With Spyro Reignited Trilogy being released, I decided to take a look at the first Spyro game on the PlayStation, Spyro the Dragon. Original released in 1998, Spyro the Dragon was Insomniac’s first platformer, and it involved running around open levels as Spyro, a dragon, as you charge into enemies, flame them, or glide from platforms. It was an instant hint and spawned numerous sequels and spin-offs.
However, the first Spyro the Dragon is the most intimate experience of the series, and that’s due to its lack of gameplay elements that the later games introduced. Starting with Spyro Ripto’s Rage, each level had an NPC that guided Spyro into doing different missions to earn the main collectible. These sometimes came in the form of minigames, but some missions were simply beating several enemies to a pulp.
Spyro the Dragon lacks this, leaving everything to be found by the player around the world rather than behind missions. In the beginning of the game, every dragon except for Spyro is turned to stone, leaving him alone in a world inhabited by hostile creatures. However, with this lack of friendly NPCs, there is a sort-of serene atmosphere to every level. When the enemies die, they’re gone for good until you restart the level. This leaves the level empty, and with the technical limitations of the PlayStation, it leaves behind a feeling of loneliness.
It’s not a feeling of emptiness due to a lack of utilizing space while designing the levels, it’s a feeling that there are secrets in each level waiting to be uncovered by you alone. Every nook and cranny has a treasure trove of gems, or even a hidden dragon. This sense of exploration and lack of direction from any NPC feels like every discover is made on your own. You aren’t being told what to do, you’re being rewarded because of how deep you dive into the game.
This is what I meant by an intimate experience. Spyro the Dragon embraces the loneliness, and through its smooth soundtrack and subtle secrets hidden within each level, it’s a rare experience that many games made afterwards fail to capture.