Thinking back to the games I played on the original Playstation when I grew up, none seemed as popular to me at the time than Spyro. It was a series that offered a fun story, rich worlds to explore, and a scaling difficulty for those who aimed for 100% completion. The second installment in the series, Ripto’s Rage, was my first experience with the games and it left a lasting impression on me well into adulthood. I recently reacquired a copy of Ripto’s Rage for Playstation and decided I should give it a replay before the remastered version hits stores in November 2018.
What Is It?
The original Spyro the Dragon trilogy was composed of Spyro the Dragon (1998), Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage (1999), and Spyro: Year of the Dragon (2000). It is an action-platformer that follows the protagonist, Spyro, as he completes various quests and challenges. The games require the player to navigate various levels and pitfalls by running, jumping, gliding, and defeating enemies to free various worlds from the clutches of evil. The core combat mechanics of the game are unchanged throughout the trilogy; players can use Spyro’s flame breath to burn enemies, or charge at them to headbutt. In later games new skills were added including the ability to spit solid objects like fireworks, and an aerial headbash for vertical attacks. The player also collects gems, a form of currency, as well as other special collectibles that progress the game’s story along as they journey from level to level.
The series was developed by Insomniac Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment America. This would be Insomniac’s second creation, preceded by a first-person-shooter and “Doom-clone” titled Disruptor in 1996. While Disruptor received positive ratings, it was a commercial failure for Insomniac and nearly bankrupted them due to poor sales and marketing. Universal Interactive, who partnered with Insomniac during the game’s development, decided to stay with Insomniac for a second title but pushed the studio for a mascot character to rival Nintendo’s Mario. Discouraged but not defeated following the lessons from Disruptor, Insomniac decided to break with the FPS genre and pursue something new and family friendly.
In September 1998, Spyro the Dragon was released in the United States. Initial reviews praised the game but sales slumped until the ’98 holiday season when it finally took the #3 spot in the UK. The game was praised for its puzzles and smooth graphics that pushed the Playstation’s hardware without causing issues, but still Spyro couldn’t outshine competitor Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64. Determined, Insomniac returned to work and received critical acclaim in 1999 with Spyro 2 and again in 2000 with Year of the Dragon.
About The Game
Some of you may be asking, “Michael, why are you skipping Spyro the Dragon?”
In as few words as possible, there is little nostalgia for me with the first entry in the series. I can’t say exactly when I got a copy of Spyro the Dragon, but I know it was well after I had beaten the sequel. The game felt like a chore and its differences to Spyro 2 sat poorly with me in that initial experience. For that reason I have always considered the first game inferior to its sequels. As much as I want to believe that, I know that this is an unfair assumption based solely on the improvements made in later games. Despite some obvious flaws, Spyro does create a solid foundation for the series. Maybe one day I can give it a fair play but for now I’ve chosen to skip it.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about…
Picking up shortly after the events of Spyro the Dragon, Spyro and Sparx the Dragonfly decide to take a well-deserved vacation. On their way, however, they are transported to the land of Avalar, and are drawn into a conflict between denizens of this land and an invading sorcerer named Ripto. With the help of his new friends, it’s up to Spyro to stop Ripto and return order to Avalar.
The game was released in November of 1999 to critical acclaim. The core mechanics of its predecessor remained, and were improved upon by the introduction of new skills including the ability to hover, swim, climb, and headbash. Another new feature that I found doesn’t get enough recognition was the ability to use Sparx as a pointer for missed gems, allowing for quick 100% completion of this collection objective in each level. The game spans 3 different homeworlds, each based on a season, and each containing a handful or different levels. In total there are 22 levels, 3 boss battles, and a bonus area once the player defeats Ripto. This game also introduces Tom Kenny(voice of Spongebob Squarepants) as the new voice of Spyro, as well as the Professor, and other supporting characters.
What Stands Out
Ripto’s Rage is one of my favorite games of all time. The vibrant worlds, varying level of difficulty, and great replay value made it a title I was always picking back up on a rainy day, or on a long road trip with my PSone. There is a zaniness to the action and the stories of each level, and the cartoon humor is on point when it needs to be and doesn’t attempt to be the center of the show. The antics age well because of a balancing act of slapstick and screwball humor, there isn’t a heavy reliance on pop culture of the time. The game was also technically impressive when it was released. Some of my favorite moments from my first and second plays of this game are found in the level design and objectives of places like Metropolis, Breeze Harbor, Zephyr, and Shady Oasis. Before I began my replay I was already excited to see the homeworlds of Summer Forest, Autumn Plains, and Winter Tundra again with fresh eyes. I had very vague memories of these worlds before I had unlocked their secrets and spent hours traveling them. To my surprise, I had retained a lot of my prior knowledge of the game and was able to quickly get to 98% completion in my limited playing time.
