An upgrade to a simple platforming formula that understands the old adage: "If it ain't broke.."
Different times call for different excuses
It's hard to say why the Spyro games (along with the best of the PS1 platforming classics) can still enrapture gamers like myself, even after 15 years of sobering action titles with ad campaigns into the multi-millions. Lamentations about the uniformity of the video game zeitgeist isn't where I'd like to start, but I think it opens an avenue of discussion onto the biases that can appear when a childhood past that's festered in specific forms of nostalgia through a psychological rejection of the present, can overtake any meaningful objectivity in reviewing a simple platformer like Spyro. Let it be stated that I've removed myself of such afflictions, and with much fondness for the series put to one side, I can say that Spyro still stands the test of time.
Gateway to Glimmer(or Rypto's Rage to the US audience) is the sequel to Spyro, and for how it first appears as an obvious rehash of that title, it is actually a pretty beefed up version of its former self. The plot of GtG focuses on the troubles of the rarely named but recognisably fantastic world of Avalar. Where three characters, Elora, The Professor and Hunter are experimenting with a portal when they mistakenly transport a short statured evil wizard named Ripto into their world. With him comes his dim witted minions named Gulp and Crush, and on seeing that the world has no dragons Ripto's only deal breaking condition for not attacking an entire world with three people is removed. Taking advantage of Ripto's immediately self-established fear twinned with weakness, the heroes go about searching for a dragon. Enter our small purple friend with a serious attitude problem.The story summarises itself from here, with fool hardy motivations and dumb names that highlight the charm that comes with a more child focused plot. The story isn't here to challenge expectations, but it services the platforming just fine.
Spyro returns with his old skills of charging, spitting some flames - that reach about a meter in front of him- ,gliding and dodging. All four moves are put to excellent use as the enemies and environments are designed to incorporate their presence without being too deliberate; enemies have armour on their front and back and require charging, larger armoured enemies need to be dodged around before flaming their exposed back, and the rest of the easily calculated combinations of these moves. Foes can shamble left and right to dodge Spyro as well, before launching an attack which requires the player to roll Spyro out of the way and quickly flame the enemy down. The case where too many cliffs or platforms appear laterally on the same plain as you crops up again, so you'll still be tempted to take long glides over to far reaching caverns or glittering openings in the hopes that secret jewels lie in wait only to barely miss the mark and fall to your death , or hit an invisible wall and fall to your death. But with this criticism comes the observation of why Spyro's level design still comes across brilliantly. There is many areas to explore and a fantastic use of the PS1 to create a large view distance to show you every nook and cranny of desserts , Ice caverns , snow plains and beautiful refulgent palaces. It's a little unfortunate that you cannot reach every area that tempts your exploration.
Aside from just the loose geometry of Spyro there is the music which by all counts deserves a mention. What really sets the tone of adventure,wonder,atmosphere and purpose is the soundtrack composed by Stewart Copeland. Copeland (more recognised for his work on the television show The Amanda Show, and being the drummer in the Police) captures the whimsy that the imagery of Spyro so easily elicits by adding mulchy guitar riffs with light drum sounds and plenty of tiny samples of child like instruments such as the xylophone. All of this combines to form a sound with a texture and somewhat aesthetic value. More environmentally focused themes place you in an airy and dark cavern with a hint of ice by sampling sounds of chilled winds. Or even synthetic sharp notes played at a slow tempo such as the theme for the Summer palace, placing you somewhere magical, warm, secure and very comforting. The music above and below the game is outstanding and a definite highlight. It's the synchronisation of the songs with Spyro's sense of movement through environments that helps the player to so quickly immerse in the brightly lit fantasy. Even describing it demands that my vocabulary switch seemingly to that of a wine critic.
The world of Avalar is lush with stark and light primary colours. One glittering example (quite literally) of these colours that you will be seeing scattered all around this place, is gems. So being a classic early 3d platformer, collection side-quests abound and you'll spend much of your time scouring the sandy/icy/cavernous landscapes trying get every gem/egg.They'll have a telltale glint or sparkle at a distance to inform the player of their whereabouts, and by the games end you'll be hard pressed to find every one of these glittery pieces, but will be well attuned to the levels in search of their placement. Throughout the game you'll encounter a bear who wears a titular black blazer over a white shirt and donning a monocle. He is hilariously named Moneybags and quickly states his purpose of taxing you to receive new abilities such as climbing, swimming and head bashing, so as to better traverse the three realms of Avalar for story or collection purposes. His character has the most development as he seems to be the sole intelligent and wealthy figure of Avalar, with each fortress or castle in a realm belonging to himself ,before Ripto kicks him out and changes the cult of personality self portrait flags from Moneybags to Ripto.
Spyro 2 is a stand out for comprising much of what was best about the early free camera 3d platformer, without cashing in too much with the young adult audience with things like skateboards and wisecracks. The characters here are one dimensionally and reassuringly pure with intent, and Spyro is sardonic and belligerent in a way that makes playing him as a teenager or young boy feel more embodied. Gem hunting, activating power-up gates and dive bombing enemies is so much fun to do here because the world of Avalar is large and beautiful to look at. A dedication to its seasonal themes in music and great use of polygons in a well realised engine. All of these things played in harmony make the charm of Spyro timeless for any fan of the early Playstation platformers, or of Spyro itself. I'd advise any of these people to pick it up on PSN now for $5.99 (€4.60).