilogy that defined the genre, and the Playstation platform, for a generation of gamers. That is, the same games, the same maps, but with updated everything else for the current generation.
And when I say it’s the same games, I genuinely mean it. It might look and sound upgraded, but if you played these games as much as I did when I was a kid, then your muscle memory is going to serve you well. The enemy locations are there, every hard-to-find gem is there, and every side-quest that you loved is recreated with a striking amount of care. Yes, if you had trouble with the trolley two decades ago, you’re still going to have trouble with the trolley:
The original Spyro trilogy are paragons of the genre, platform and generation. Where Crash Bandicoot gave you tight levels to jump around and explore, Spyro was a little bit more sprawling, and you were encouraged to hunt into the dark corners of each level to find every last gem. What’s more is each of these levels were imaginative and detailed enough to make up their own game – it was very rare that enemy types were recycled, and even rarer to see graphical assets reused. Each level felt like its own little self-contained world, largely because of the charming design and unique look that each world had.
Toys for Bob, who are most famously responsible for the hugely successful and barely related Spyro spinoff Skylanders, has done a gorgeous job with the remaster. It would be nigh-impossible to recreate the original designs exactly as they were, given this was in the age where you could count each model’s polygons on your fingers, but what the developers have done is mix the original designs with their own (rather painterly) Skylanders style.
It has the stylish sheen of a Saturday morning cartoon, and colours that feel closer to a pinger trip than even the original’s primary-and-then-some colour scheme. In a year where developers seem hellbent on showcasing how many shades of brown they can possibly cover in their game, it’s nice to see a game throw as many colours as possible at the wall and see what dribbles down.
The other selling point of the Trilogy – perhaps less noticeable than the graphics or the world-building, but no less important – is the music. Stewart Copeland (yes, the one from The Police who isn’t Sting) did the original tracks for each trilogy, and the range of the scores is staggering. There’s funk here, there’s jazz, there’s even jungle house. The breadth of the game’s visual design is staggering, and the fact that the aural design is equally as broad and inventive is unprecedented, one of those easily forgotten achievements. Better yet, each track is remastered and subtly remixed here, but there’s the option to return to the original, in their lo-fi glory, should you want to do so.
The one snag that made Crash Bandicoot’s remaster, which this will inevitably be compared to, not an entirely perfect one was the apparent upscaling of difficulty (although I’d argue this assumed increase of difficulty was less an actual difficulty increase and more a reliance on muscle memory). The Spyro trilogy, which was never difficult to begin with, skips over this entirely. In fact, it actually feels easier. This might be because I’m a 28-year-old man who’s better at playing video games than I was when I was eight, or it might be a mixture of more intuitive controls and improved collision detection. Who can say!
When I was a child, these games felt like unimpeachable and gorgeous paintings that you could play around in, unencumbered, for seemingly endless hours. As an adult, you can see the gaps a little bit better. The levels feel smaller and more self-contained, the camera is more often an impediment than an asset, and any of the difficulty is less the game stepping up a challenge and more the player fighting the limits of the game’s engine. There’s still the sense of wonder, and developer Toys for Bob has done a gorgeous job of adapting the original’s design to a new art style. It makes me happy that gamers who experienced that wonder with the original trilogy can now introduce them to the next generation.
In saying that, it’s hard to look at Spyro: The Reignited Trilogy and not consider where the series went after this trilogy. There was the bug-ridden Enter the Dragonfly, which played like an obvious beta, and put the series into a coma, only to be briefly revived for a reboot and barely justified handheld cash-ins. The most prominent use of the Spyro IP in the past ten years has actually been the Skylanders spin-off, which exists mostly to sell kids toys, and has therefore been hugely successful.
Spyro: The Reignited Trilogy exists for two reasons. One reason is the aforementioned, unprecedented, and almost entirely unrelated success of Skylanders, which has not only spawned endless amounts of merch and toys, but television shows, and countless portable games. If you can tie that success into a previous, barely connected, success and defibrillate a whole other franchise, why wouldn’t you?
The other reason is that beast we call nostalgia. It’s why old games get re-released, other games get remastered, and a whole console is made to appeal to it. But nostalgia doesn’t exist without the quality of the original game, without the charm, the effort, and the hard work that made those things good in the first place. If Spyro: The Reignited Trilogy is a success (and by every measuring stick it is) then it’s only because the original trilogy was so strong.
Which leaves me with one question: we’re in an environment commercially and critically where these games can sell a few million and make bank on investment, but is it enough to revitalize the genre? Could we make another Spyro that matches these games for depth, charm, and genuine care? Or is the industry going to be looking for gems in graves for the foreseeable future?
See you in 2019 for MediEvil Remastered, y’all.
Spyro Reignited Trilogy is available for Playstation 4 and XBox One right now.
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