Finally we come to the end of this long-awaited dive into my childhood. Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon is the third and last entry into the Spyro trilogy and fittingly it goes all out in all the ways that only a turn-of-the-millennium 3D mascot platformer can. Multiple playable characters, vehicle sections, bigger and flashier worlds with deadlier boss fights: Spyro 3 has it all, and Spyro 3 Reignited tries to have it all, but this time flashier. However, given the reservations I had over the odd quirks of its Reignited predecessor, will Spyro 3 demonstrate the same issues?
Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon (Spyro Reignited Trilogy) (PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])
Released Nov 2018 | Developed: Toys for Bob | Published: Activision
Things started poorly. During the opening cutscene I experienced vicious levels of sound desync and some frame stuttering; given this is running on an Xbox One, that’s a very poor sign. In fact, glitches are a worryingly recurring feature of Spyro 3 Reignited; my time with the game also saw characters in levels simply refuse to talk to me no matter how I approach them. Spyro 3 featured a skateboarding minigame (our eponymous hero was a radical post-90s character after all) but in this remake the entire exercise comes with weird momentum issues that feel like a programming error as well. If you skate near a side-on surface at all, you can lose all your momentum and be stuck building speed up from a crawling pace; that’s bad enough but it is concerning that this also applies to charging and supercharging. All of these forms of movement are required for completing a number of the game’s collectible challenges, so it’s easy to imagine the frustration that this shoddy workmanship can cause.
The now expected change in voice acting as always comes with my nostalgia-fuelled grumbling that the original performances had far more character and charm than the majority of the Reignited cast. As in 2, most NPCs have entirely different styles of voices; this is particularly apparent when it comes to level characters rather than major NPCs, and I simply do not enjoy them that much. There’s a crispness and a professionalism to the new acting that cannot compete with my love for the sometimes slightly dodgy-yet-pleasing voices of before.
Once again, this nostalgic numbness to the Reignited changes goes hand-in-hand with the lukewarm redesigns of some NPCs, which again, also aren’t quite as lovely as before. A prime example is the Tiki Lodge characters; before they were goofy idols but now they look terrifying. That said, most of the main characters are nicely done – a new antagonist, the trainee sorceress Bianca looks particularly good – but again there are some missteps. Sheila, an alpine-dwelling kangaroo that Spyro rescues from the returning avaricious clutches of Moneybags, gained some controversy for the odd juxtaposition between her now being between too humanised and not humanised enough. Apparently the designers thought she was in desperate need of some traditionally female markers, so she now sports long thick red hair and prominent eyelashes, a far cry from her original design where she simply looked like a cartoon kangaroo. Also, her swimming animation is less vaguely helpless and has less character to it and I hate it.
Oh, and the baby dragons are now absolutely fucking hideous.
I’ve neglected to mention the baby dragons thus far. This time around, these newborns are the primary collectible as Spyro journeys to the Forgotten Worlds to rescue an entire clutch of dragon eggs that have been stolen by the evil Sorceress, her awkwardly apologetic apprentice Bianca, and her army of Rhynocs. Though she’s no Ripto, the Sorceress has that same sense of cartoonish villainy that straddles the line between adorably quaint and genuinely vicious. She snarks her way through dialogue with a delicious contempt for everyone else, while her character progression is filled with a series of escalating kick-the-dog moments that establish her as a very capable baddie.
Spyro however is joined by an expanding team of allies. Hunter returns from 2 – notably his relationship with Spyro by this point is firmly settled as a friendly rivalry, and Robbie Daymond’s Prompto voice genuinely fits his character now. Alongside our two erstwhile heroes, Spyro rescues a team of characters from the grip of the Sorceress during his travels; the aforementioned Sheila is the first to join, but not the last. All 4 of the recruitable characters bring a spark to the dialogue, particularly with how each one decides to take revenge on Moneybags once freed.
Each new character is more than simply an NPC though. Spyro 3 fully embraced the 3D platformer trend of adding in new modes and playable characters, so each one comes with their own levels scattered across the Forgotten Worlds in which players take control of them. Pleasingly, all are quite distinct – Sheila’s stages tend to be tiered to make use of her jumping and stomping skills, the rocket-equipped flying penguin Sgt Byrd gets large wide-open spaces to explore, the verbose and hefty yeti Bentley gets primarily combat focused levels and the maniacal space monkey Agent 9 as stages that play as third- and first-person shooters. Even Hunter gets in on the action, with a series of short missions that pit him against invading alien sheep.
The variety is an excellent feature, and one of Spyro 3’s many strong points. It’s a long way from the platforming purity of the first game, with far more minigames and gameplay changes for players to dive into, but it’s something I relished when playing it back in 2000 and it’s preserved beautifully in the remake. There are even little touches that show the love and care that went into the Reignited version, with moments that shine with character. The sun seed that gives Spyro a hearty thumbs up from its perch inside a lava cauldron in an early level is a personal quirky favourite of mine.
It’s difficult to say where I am with Spyro 3 Reignited. I am undoubtedly disappointed with it. There is no escaping the slowly-encroaching malaise that spread over me when playing it. A cynic might say that perhaps it was a realisation that what the Reignited Trilogy has done is to throw the problems of an aging platformer into sharp relief, but personally I’d reject that. The problem with Spyro 3 Reignited is not what has been preserved, but what’s been changed. At its core, this game is still Spyro 3 and that was one of the finest 3D platformers ever made in my book. The movement, the levels, the challenges, the characters, the story, Stewart Copeland’s impossibly good soundtrack – it’s all still just as good as the original in my opinion. But I admit it’s a game that simply couldn’t win with me. The changes, presumably so carefully made to ensure that Spyro could appeal to a younger, modern audience, just serve as constant reminders to me as to the superiority of the original release. I think Spyro 3 Reignited is a good game, but it’s not my Spyro. I shall leave it to newer, less nostalgia-riddled fans.
4/7 – GOOD. Sure, maybe something doesn’t quite work but at least it has heart, or a spark of excitement that makes it worthwhile despite the faults. Definitely worth a go if you can at least find it on sale.