Spyro the Dragon series and its varying difficulties

I don’t usually review video games on this blog, but I’m willing to make a couple exceptions.
Then again, I think I’d already done this with the Kingdom Hearts series (well, 2 of maybe half a dozen games), possibly Jak & Daxter, Jak 2, and brought up the Pokémon series a handful of times.

I became a huge fan of this series in the late 90’s. My first ever gaming system (that I owned and didn’t have to go to a friends’ house to play) was a PlayStation… which became a PS2 within 2-3 years because it had horrible disc reading issues… you know you have a problem when you have a brand new game and it won’t load. That game happened to be the third in this series.

I’ve had my share of fun and enjoyment with this series… and of course, that isn’t without difficulty. With the exception of the sequel, “Ripto’s Rage,” I needed a game guide (sometimes with the combination of a cheat code) to get from start to finish.
Or so it started that way.

I’ve since become so well versed for the original game (I still love telling this story about how I bought it at Toy*R*Us in the heat of its popularity, they couldn’t find a copy, I was at the counter getting a refund and they stopped us at the last second with a copy that was all the way in the back of the storage closet)…
that I don’t need the code for infinity lives as a safety net.
The only levels left with obscene difficulty are Tree Tops (the 2nd supercharge can be tricky at the tail end), Misty Bog and Dark Passage (the enemies can be difficult if you’re not completely on your toes).

Back in those days, I dreaded the “game over” screen, making me a nervous wreck until one day, I kinda figured it all out.

Then with Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon (they were SO into Chinese New Year that year, for obvious reasons), my biggest weak point were the racing challenges. So, admittedly, I not only used the cheat code for infinite lives (neither of which I remember anymore :-P) but I used one to lower difficulty so I could win the races. Then there’s also Bentley’s boxing match where the second challenge proved difficult… now that I think about it, that’s the only time I use that cheat code anymore.
My biggest impasse that had otherwise stopped me from completely the game was the snowboard race in the Bonus World. Even the cheat code wasn’t enough. But I did pick up a few tricks.

Each game has its good and bad points. I feel the most nostalgia with the original one because of the gameplay, the graphics and most of all, Stuart Copeland’s amazing score. He provided it for the trilogy, but the music in the first game helped DEFINE it, as if it was a character onto itself.
It’s good in parts 2 and 3, but it doesn’t stand out quite as much.
I loved the cast and the dialogue in the second game more than the rest. Elora the faun is among my favorite animated characters. I hated the fact she disappears after you beat the game that I left one Save file unfinished where she’s by the ladder in Summer Forest. I also took it a little hard that the games insinuated that she and Spyro didn’t have romance in their future… at least he never returned those feelings.

The third game… I didn’t care for it quite as much as the other too. Maybe because it was too difficult in places or they added too much extras for my liking. It’s just not as enchanting as the other two :shrug:

I believe there was a time where I had a u/n PS1SpyroMaster… I did, actually… on a couple websites. My most noted contribution was an Enemy/Boss FAQ that I posted on gamefaqs.com… I’d gotten so many compliments on that, someone asked to post it on their site and a few other people emailed me, asking for hints on difficult parts of the game.
Good times.

Anyway, I came up with that name because I found the next set of games a little too difficult… at least at first.
Come to think of it, the reason I got a GameBoy Advance was to continue with this game series… now THAT was a pain in the ass. It’s one thing that they’d converted the other games to Xbox and GameCube as to not leave those other gamers out of the fun (yet I don’t see them moving the Nintendo greats like Mario and Zelda to PlayStation so we don’t have to worry about getting another game system)…
but the gameplay was just really hard. Hard to get used to holding down different buttons for the controls and gliding was foolhardy. Until I got the guides and they made me aware of the fact that you had to look for your shadow to know you’re going to land safely.

I played Season of Ice and Season of Fire from start to finish exactly once, just so I could say that I did and I ended up selling them. In the long run, that was a worthy venture because the money I got in credit made Kingdom Hearts 2 a cheaper buy when it finally came out. Now THAT was a difficult game to master… until I figured out leveling up different abilities and such. I’d gotten the hang of 99% of it. But what’s keeping me from getting 100% is the Hades Cup and I don’t want to play Advanced just so my only perquisite to get the secret ending is to defeat the final boss.
So the only RPG I’ve yet to beat is Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I got through the first half of the game (ok, my friend played through the 2nd and 3rd world), but because I have no idea where I am, I’d been in stalemate for the past decade. The only real solution to that issue is to start over from the beginning with a brand new game and follow the game guide, which my friend more or less gave me because he knew the game by heart anyway.

