Review: Spyro the Dragon (Playstation)

In this review, we charge through the Playstation game Spyro the Dragon. We find out what it’s like to play this adventure game.

This game was released in 1998 and is the first game of this series. When some gamers think of adventure/platform Playstation game that is not Crash Bandicoot, chances are, this game comes to mind. Before we played this game, we had no experience with this series. So, we decided to kick things off by giving this game a whirl.

The plot is that a number of dragons are being interviewed. The discussion of the dragons five realms came up and it seems everyone is living peacefully. One of the questions revolved around Gnasty Gnorc. When asked about whether this individual is a threat, the threat is dismissed as non-existent. Gnorc, in the mean time, is watching the live feed. When he hears that he is no threat to the dragons, he becomes enraged. Using his powers, he turns all the dragons into crystals. The major attack misses Spyro. Spyro then sets out on a quest to free the dragons and defeat Gnorc.

Accompanying you on your adventure is Sparx the dragonfly. He becomes quite useful in that he flies to nearby items and smacks them over to Spyro. This makes item collection much easier. In addition to this, Sparx also represents Spyro’s health. At full health, Sparx is glowing and gold. With one hit, he is blue with a trail of sparkles. With three hits, Sparx is simply green. With four hits, Sparx disappears completely. After that, if Spyro gets hurt, he dies immediately.

There are plenty of free lives available. The most recognizable way is to collect small dragon statues. These statues are held by monsters in purple cases. Defeat these enemies and an extra free live is yours.

The most common item, however, are the gems. Scattered throughout every world are a number of gems. The total number can range from a mere 100 to a whopping 500 gems in regular levels. While this sounds like a lot, gems come in various colors. Red gems give you a mere 1 gem. Green gems earn you two gems. Blue gems net you 5 gems each. Yellow gives you a sizeable 10 gems. Finally, purple gems earn you a massive 25 gems.

Some gems are just lying around, waiting for you to collect them. Other gems are found in wooden treasure boxes. These boxes are easily destroyed with any form of attack. Gems are also found in metal boxes. These boxes can be destroyed with the charge attack, but are impervious to the flame attack. In addition to this, there are “indestructible” boxes. These boxes require either an explosive or a special attack to destroy. On occasion, you may encounter a locked box. These locked boxes require the use of the golden key. Finally, there are crates of explosives. You need to use your flame attack to destroy these.

Most common enemies are also holding these gems. Defeating enemies forces these enemies to drop these gems.

Should you either die or return to a world, enemies will repopulate. While that sounds like an easy way to get more gems, any enemy you’ve already collected gems from will drop something else. This different item are white spherical crystals. If you collect these, you’ll notice these gems appearing around your free life. If you earn enough of these gems, you’ll earn another free life.

As mentioned, Spyro has two main attacks. The first attack is the charge attack. This charge attack utilizes his horns as he runs towards his enemies. This attack is particularly useful for enemies who wear metal armor. The other attack is the flame attack. This is where spyro spits out numerous streams of flame towards his enemies. This attack is particularly useful if you need a quick attack. While useful for enemies with ranged attacks, it becomes useless in the face of metal.

In addition to the standard jumping move is the glide ability. Spyro has wings. With exception to the flying levels, Spyro can glide through the air with these. As long as Spyro is airborne, he can initiate a glide move. This becomes very important because Spyro will need to access platforms that can only be reached by executing a glide move.

As you progress, you’ll also encounter ramps with arrows. If you use your charge attack on these, you’ll eventually initiate a super charge attack. This is very useful for a number of reasons. The big reason this is useful is because you are invulnerable while attacking in this manner. Another big reason this is useful is because you can travel much more quickly. One final, but very important reason this is useful is the fact that Spyro can jump and glide further. Some jumps are impossible to make without the use of a super charge and specifically timed jumps and glides. Charging through consecutive charge lanes can allow Spyro to run faster and jump farther.

With all of these moves, Spyro can access pretty much every item in the game. One such item Spyro can obtain are dragon eggs. These eggs are held by fast moving thieves who will challenge your movement abilities. The good news is that there actually aren’t very many of these eggs to be found. In fact, you can collect all of them long before you reach the end of the game.

Naturally, one of your objectives is to free the dragons. All you need to do is touch the dragon encased in crystal to free him. Once freed, the dragons can offer some advice to help you along. Others are merely grateful for your rescue. What they all have in common is the fact that they leave a save platform with a fairy. You can save the game with these.

Not all fairies are save fairies. There are a few fairies that will give you a magic kiss. With this kiss, Spyro will turn a shade redder. For a limited time, Spyro will have a flame attack much more powerful than normal. These flame attacks can blast through metal enemies and doors. The other fairy are the whirlwind fairies. Rescue three of these yellow fairies and they’ll activate a whirlwind for you.

Now, one question that might cross your mind is what is the usefulness of all these items? IN each world, there is a balloonist. Each balloonist asks Spyro to get a certain number of items. This can be eggs, gems, or dragons. If you have not obtained the required number, the balloonist will not allow you to advance to the next world. The other use of these items is the fact that if you get everything, you’ll be able to access the treasure room at the end of the game. Miss an item and this treasure room will remain locked.

