Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Past and Times of Yore: Spyro 3, Year of the Dragon, the last of the golden age of Spyro

Release date: November 10, 2000
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Universal Interactive
Developer: Insomniac Games
Platforms: PS3, XBOX 360
Players: 1 to 24

And so we have it, Spyro: Year of the Dragon, the third game in the series and the last one created by the famed Insomniac Games who have gone on to make the Ratchet and Clank series. And what a game it is, the main feature being the ability to play as characters other than Spyro more heavily this time as before it was only during the secret speedway challenges that you played as Hunter. Spyro really releases himself from his Dragon roots here by skateboarding and driving motorboats and hovertanks equipped with cannons, also driving submarines and frying enemies using Sun lamps. The story this time involves a celebration in the Dragon Realms where they are celebrating the Year of the Dragon which funnily enough the game was released in 2000 which was the actual Year of the Dragon. This event apparently happens every twelve years where Dragon Eggs are brought to the realm. In the opening movie the eggs just seem to be scattered on the ground and the Dragons including Spyro and Hunter are all asleep when Bianca and the Rhynocs pop out of holes in the ground and come to steal the Dragon eggs, she fortunately trods on Hunter’s tail waking them all up but they can’t stop her in time and hunter and another dragon get stuck in a hole. It appears that Spyro still really hasn’t got any larger and his small size benefits him again as he and hunter are sent down the holes to retrieve the dragon eggs. They soon find that they lead to the Forgotten Realms ruled by the Sorceress who needs dragons to bring the magic back to the realm and so the quest to take back the eggs begins.

Bianca and the Sorceress
 As you can probably guess the dragon eggs are the equivalent of orbs in this iteration though there is no longer any Talismans in the game, and every time you receive an egg there is a comically different explanation for finding it as Bianca and the Rhynocs had spread them all over the different worlds. You still pick up gems but they haven’t bothered giving an explanation as to why you are this time they are just there strewn all over the place and in possession of Rhynocs and other enemies. The homeworlds this time around are based on times of the day hence the first one being Sunrise Spring, I also quickly noticed that this time around almost all of the denizens of the worlds had foreign accents. I especially liked the fireflies in Spooky Swamp as they had French accents and only spoke in Haiku and the ducks in Frozen Altars who have the weirdest tone of voice I’ve ever heard in a Spyro game, they also now react when you charge or flame then accidentally which is a nice touch. As before the worlds are based on a variety of themed locations and natives, some favourites of mine being Crystal Islands, Fireworks Factory and Haunted Tomb.

Spooky Swamp, one of my favourite levels
The enemies in each level are a mixture of native wildlife including scorpions and mosquitos and the Sorceress’ Rhynoc armies which are humanoid rhinos but change dress/weapons according to the level for example in the Chinese themed Bamboo Terrace they wear Chinese dress and use fireworks against Spyro and in Lost Fleet they dress up as ghosts. A couple of characters make a return from the previous game including your now partner-in-crime Hunter who both assists you and gives you challenges with dragon eggs as a reward and Moneybags who is forever charging you for things, and of course a host of other cameos. As I mentioned before this version of the series contains a host of new (and one old) characters to play as which I will detail below.

Some Rhynocs dressed in flameproof armor
Sheila – A “mountain” kangaroo with an Australian accent, not sure why she lives on a mountain in Switzerland with some Swiss goats? Her level should have been in the outback. She can jump much higher and longer then Spyro

Sgt. James Byrd – A military penguin that can fly and equips dual rocket launchers.

Bentley – A Yeti who carries a giant ice club.

Agent 9 – A Sci-Fi Space Monkey equipped with a lasergun from the Professor’s island lab.

Sparx – Yes you can now play as Spyro’s trusty sidekick Sparx who has his own “realms” which are basically levels where you play as Spark from a top-down perspective.

Sheila the Kangaroo
These other characters were imprisoned for rebelling against the sorceress and you have to pay moneybags to set them free. They are lots of fun to play and gave you a break from playing Spyro all the time, I especially liked the old-school style Sparx shooters which reminded me of games like Raiden and 1943: The Battle of Midway. Completing the Sparx level also give an added bonus of special powers including being able to take one more hit for Spyro, collecting gems from further away and being able to indicate where missing gems were which you could actually already do all the time in the last game but meh. The Speedways also make a return though they have taken a major change, Sparx now talks to you and introduces you to the level, you can also now choose between taking the speedrun flaming and charging things within the time limit as usual but now there is a race option where you are in a race against the local racers of that world, for example in Country Speedway you are racing against the local biplane pilots.

