Spyro: Year of the Dragon is a culmination of all of the hard work and creativity poured into the previous two games in the series. Everything is bigger and better in this final game in the Insomniac Games produced trilogy, which is fitting since it was also their farewell to the character and his universe. CEO Ted Price talked about how they felt they did everything they could do with the purple dragon and wanted to do something different after this bittersweet goodbye. His statement couldn’t be more true as Year of the Dragon brings out every last bit that was missing from previous titles. The world is bigger. The levels are nearly twice as big. There are a whole slew of characters that help Spyro on his quest and are fully playable in their own special levels. It’s all here and seventeen years later it still burns just as bright as it did at release.
Spyro: Year of the Dragon has a pretty straight forward story but it’s worth noting that it’s better and more developed than the previous two games. It begins with Spyro and his fellow dragons celebrating the ‘Year of the Dragon’, which happens every twelve years when new dragon eggs are brought into their world. While everyone is celebrating though, a villain by the name of Bianca shows up in the Dragon Realms with an entire army of Rhynocs. They steal all the dragon eggs and take them back to the Sorceress who hides them throughout the four worlds in her realm. Spyro and his trusty pals Sparx and Hunter jump down a hole to travel to that world to rescue the dragon eggs. He meets a few friends along the way that aide him on his quest including Sheila the kangaroo, Sgt. Byrd the penguin, Bentley the yeti, and Agent 9 the monkey. You’re able to play as these four new characters in mini-levels that are hidden within levels where they use their unique abilities to help Spyro.
Spyro also learns that dragons use to live in this realm and when they left the magic of the realm began to disappear over time. That’s another thing Spyro will able to help with on his journey. Restoring magic and order to the realm and its many worlds. It’s a much deeper story and it feels like much more is hanging in the balance. In the original Spyro the Dragon it didn’t feel like you were doing too much. Sure, you were saving dragons but there was almost no NPC interaction other than when you saved a dragon. It didn’t feel like you were helping anyone. It felt like you were playing through a few different levels before hitting the credits. In the sequel Ripto’s Rage there was a lot more on the line. You were fighting against a villain with a name, a voice, and whose reign was hurting the different characters and the world around them. The situation is much more dire this time around. There’s an evil villain, a henchwoman, evil Rhynocs everywhere causing chaos, missing dragon eggs, and magic about to completely expire from a realm. There’s so much you can do to help this realm and it really adds to the experience when you see the results of your hard work, good deeds, and powerful flame as you move from each level and to new worlds in the realm.
The gameplay has always been the highlight of the Spyro games. This time around more than just the story and characters have been improved; the attacks, controls, and difficulty have all been tweaked in exciting ways. You’ll run, dash, headbash, swim, climb, and set enemies ablaze all over a huge variety of different levels that all feel unique in their own way. It’s a lot of fun running around as Spyro and seeing as they improved the camera it means less wrestling and more fire-breathing. Gliding has been improved even further this time around as well and for long time Spyro fans, there’s plenty of opportunities to test your gliding skills. It’s nice that Insomniac Games thought about long time veterans but they also considered those new to the series. Year of the Dragon features an adaptive difficulty that’ll make everyone’s experience better. If you repeatedly die or fail then the game will adjust the difficulty and make it easier for the player. However, if you’re kicking ass and showing no signs of slowing down then it’ll up the difficulty some to increase the challenge and entertainment for the more skilled players. It’s because of this that Year of the Dragon always feels just right no matter whose playing. I welcome these kinds of difficulties and think more games should implement them.
It’s always really exciting seeing the mini-level portals within levels because that means you’ll get to play as one of Spyro’s friends which is usually a nice change of pace. There are rewards for playing them just like the main levels, like dragon eggs, gems, and more, but they’re optional, or at least at the time. If you’re dashing around a level and don’t feel like going through the mini-level portal, you can always come back to it when you finish the level and return to it later. For me it just depended on my mood and who I’d be playing as. I always enjoy playing as Bentley the yeti and Sheila the kangaroo. I don’t always enjoy playing as Sgt. Byrd the penguin or Agent 9 the monkey. They all have different abilities and the kinds of levels will differ as well. Sheila can obviously jump really high but other than that the levels don’t feel that different to the main levels. You’re kicking, jumping, and making your way to the end of a level. I can usually always get down with that. Bentley is a big yeti who can smash things with his club. I always loved his levels; in fact he’s my favorite of Spyro’s new friends to play as. Sgt. Byrd will normally have you flying around in his jetpack and shooting things with his gun. These levels are hit or miss for me. Agent 9 is a monkey with a gun and his levels are usually pretty fun. It honestly just depends on the momentum you’re experiencing within Spyro’s main level. If you’re on a roll and having a great time then you might want to come back later but if you’re looking for a quick change of pace, they’re a great distraction. Another little fun distraction is playing as Sparx in his own special levels. These levels play like the classic game Centipede but of course feel much more modern. These levels are only playable after the boss fight in that world is completed and for the later Sparx levels, the previous levels need to be completed in the past worlds. These always unlock new abilities for Sparx as well as gems and an egg. They’re really fun despite the difficulty being a little high in later levels. They’re never unfair though. They just require you to focus and attack quickly.
For those who had been playing Spyro the Dragon since the beginning, there are plenty of tweaks to the level design that will be appreciated. Levels are much bigger and feature all kinds of different design choices. The level variety is astounding. There are sixteen levels where you primarily play as Spyro, other than any mini-level portals that may be present. There are four speedway style levels where, like previous games, Spyro flies around destroys different targets. The four playable characters that Spyro befriends are unlocked in their own unique levels. There is one in each world and after these levels are completed, their mini-levels are playable as well. There are also four boss fights, including the Sorceress herself with one in each world of course. There are also the four hub worlds that are filled with secrets and things to discover. Sometimes a level may even be tucked away in a corner or behind a wall. Don’t worry though–Moneybags is always accepting payments in the form of gems in exchange for his services. This could include one of Spyro’s new abilities he’ll teach you or maybe activating a portal or revealing what’s behind a door or wall. Combined with the four Sparx levels, this gives players 32 different levels to explore. There’s also a ‘Super Bonus Round’ level that is only playable when you get all of the gems and dragon eggs. When you fight the Sorceress the first time, she manages to barely survive. This is where you go to finally wipe her out and rescue the final 150th dragon egg.
There’s a lot of great content here and plenty to keep you busy for a long time. A surplus of content is only good though when it’s fun the entire time though but luckily Insomniac Games made sure to craft an entertaining and enthralling experience. You’ll never really get bored and even if you start to, you can always exit a level and go to a different one. This semi-linear style keeps the entertainment up while reducing frustration or fatigue within a specific level. Stewart Copeland was a great drummer for The Police but his efforts for the original soundtracks for the Spyro the Dragon trilogy will never be forgotten. His original compositions are great and help add so much to already filled-to-the-top atmosphere. One of the reasons his contributions were so great is because he did what you’re about to do; he played through the levels and had a great time.
Spyro: Year of the Dragon
- Over 30 levels to dash, glide, and blaze through
- Beautiful graphics and consistent frame rate help make this the best looking of the trilogy
- Detailed and massive levels, along with bigger hub words filled with much more content
- Atmospheric soundtrack from Stewart Copeland of The Police
- Spyro's four new friends help serve up some variety
- Speedway Levels are very different from the rest of the game, not as fun, but still required for completion