Which leaves me with the remaining PS2 Spyro games I have.
Enter the Dragonfly and A Hero’s Tail.

My biggest gripe, as was the biggest gripe everyone had, were the glitches. They literally rushed the release of this game so it was ready for Christmas, but it had loads of problems. I made it a habit to manually save every so often, just in case the game freezes on me so I don’t lose a huge amount of progress. In my last run-through, the screen never froze, which is good, but I probably just got super lucky that time.
I also felt that the glitches hindered gameplay. Glitches and all, I made it through 90% of the game on my first shot. The parts I couldn’t quite get were one task in the Honey Marsh level (there’s a little bit of a learning curve to that one, I’m still getting the hang out of it) and beating the main boss, Ripto. Not just that you didn’t know where the attacks were coming from, but they come so fast that you have ZERO recovery time, so if you’re not on your toes, you could be dead within one of his turns.

After getting familiar with the guide and the staging, I have managed to beat the game half a dozen times already. Aside from that, my only complaint really is that the dragonflies had silly names, almost all were pop culture references 😛 not just Ice-Boy, Maverick and Goose (yes, I know it’s Ice-Man in “Top Gun”) but Tashistation, which is a Star Wars reference.

Then there’s “A Hero’s Tail.”
I brought the guide out of the basement at the same time as Enter the Dragonfly because I’d planned on getting good at both of these games. It just took a while longer for me to get interested in this one.

According to my memory card, I started my first file in 2004… literally 10 years ago. I don’t know how long it took me to getting 100% (I believe it was a couple years), but it was a long time. I think I needed to go online to find where all of the collectables were, the Light Gems and Dragon Eggs. I eventually did find the Prima game guide and this time around, it has been unbelievably helpful. At least when it comes to finding the collectibles, managing boss fights and navigating the realms.
What it doesn’t help with is the gameplay.

I plan on starting a file where I list helpful hints and tips for myself so I know where to find things and navigating the hard stuff.
In previous playthroughs, I did Excel sheets for gem counts so I have an idea of how many gems I should have before going to the next area. It certainly took care of a lot of backtracking and since then I’ve been pretty good with having these counts memorized and I know where I’m most likely to misplace gems.

This game is different in so many ways from the rest of the series.
Right away, I was a little ticked off by the fact they changed the voice actors. Zoe the fairy has a different voice in every game, but I’ve gotten used to the fact Spyro was voiced by Tom Kenny and Hunter was voiced by Gregg Berger. I think when they cast the new Spyro, they were trying to be true to Carlos Alzquarai’s original rendering of him (excuse the spelling, but I always found it funny how he and Tom Kenny were on “Rocko’s Modern Life” together and would voice the same video game character)… he just doesn’t make Spyro all that likeable or memorable, unless you’re a fan of the series like I am.

But that’s minor compared to a lot of other issues I have with this game.
For starters, it is SO HARD… which makes me thankful that they don’t believe in the currency of “lives” in this game… like in Zelda, Jak & Daxter and otherwise, if your health goes to zero, you die and revive at your previous save point. My gameplay amounted to 15 minutes, but that doesn’t account for the fact I must have died 1,000 times getting through it.
My biggest issues were the ball gadget trips needed to get Light Gems and Dragon Eggs. But I get the feeling I was hindered by the fact I didn’t know of something called “brakes”… you don’t just have the ability to jump, but you have brakes and a speed-up option… and the archer enemies that I couldn’t reach on their high perches. This time around, I used some Tri-Bolts (ammo that accompany the electric breath u get from the first boss) so cut out some of the casualties.

I don’t know. Some of it just might be managing the controls.
The alternate characters I had the most trouble with were newcomer Blink the Mole and Sparx. Sparx had four levels in the Year of the Dragon, but those were very similar to Spyro’s game play except that you have an aerial view of the action. Wikipedia describes Sparx’s levels as “rail shooters”… where you’re on a stuck track and your objective is to shoot enemies and survive to the finish.
It took a while to get a hand of Sparx, managing the different power-ups and such. The hardest level, easily, is in the Sunken Ruins where you also have to worry about opening and closing doors. Some you have to open and others you have navigate through with caution or risk getting 1-hit-KO’d.

