Have you ever had someone look at you in shock and say “I can’t believe you never played ___!”? That’s what this column is about. I’m an old fart gamer experiencing some of the classic retro games for the first time – and rather than having something profound or meaningful to say about it, I’m just going to share my initial thoughts upon playing a game most others have already deemed a classic. Hope you enjoy my newcomer insight – and ignorance – to games I should have played by now!
This week, I’ll be talking about Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon, for the Playstation One.
As a kid, I think I liked Spyro conceptually, but I was too preoccupied with the Crash Bandicoot series – another series that is amazing in its own right. But now I’m making up for lost time, and very glad that I did; Spyro is actually a lot of fun. I only ever played a demo that came with Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped as a child, so I didn’t really know where to start, but a friend of mine recommended Spyro 3: Year Of The Dragon as the best of the three (said friend was very clear to say “Best of the three – there are no other ones. Don’t check to see if there are other ones after Playstation One”).
I have to say, I took quite quickly to the concept of breathing fire and charging through 90% of the given obstacles. One of the big problems I had with Crash was that the moves would get limited after a while given he didn’t really use his arms to carry anything other than the bazooka in Warped – so when Spyro didn’t even have hands, I grew skeptical that he was going to have varied and interesting controls. But then the game took the time to remind me of one simple yet eloquent solution: being a dragon is fun.
And even when that got stale, the game went and added about five new characters to give the controls a little variety. Granted, I’m told by more devoted Spyro fans that the extra playable characters are not the highlight of the game, or even necessary (in particular Bentley the yeti, who’s largely just walking around and hitting things). The extra characters feel out of touch to someone who’s loyal to Spyro alone, but they are a cool gimmick that gives you a breath of fresh air if you just need to play something else within the same game. Really, my only complaint about the additional characters was that Sergeant Byrd is a penguin, and one of his primary functions is flying – something that penguins don’t actually do. Nonetheless, the penguin levels were still pretty fun. Agent 9, a monkey character, is pretty interesting because he plays like a rough draft of Ratchet from Ratchet & Clank, a game Insomniac and Sony Computer Entertainment would make next (and the more I check out others who play the game, the more I see others suspecting the same thing).
As far as Playstation platformers go, this is top notch, and I strongly regret not trying this out sooner. Much like Crash, the levels are very colorful and innovative, but there’s an open world feel that the original Crash trilogy (one where now I will adamantly pretend there are no others after PS One) did not really accomplish; Crash levels, with exception to the jet ski and plane levels, were largely linear. Much like Crash games, there are some levels that you have to return to later to get the collectibles within it, Also unlike Crash, you can take more than one hit before losing a life (Crash had to actively find Aku Akus to take extra damage), which gives a nice margin of error for first timers like myself.
The story, where Spyro is rescuing dragon eggs that were stolen and scattered across the world, sort of relies on kid logic that you won’t question things too deeply as it opens. For example, if it’s so important they don’t find them, why scatter them in multiple locations where the villains would have trouble keeping track of them as well? Eventually, you learn Sorceress is trying to harvest dragon wings for an immortality spell, which makes one wonder why she would risk forgetting where she hid a handful of them – or risk putting them in a spot that it is easier for Spyro to find than for her to revisit.
But if you are a kid, or at least were a kid and remember things from this era fondly, the story gives some rewards as well; many of the voice actors are very noticeable and pleasantly familiar for their other roles. Tom Kenny, who voices Spyro, also contributed acting to Catdog, Spongebob Squarepants, Powerpuff Girls, Adventure Time, Johnny Bravo, Rocko’s Modern Life, and As Told By Ginger, to name a few. The dialogue also has a few lines that any inner child will enjoy quite a bit; for example, when Sergeant mentions he thought dragons were extinct, Spyro replies, “The rumors of our extinction were slightly exaggerated. We just wanted a little peace and quiet.”
This game is ideal for any gamer who, like me, thought they played the best the PS One had to offer. Spyro has just enough familiarity to Crash and other platformers of the time for me to enjoy it, but has enough innovation for me to really admire the work put into it.