Toys for Bob delivers another beautifully restored slice of 90s nostalgia, although the mechanics could have also done with a polish.
It's 9 o'clock on a Sunday evening, and after what feels like hours of grinding, I'm seconds from throwing down my controller in absolute disgust. It's all due to a toad: an irritating, wretched toad that won't stop rolling around in all its remastered splendour over the TV screen - and my poor purple dragon. This, of course, is a boss fight in the remastered version of Spyro: Year of the Dragon, and like the rest of the trilogy, the aging mechanics make you suffer. But god does it look and feel wonderful.
Hot on the heels of last year's Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy, Spyro: Reignited Trilogy is the latest attempt to feed the near-insatiable demand for gaming nostalgia. If the title hadn't already given it away, Reignited takes the three games from the original trilogy - Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage! and Spyro: Year of the Dragon - and gives them a fresh lick of paint. Aside from some aesthetic changes, Reignited dutifully follows the level and gameplay design of the originals practically to a T. It's effective at fanning the flames of nostalgia, yet with this sense of familiarity comes the weirdness mechanics long forgotten (with good reason). It's pleasant and engaging at first, but I wonder whether Reignited is able to provide sufficient motivation for players to replay it.
For returning Spyro players, much of the joy of Reignited comes from re-discovering familiar faces given a new and stylish twist. Gone are the hard polygonal lines, and in are new, soft, Dreamworks-esque designs. Frankly, I'm relieved that Spyro has finally been given the makeover he deserves. Rather than the weirdly squashed face of his Skylanders predecessor, he now wears a perpetually cheeky grin and displays some charming quirks. If you leave Spyro alone for a little while, he'll start licking his claws like a cat - while his dragonfly companion Sparx will zoom up to the screen and give you a wink. This sort of attention to detail extends to the wider environments, as characters and enemies have been embellished with endearing animations. When Spyro shoots out flames, the grass blackens and smoulders with glowing embers. Enemies cheekily shake their butts at you, while starfish you can kill to feed Sparx will dance with hearts in their eyes as you approach, just to make you feel guilty as you slaughter them. It's a world that feels alive and bustling, making exploration a delightful aspect of the game.
One of the few quibbles I have about the redesign is that the softer look does remove some of the menace of the original Spyro trilogy. It's now more kid-friendly, perhaps, but levels like Idol Springs don't evoke the same sensation of impending doom as the early PlayStation titles. Maybe that's just the necessary price of upgrading the graphics, as you lose the implied nature of the low-polygon art style, which often made monsters appear more terrifying. The introduction of curves also seems to have extended a little too far for playable character Sheila, whose design has already been criticised by much of the Spyro community for the use of an excessively tiny waist and addition of highly feminised features. It seems a bit unnecessary, and frankly a little out of place, in what is otherwise an excellent art style.
Beyond the re-discovery of treasured Spyro levels with new art style, Reignited also succeeds at recreating (and perhaps improving) the wanton destruction of the original games. Crashing around feels great, and the charge mechanic manages to strike the balance between maneuverability and the slightly out-of-control sensation of stampeding. Mercifully, some of the old controls have received an update, as the camera can now be rotated with the left thumbstick rather than right trigger, which has been swapped to the flame mechanic. It feels significantly more comfortable - although you also have the option to change back to the retro controls should you want to do that, you strange person.
An area in which the player has little choice but to experience slightly dated features, however, is the guidance (or lack of it) given throughout the Reignited Trilogy. It's a hangover from the originals, but the tutorial system is a bit of a mess. Messages about how to play appear in strange places, long after they would have been useful to know during the gameplay. Some modernisation would also have helped with signposting where, exactly, you're supposed to go at certain stages of the game. At the end of the first world in Ripto's Rage, I spent a considerable amount of time trying to find the place to take my six talismans, before eventually stumbling across a corridor I'd missed somewhere within the castle of the first world. The guidebook only shows your progress in terms of a percentage and the amount of items you've collected, so isn't particularly helpful if you get stuck. Thank god the old Spyro guides are still relevant - but having to resort to this isn't ideal, and some changes in terms of guiding the player would have aided the situation.
Something that could have also done with some tweaking is the game's difficulty, which seems to ricochet between too easy and almost impossible. In classic Spyro fashion, many of the grunt-level enemies can be defeated with a simple fire blast or charge, while flying levels require pin-point accuracy and speed, and the bosses (including that damned toad) are frustratingly punishing. Rather than presenting a fair challenge, defeating Buzz felt like repeatedly banging my head on a brick wall due to the limited hints given to guide the player. The breakneck shift in difficulty, meanwhile, felt like I'd suddenly been dropped into Dark Souls in the middle of a game of tiddlywinks. Defeating this oversized toad was more relief than a triumph, and unfortunately many of Reignited's bosses also fall prey to this pattern.
In some ways, it's rather fascinating to see the game design of the late 90s in a modern setting. The simplicity of rampaging around makes for wonderfully mindless gameplay, but things can get a little stale, even with the inclusion of power-up gates and flying levels. The main motivation for players in Spyro games is item collection and speed, which is great for completionists and speedrunners, but may not offer much for those seeking inventive gameplay or gripping stories. Collecting dozens of eggs gets incredibly repetitive, and with only the occasional world boss to really break the pattern, the trilogy's replayability is limited.
If you want a blast from the past, Spyro: Reignited Trilogy will certainly stoke the fires of nostalgia. Thanks to its charming redesign and smooth controls, exploring Spyro's world is a rather magical experience for returning players, while its soft and welcoming aesthetics could make this a hit with a new generation of youngsters. And, importantly, it feels good to control. Yet once the novelty wears off, I'm left without a burning desire to return - making this an intriguing window into the way we used to play, but one which I won't gaze through repeatedly.