Many would-be mascots have come down the pike over the years, trying to capture just the slightest hint of Mario-level stardom. Spyro the Dragon never quite got there, but he did manage to star in some of the most charming and accessible platformers of the PlayStation era, and the Reignited Trilogy is a grand testament to the little guy's staying power.
The trilogy includes the first three--and best--titles in the series: Spyro the Dragon, Ripto's Rage (also known as Gateway to Glimmer in Europe and Australia), and Year of the Dragon. His adventures are simple but delightfully cartoonish fare. The first game has him traveling through the five dragon realms freeing his bigger, badder brethren from Gnasty Gnorc. The second has Spyro attempting to take a vacation after his previous adventure, but winding up getting dragged into a realm being invaded by effete warlock Ripto. The third has him facing off against the evil Sorceress, who has stolen over 100 dragon eggs with the help of her rabbit apprentice, Bianca.
Ignore the graphical overhaul, and these are very much the games that released the first time around on PS1. The fact that they stand up so well mechanically against more recent games is the most pleasant surprise of the package. Movement and attacks are one-button affairs, and the simplicity works in the collection's favor. If there's a learning curve to be found, it's in the fact that it's all too easy to use Spyro's charge attack too recklessly, sending him flying off cliffs or missing the enemy he's aiming for by inches.
Thankfully, Spyro’s moveset need not do much heavy lifting, especially in the first game. Every area has a number of crystallized dragons to find, and once enough of them have been freed, you take a balloon off to the next dragon realm, and repeat until you reach Gnorc's trashy fortress. There's some minor puzzle solving, and an enormous amount of treasure to be found, and that’s about it. If anything, the first game's biggest weakness is that there's so much other stuff to collect, between the hundreds of gems, hidden treasure chests, and dragon eggs stolen by hidden--and super annoying--Egg Thieves, but only freeing the dragons really matters in terms of progress.
The sequels are much better in that regard. Each stage has its own little tale of animated hijinks that plays out, from a tribe of Himalayan telepaths being terrorized by a Yeti, to my personal favorite, helping superspy moppets Hansel and Gretel stealth their way into a heavily guarded fortress of nomadic lizards so they can use their psychic powers and take over. There's a slew of unique challenges within each stage for you to do, usually involving super-powered versions of Spyro's current abilities or sequences where you have to take to the skies and firebomb specific objects for gems. The third game brings new playable characters into the fray, all with their own specific movesets and bonus stages, giving you a very good reason to run around collecting shiny stuff to unlock it all. The linear repetition of the first game never rears its head again for the rest of the collection.
As mentioned, it speaks well of the originals that the Reignited Trilogy doesn't change a thing mechanically and all three games are still a joy to play. The audio has gotten a bit of remixing and reworking but remains fairly true to the original soundtrack, which can be switched to on the fly. But the Reignited Trilogy goes above and beyond here, giving all three games an impressive visual overhaul, essentially making all three games close to a Dreamworks animation. More than just new lush-looking foliage, skin and scale textures, and warm, blissful lighting, hundreds of tiny new details are here, giving each character and enemy more personality. There are a bunch of visual gags and quirks every character will run through if you leave them alone for a moment. The generic gruff dragons from the original are all unique creatures with their own personalities when imparting knowledge to Spyro, same for the dragon babies in Year of the Dragon, who each react like delightful, rambunctious toddlers when they hatch. The Spyro trilogy already felt timeless to play. Now, it’s much more dazzling to look at.
The Reignited Trilogy is the best kind of collection that not only brings a beloved series up to current visual standards but also proves just how well-built the original titles were. Granted, the originals were done by a little studio called Insomniac, and it's not exactly surprising something that team did is a fine example of the genre. But the Reignited Trilogy's developer, Toys for Bob, deserves major kudos for bringing Insomniac's vision to life in the way we could've only dreamed in 1998.