The races are pretty straightforward but can be challenging at times as there is various speed boosts and collectible missiles that you can shoot at other racers and you have to remember to find and use these as much as you can as you actually start dead last with the first racer having a major head start and you need to work your way up the field but was great fun nonetheless. There are various cutscenes in the game showing Spyro and Hunter as they adventure through the Forgotten Realms helping people along the way and occasionally running into Bianca who is an apprentice to the Sorceress and her Rhynoc army who arrives to harass you at the start of each world. The other characters also have introduction cutscenes as you have to pay moneybags to set them free before being able to complete their homeworld.

A fun speedpad racetrack where you chase and egg Thief in Molten Crater, you also see the second run-in between Spyro, Hunter and Bianca

As far as controlling Spyro is concerned everything is basically the same you still have all of your abilities from the end of the last game and there is really nothing else you can learn, you have the same tutorial with hunter showing you how to jump and glide and occasional prompting but the new abilities come in the form of the new characters, I especially liked Bentley whose club packed a hell of a punch and could also deflect projectiles and Agent 9 who in most levels where he features you could find a hidden “laser upgrade” which made him able to shoot faster. Different areas in the levels were separated by portals this time around instead of being in the levels themselves, these often led to minigames involving egg challenges, these were again probably the hardest parts of the game as some were quite difficult (Damn Yeti boxing!) though I always enjoyed a speedpad challenge. Skateboarding with Spyro was an interesting new addition, even though there were only two areas where you could do it I found it lots of fun jumping around doing spins and flips and it worked pretty well for a mechanic that was kind of alien to the series. The bosses this time around were all pretty easy apart from the second one which was freakin hard as probably even more then the final boss. Speaking of which I actually managed to %100 the game this time which was probably my 4th try though there was complications.

Skateboarding in the Enchanted Towers level, this is the second area you get to skate and it's the biggest and most fun i reckon.

The complications were that I actually got about 45% through the game playing on emulator, specifically the epsxe emulator which I often like to use for the much better openGL graphics and faster load times though unfortunately I found that I was missing one gem from the Midday Gardens homeworld, I looked and looked but just couldn’t find it, and neither could sparks even when he had the point-to-nearest-gem ability, I eventually decided to just start again on the Playstation as I thought it was a glitch with the actual ROM as I’d never experienced it before with the PS disc. So I did and completed the game with no trouble. After doing some research I found that it might be the Lost Gem Glitch but that only says it was for Spooky Swamp though I guess it may happen to other levels. In any case what that means is I only have screenshots/videos up to that point as I cannot take them on the PS1, the others I needed to find online, such is the case with these console game reviews which is unfortunate but I really don’t have another choice.


Those gems still difficult to find, I had to go through some levels two or three times to find them all.

The difference between PC openGL powered and PS1 graphics is pretty major but the graphics looked fine in the game regardless not much had been changed from last time apart from more animations for some characters and a bit more polish overall. I found that over time the game had gotten much more content in it (as it obviously should) this was most present in Spyro 2 but I feel that in Spyro 3 you really did things out of the ordinary. The sound and music were good as usual that awesome soundtrack by Stewart Copeland from the Police always has that magic to it, and even if the music from the latter games doesn’t quite have the same raw flair it is still memorable, I do like the way that characters you meet are still very talkative and as I mentioned before even have international accents now.

Alex the Duck from the Frozen Altars level, these guys had quite the weird accents
The final Spyro in the series was probably the most involved of the three, I liked the story of the previous one better but this one was ok, the original Spyro trilogy is definitely one of my favourites, possibly only being surpassed by Super Mario but this one feels more special as it was on Playstation so it’s not as well known as the Mario bros. series. As far as 3D platforming goes though this was the best there was, sure I had tried Super Mario 64 for a time but it just didn’t have the same feel, I still need to try The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time which is also considered by many as the greatest game of all time. In any case this one was the best for the Playstation and yes even more then Crash Bandicoot I think as his levels were way too linear though I have yet to play the original series so I can’t talk really. Basically apart from the new characters and mechanics and mini-games the premise of Spyro is the same, the same controls, the same charge/flame combo, the same challenge of collecting all the gems, the same albeit slightly more polished graphics, but all in all it’s a great a great character, a great game and a great trilogy and again I would mark the whole series as one of the best I have ever played. Next I move onto the dark times of Playstation 2 versions of Spyro but don’t worry they were not all bad.

JD

The trailer for Spyro 3, Year of the Dragon, unfortunately it's a bit low res.

Spyro is like Jet Li in the movie Hero, he isn’t concerned with romance, he’s just badass.

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