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Chronological Game Challenge Review – Spyro: Year of the Dragon

October 13, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

Hello! Yet another Chronological Challenge review for you! I will catch up to my position to 2002 soon if it kills me! For now, we’re still in 2000 and revisiting a dragon friend. Enjoy!

Spyro: Year of The Dragon
Publisher: SCE/Universal | Developer: Insomniac Game | Year: 2000
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: See how far I can get in a single setting

Actual Outcome: I believe I got to the second hub world

It’s hard to dispute the idea that Spyro 2 was such an improvement over its predecessor that it’s easily one of the best 3D platformer titles of the 5th generation. But this presented a problem to Insomniac, who had to try and improve on it with Spyro 3, rather sneakily titled Year of the Dragon due to good timing around its release (2000 was the Chinese year of the dragon, after all). But did they manage it?

At first, it looks like barely anything has changed with Spyro 3. Where Spyro 2 was a complete overhaul of the first game’s mechanics and structure, Spyro 3 initially seems like more of the same of Spyro 2. And this is true. Structurally, it’s practically the same, and mechanics are still where they were in the second game. But there are changes.

For a start, Spyro 3 adds a bigger cast of playable characters, with four new friends to rescue and play as. Each friend has their own moveset and playstyle, and this changes things up dramatically, with vertical levels to accommodate Sheila the Kangaroo’s jumping skills, levels with shooting mechanics and flying built in for Sgt Byrd, and levels with plenty to smash for Bentley the Yeti. Even Spyro himself gets some new variations, with new gameplay mechanics such as skateboarding challenges added to the mix.

The problem is, this causes Spyro 3 to feel splintered and directionless. While the core gameplay as the titular dragon is still as solid as it was in the previous game, it frequently gets derailed for a skateboarding section or a level where suddenly you’re playing a slow-moving yeti or it’s a first-person shooter somehow (this really happens). These sections never meld very well with the core game, and honestly there are plenty of moments where they’re flat out not fun.

While the skateboarding levels are mildly amusing, although nowhere near as addictive or intricate as Tony Hawk, most of the friends are average to play as at best and annoying at worst. Agent 9 highlights the problem with late 90s shooter mechanics on console (an issue Insomniac would still have initially with the first Ratchet & Clank) while Sgt Byrd is floaty, Bentley is slow and Sheila is clunky.

The structure of Spyro 3 also feels generally more haphazard than the previous game. While every world in Spyro 2 fit together fairly well, to the point where Spyro could be a double agent in a war between the sea and the air, Spyro 3 just feels random. It’s partly a symptom of the character and gameplay changes but even within that, nothing seems to make sense. There’s also too much effort to reference every other game in existence at the time, with skill points like “Doomed!” (as in, id’s classic FPS) and a character called Tara wearing a green top and brown shorts, and while I remember being vaguely amused as a child, as an adult it just seems desperate.

Spyro 3 only improves on its predecessor in one way – there’s a section late in the game where you get to personally chase down the irritating bear Moneybags to retrieve every gem you’ve earned in the game after he’s extorted them all from you to stop his attempts to get involved in human trafficking. It’s a satisfying moment and prevents Spyro 3 from being a complete disaster.

Ultimately, Spyro 3 is not Insomniac working to their strengths with Spyro 2, it’s Insomniac trying to evolve Spyro into everything else and ending up with a confused mix of levels instead of a coherent sequel to one of the PS1’s best titles. And it’s a real shame.

  1. James
    October 13, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    Exactly my thoughts on Spyro 2, and sadly not too far from my thoughts on Banjo-Tooie. They added a lot without it adding much to the core experience. Tooie of course added a bunch of moves that did effect the core game too, but it had just as many that disrupted the flow and felt ancillary (including it’s own fps section, even if it was better than Spyro 3’s).

    In fact I feel this was a problem with a lot of games at the time, it seems to be a weird time where so many developers learnt that more of the same didn’t really work but only a few had figured out how to add new mechanics and gameplay in a meaningful way.

    • James
      October 13, 2016 at 3:17 pm

      Ah, I meant Spyro 3 in the first line, how did I miss that?

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