Despite my quick playthrough of Ripto’s Rage it is not a walk in the park. Like most platformers of its time, it is a casual game that is easy to pick up and put down. The core quest can be completed in one or two solid sittings, but the greater joy of this game comes from the hard work and dedication needed to achieve total completion of the game. This is done by collecting all of the gems, orbs, and talismans in each of the levels. To make this easier Spyro 2 adds a “guidebook” that the first game was seriously lacking. This allows for better tracking of completed levels, and collected materials; truly a completionists best friend. Talismans and gems are easy to come by; the player receives a talisman for making it to the end of a level, and gems are found scattered all across a level and need only to be collected. In some cases it may be required you return to a level with a new skill to actually collect all of the gems. The first world, Glimmer, requires the player know how to climb in order to get all the gems and a final orb, a skill that isn’t learned until a few levels later. This mechanic returns in a handful of later levels and homeworlds, and offers a refreshing reason to return to levels and play them again.
Orbs vary in their difficulty to acquire and are required to progress the main story and unlock new areas. While orbs are a requirement to progress the core story, there are more than enough easier side quests to get you to the end without too much trouble. There are usually two or three sidequests in each level that will reward Spyro with an orb, however, these quests often vary from simple to exceedingly difficult to complete. Each of the quests is rated between 1 and 5 stars, with 5 being very difficult. I found a few of the same headache-inducing levels in this replay that I vividly remember in my initial and subsequent plays so many years ago. The level Breeze Harbor in Autumn Plains has a mine cart quest (Gear Grab) that takes a steady hand and great timing to complete. It is inevitable that you will fail a few times, and it was increasingly frustrating to hear “Trouble with the trolley, eh?” upon each restart.
But for each of the level 5 difficulty orbs that I had to work for, there were a handful of very easy quests that involved herding livestock, solving puzzles, going on scavenger hunts, and escorting characters through hazardous areas. The diversity of characters and their worlds also helps to keep the action fresh and somewhat, as I said before, zany. Magma Cone, for instance, has a cutscene where a faun appears to go crazy and push another faun into an active volcano. Scorch introduces secret agents Handle and Greta, a satire of the well-known fairy tale, who we see return in the third entry of the series. Colossus features monks who can lift objects through chanting and in the closing cutscene one monk lifts a stone and a monk into the ceiling, squashing him. Metropolis opens with an invasion of UFO flying farm animals to mirror the events in Robotica Farms, and closes with a robot being run over by the city bus he was waiting for. Even reactions Spyro has to being hit by enemies is an improvement on the original title.
Even after all of these years it does play well, but it is still a product of the Playstation era and is victim of the main issue of that time. Camera placement and control. There is a setting in-game for Active or Passive camera control, but to this day I cannot tell a real difference between the two. Swimming, rounding corners at high-speed, and target tracking are all made difficult by the sluggish automatic panning of the camera with the analog sticks. This makes the boss battles like Gulp and Ripto harder because you cannot track an already large enemy and race them to a powerup. Later in the replay I did find that the camera could be snapped behind Spyro with the L1 and R1 buttons, but even this has its limits. Another smaller issue is the strange ramp-up in the difficulty of some enemies. Sunny Beach(the ducks), Aquaria Towers(water workers), and Fracture Hills(Bee trees) all received special notations for having enemies who were almost too difficult. Some of this stems from they way that they interact with Spyro’s hitbox, but in the case of the Bee Trees at Fractured Hills it felt that the enemy was actually overpowered. It may also be that I have an aversion to Fractured Hills because I am still uneasy about being eaten by killer bushes…
Ripto’s Rage does an excellent job building on the first things that made the first Spyro game great, and it crafts a fantastic world to explore and play in. In the course of doing this replay I also set out to replay Spyro the Dragon and had to quit. The original has its moments but Spyro 2 is an improvement to the source material on all accounts. It retains the difficulty, expands the skill set of the hero, and adds a level of depth that was missing from the first title. In two breaths I’ve praised and torn down Spyro the Dragon, I know. Spyro is great, but Ripto’s Rage is greater. Despite its few flaws this was the replay I have most looked forward to and I am very pleased with how it turned out. It certainly earned it’s 8/10 score back in the day, and still manages to wear that score well after almost two decades. The game was still as fun, challenging, and entertaining as it was the first couple of times I played.
If you’ve never played a Spyro game before this is a fantastic entry point in the series, and the fun continues in the final game of the trilogy; Year of the Dragon. If you can’t get your hands on a copy of Spyro 2 for PS1, don’t fret! A remastered edition of the original games, The Reignited Trilogy, arrives for Playstation 4 and Xbox One November 13th.