Yes, it's taken some time, but there's finally a proficient, fully 3D platform game for the PlayStation. It's impossible to escape not mentioning the last attempt at this, SISA's Blasto, so let's get that out of the way right here in the beginning: Insomniac's Spyro the Dragon excels over Blasto in every way imaginable. It has better graphics, a far more useable camera setup, tighter control, it isn't incredibly difficult, and is much, much more fun.
Spyro lives in a brightly hued realm of magic much like that of a Disney cartoon, except without the severe toothaches that would provide. It appears that the dragons had been talking trash about the evil Gnasty Gnorc on TV, so, in retaliation, he casts a spell that imprisons them all in crystal. As the one dragon that must have come up under the spell's height/weight requirement, you travel the six worlds - which, incidentally, have six levels each - freeing the dragons and claiming stolen treasure and dragon eggs as you go.
The gameplay in most levels of Spyro the Dragon is much like that of any other 3D platform game you've ever played, but this time you get a few extra moves beyond the standard. As a dragon, you can breathe fire, charge enemies using your horns, and glide with your short, stubby little wings. There are several flying levels too, which are similar to the arcade game Prop Cycle, save for having to pedal. In them, Spyro must collect a number of different items before the time limit expires, with each of the items providing him with an extra few seconds to grab all the rest with. Each of the worlds has a balloonist who will take Spyro to the next once a requirement has been met, such as freeing five dragons, collecting 2000 gems, and so on. Once to a new stage, the balloonist will always be willing to take you back.
There's a lot to like about this game. The soundtrack, done by The Police's Stewart Copeland, is wonderfully atmospheric. The graphics are fantastic, with their dynamic lighting effects, a near-complete lack of pop-up, and well-designed great-looking characters. The level design is also exceptional, providing nice big worlds for you to roam around in and get enveloped into. This is really the first title to ever successfully pull off the whole video game adaptation of a cartoon world, and we all know there's been plenty of tries.
On the play side, the level of control is excellent. It's supersmooth even without the analog pad, and a dream with it, especially when charging or gliding. Spyro also has the best camera setup since Rare's Banjo-Kazooie on the Nintendo 64. It begins with an intelligent chase perspective (which can be set to either passive or active modes) - the R2 and L2 buttons move your overall view left or right, and the triangle button is a tight behind-the-back look control. With all of these working in conjunction, the camera problems found in most 3D games are almost entirely gone in Spyro.
Unlike Banjo-Kazooie, it's easy to tell how many items you're missing, both within a given level and all the worlds, through the use of the inventory screen. This is especially useful because accessing the game's bonus level requires that you free every single dragon and reclaim every bit of stolen treasure and egg, and it'd just be impossible without it.
The only things that take away from the gameplay experience are that the levels begin to feel a little formulaic towards the end and that the game is really quite easy. The first time you will probably feel your skills have really been pushed in the game is when you confront the final boss (the sub-bosses are about as tough as the first boss in Super Mario 64). The extra level beyond the boss requires a lot of work to get to, but the main brunt of Spyro feels like it was aimed at a younger or broader audience, as there are so many free lives to be gotten in the game that it's rare that your number will drop below eight. Still, it's an extremely well-made game that offers a lot of fun to the player, but these few factors cause it to score right outside the class of Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, so it only gets very, very high marks, instead of outrageously high marks.