Following the immense success of last year's Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy, Activision has wasted little time in resurrecting another fondly remembered 90s platforming hero for modern consoles. Spyro Reignited Trilogy brings Insomniac's three Spyro The Dragon games to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in a visually lush conversion by industry veteran Toys for Bob - the studio responsible for classic games such as Star Control 2 as well as the Skylanders series.
If you grew up with a PlayStation in the late 90s, chances are you have fond memories of Spyro. Developer Insomniac was coming off the back of its first release, a technically impressive and critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful first-person shooter for PlayStation called Disruptor. It couldn't be more different from Spyro, but that's the point - the studio had proven its talent but was looking for a new audience. Meanwhile, Sony was looking for more family-friendly games for PlayStation as well as a counter to the revolutionary Super Mario 64, which had upended expectations of what a 3D game could be with its massive levels and open-ended style.
Many believed this style of game would be impossible on PlayStation, but Insomniac set out to disprove that myth - and succeeded. Spyro was designed with free roaming in mind, and although the stages were small compared to Mario 64, they were still impressively large for the hardware. Insomniac also used some clever tricks to circumvent some of the PlayStation's weaknesses and run the game without distance fog - a common performance-saving technique at the time - which meant it could match Mario's crystal-clear, colourful look.
But after turning out two sequels in two consecutive years, Insomniac turned its back on Spyro for good, and no developer since has really managed to nail the classic Spyro experience - until now.
Spyro Reignited delivers exactly what you would expect: faithful versions of the three Insomniac Spyro games with a complete visual overhaul and a lot of gameplay tweaks. Reignited plays better than the originals, thanks to smoother and more responsive controls and a camera that can be controlled with the right stick - it simply feels more modern and polished. But that's not to say it's a modern game - far from it. This is very much a retro throwback, and the stages, story beats and flow of the game remain unchanged.
Toys for Bob's visual overhaul is something else, however. The games have been rebuilt from the ground up using Unreal Engine 4, unlike the Crash Bandicoot Trilogy, but the results are just as gorgeous, if not more so. Character models are supremely detailed and super expressive; it almost looks close to pre-rendered CGI animation in places. The combination of beautiful per-pixel motion blur and supremely high-quality animation work is just perfect.
To take advantage of what's possible with current technology, Toys for Bob has remade all the cutscenes with new animation, scene direction and camerawork. It looks impressively like a TV show. The level layouts are basically the same, but now adorned with details like fields of grass, fully modelled stonework and flags flying in the breeze. Lighting is completely overhauled, of course, with a pre-calculated GI solution in place and proper shadows. One detail I particularly enjoyed is what seems to be subsurface scattering on Spyro's wings: when held up to a light source, they appear suitably transparent as if the light is shining through his skin. The dynamic shadows used in certain areas when using your fire attack also look excellent.
What's perhaps most impressive, though, is how closely the team has managed to stick to the original aesthetic. Despite the vast improvements, the distinctive look and atmosphere of classic Spyro remains.
All of that said, there are a few minor disappointments in Spyro Reignited.
First: load times. The original PlayStation game loads twice as fast as any version of Spyro Reignited when installed to the standard hard drive. It's understandable due to the massive increase in data size, but it does slightly reduce the sense of seamlessness you get in the original game.
Next: resolution on Xbox One X. Given what we've seen with other titles, it's disappointing to see Microsoft's latest console turn in the same 1440p resolution as PS4 Pro, though they both look clean on a 4K screen. PS4 turns in 1080p and Xbox One S 900p, although both look fairly clean thanks to UE4's excellent anti-aliasing. Otherwise, excepting some cleaner shadows on Xbox One X, the game is entirely identical across all four consoles. In a sense it's disappointing that the higher-end machines receive few upgrades, but at least everyone gets a nice-looking version of the game.
Performance is very similar across all consoles too - and this brings us to our third gripe. It doesn't feel entirely smooth, despite apparently sticking to a stable 30 frames per second on every console. That's down to bad frame-pacing. The inconsistent frame times lead to a sense that the original PlayStation games run slightly more consistently overall - which isn't something you'd expect! If you were hoping for 60fps though, you'll have to wait to see if the game is ported to PC as Crash Bandicoot has been (not to mention Switch - UE4 runs fairly well on Nintendo's portable so it might be feasible).
The lack of HDR support is also a disappointment, but my biggest bugbear with Spyro Reignited is that the game ships incomplete. If you purchase a physical copy, you are required to rely on a digital download before playing the game. This is a practice I am firmly against as it's bad for collectors, and while it might be acceptable for a multiplayer game like Blacks Ops 4, single-player games like Spyro should ship complete - end of story.
Overall, though, Spyro Reignited is a nice package. The upgraded visuals are fantastic, performance is stable despite the frame pacing issues and it plays better than the original games. And the games themselves hold up well: if you go in expecting a late-90s style gameplay experience, there is still a lot of fun here and it's relaxing to play. Insomniac's original games were charming and technically very slick for their day, and Toys for Bob has done them proud.
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