As for Blink, his levels vary with difficulty, but hands down, I had the hardest time with his last level. Just one missed platform and you die. It seriously got me thinking about that Einstein quote where he says “Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”… I was going out of my mind, not to mention I was working with a deadline. Maybe my problem was that I was moving controls when I shouldn’t have. I’ll figure that out for sure the next time I play through… which won’t be for a long time. Like… I should at least give it a week or two.

I used to play video games for hours on end when I was a kid. When it comes to the Spyro series, I can usually manage to keep it to an hour or so. I’d gotten skilled enough at Enter the Dragonfly where I can complete a level from start to finish in an hour. Every now and then, though, I will play the original Spyro from start to finish in a span of 3 hours just cuz I can.

This game’s difficulty has made that difficult, especially because I get OCD over my gaming. I can’t let the control down until I’ve completed a certain task or certain level, no matter how much it’s been bugging me.

For the most part, the gaming is the same. You have to go to different worlds, collect things, beat bosses and so on. You have 4 hits (like in Year of the Dragon, you do get access to a power-up where you can get 5). You have flame, glide and charge as your abilities… and like Ripto’s Rage, you gain access to more of those. It also extended on Enter the Dragonfly’s idea of having more than flame breath.
But there are a lot of differences, some I take more offence to than others.

The mechanics are different. The buttons for flame and charge have reversed. Gliding now requires pressing the X-button twice and holding it after the second jump… You don’t even have gliding as an ability until you meet the Elder in the first world. I don’t know how much that affects gliding height and distance. On the one hand, you’re left without the extra height from hovering (introduced in Ripto’s Rage), but on the other hand, you have the option to subconsciously grab onto the edge of a cliff if you just miss the top of it… not always reliable but that does come in handy on occasion.

The thing is that you need to be extremely observant to get all of the collectables. You have to look up and down all the paths. You have to look out for cracks in the wall.
What really turned me off was that gems, the only true staple from EVERY Spyro game, are no longer collectables. They are CURRENCY. Granted, the fact they’re seemingly infinite helps down the road, between getting to carry up to 3 lock-picks at once (you’ll need to keep a good supply of those cuz they almost always lead to light gems and dragon eggs… the almost comes into play during the last realm where they usually contain useless gems instead). It annoyed me that Moneybags went from being a money-hungry swindler to being a carbon copy of Ali Hakim from “Oklahoma”, but the fact his remote shops can double as teleport pads can be helpful. That’s something else I discovered along the way.

I mean, I suppose that the game play will come easier with more practice as I gain more tips and tricks… but it’s not infallible. Some glides will always be difficult to make. Some jumps (in Blink’s case) will always be hard to make.
But the biggest plus was that certain levels were less difficult this time around because I came prepared. I dreaded the Cloud City level, but following the guide helped keep me on the right path. It’s also kinda nice how the difficulty with the Sparx and Sgt. Bird levels decreased later on in the game, considering how the previous ones in the second realm took a couple dozen times to figure out.
I got stuck on Gloomy Glacier, a part of the third realm Hunter must navigate to find Spyro, who’d been captured by a mamooth. Particularly an area where you have to climb walls while avoiding these bugs that can knock you off and leave you falling to your death… it’s just a matter of figuring which direction they’re going so you can avoid them. Other than that, my greatest difficulty was a long series of platforming inside a cave where it’s all about timing your jumps and that only took a little extra time.
Hands down, my favorite world was the Realm 3 with the ice and snow because I found my groove and most of the tasks only took a handful of tries, compared to hundreds 😛

And as a final nit-pick, I don’t know the mapping of the levels. In every other game, you had the staple of portals. You had a home world with multiple portals and you return home with an exit portal.
Here, you have to physically walk/charge into the next world and each world is branched, rather than being strictly linear like every other Spyro level.
It takes some getting used to, yes, but difficulties aside, I find the levels enchanting enough where I wouldn’t mind making a few trips back…. if only to get better at it.

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