One good thing going for this game is that this is a proper fully 3D adventure game. It certainly shows that a serious adventure game can be found on the Playstation. Indeed, this game does manage to make quite a splash as the numerous followup games can attest to.

Having said that, this game is far from perfect. Spyro’s movements can be best described as somewhat clumsy. It takes a bit for him to turn around. The way Spyro walks and runs around takes some getting used to. Whats more is the fact that if you glide to a ledge and Spyro clips his feet, this counts as a miss and Spyro will fall down – often to his death. The controls aren’t the greatest for an adventure game of its time.

Another flaw is the free roaming camera. Often, you’ll find yourself fixing the camera. While it is possible for the camera to eventually move to the back of Spyro’s body for a proper view, this will take a while. Constantly zooming in can fix the problem, but it does become a bit of a distraction. It’s nowhere near as bad as the later released Silent Hill, but it’s not the greatest in the world.

Another complaint revolves around the level design. A number of adventure games will have very distinct features in each level to make the level memorable. This game does substantially less than this. Many levels (not all) are more focused on having platforms configured in certain ways. While they can offer plenty of challenge (i.e. Treetop Village), they often become mostly nondescript levels. The beginning few levels are memorable. Some of the later levels are memorable. The lobby for the Peace Keepers level is memorable. The annoying Treetop level is memorable. Beyond that, the game becomes a blur of jumping, attacking, and gliding.

Another complaint I have with the level design is the fact that so many are so short. You could spend less than half an hour on numerous levels cleaning house. This may be possible on adventure games once you are familiar with item placement, but in this game, it becomes possible on the first run through. It may have been better to just have larger fewer levels. The game itself ultimately has a decent amount of content in it, but the levels are generally too small for my taste.

One good feature in this game are the flying levels. These levels are about the only thing that breaks up gameplay. In fact, this is one of the few features that actually gives variety to an otherwise somewhat repetitive game. One way to spice this game up might be to add more features similar to the flying levels.

The difficulty curve in this game is somewhat lack-luster. The game starts off simple enough. As you progress, levels do become a bit more complex. Unfortunately, with exception to some of the flying leels and the odd level here and there, the difficulty curve remains shallow. In fact, the last boss mostly requires the charging skill you obtained through chasing the egg thieves. If you can defeat the egg thieves, the final boss becomes a breeze. Some of the normal enemies (i.e. the electric enemies), can prove to be more difficult than some of the later bosses. This just seems to be a bit backwards to me.

Generally speaking, I can’t say I was jumping up and down in excitement over this game. On the other hand, I can’t say I was necessarily bored with this game either. There is enough to keep me more or less entertained throughout. So, I would say this is definitely a more middle of the road game. Something to play for variety more than anything else. While it is fair to say you can’t always expect miracles in a first game, there are a number of other adventure games that this falls well behind. This includes Banjo Kazooie, The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time, and Super Mario 64. So, while this is a decent enough game to play, there are better games out there to be had.

Graphically, this game has its hits and misses. A big hit for me is the way various characters are animated. Spyro getting ready to fly and his idle animation all add a nice amount of character. The movement of enemies also works incredibly well. Many enemies have great character as well thanks to the animated sequences. All the items and characters were decently modeled, though telling the dragons apart, even with names, does require skill.

The misses for me is the lack of totals in the HUD while collecting gems or saving dragons. While this information can be accessed via the inventory screen, it’s a little perplexing to not see this as you collect them. Even the flying levels let you know how many targets remain. The textures are rather washed out in the levels themselves. The objects in the game can also be a bit sparse. So, decent enough, but could be improved upon.

Audio also has some hits and misses. The misses for me revolved around music. At first, the wind chime sound worked quite well in adding a certain appropriate ambience. Unfortunately, what you hear in the beginning for music is also what you hear through the rest of the entire game. Few tracks are very distinct. The Peace Keepers lobby might be one of the only exceptions, though even then, it isn’t the greatest track in the world. So, very repetitive and not very distinct music here. The voice work was decent enough. Nothing huge, but it works. The sound effects including enemy noises, on the other hand, was a hit for me (no pun intended).

Overall, this was a decent enough game. It shows that a serious adventure game can be found on the Playstation. The controls were a little iffy. The camera could be improved upon. The levels were a bit bland and short for the most part. Play can get a little repetitive after a while. The difficulty curve ends up being rather shallow with a few exceptions. Still, the flying levels do break up gameplay nicely. The characters were nicely animated and many of the models were nicely modeled. The textures, however, were a bit washed out. The music ends up being repetitive and non-descript, but the voice work and sound effects worked. Overall, this game is definitely something to try for variety, but not the most amazing adventure game I’ve ever played. A decent start to the series though.

Furthest point in game: Defeated Gnasty Gnorc (beat the game). Got a completion rating of 92%.

General gameplay: 17/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 68%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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