Tag Archives: Insomniac

All of Spyro: Year of the Dragon’s eggs are up for grabs

gd-spyro-3-year-of-the-dragon-ps1-early-impressions

I completed Spyro the Dragon, at 71%, despite the wonky camera, frustrating platforming, and that final fight against Gnasty Gnorc. Then I took on Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!, collecting a mighty number of gems, talismans, and orbs. After that, I moved on to Spyro: Year of the Dragon, the third installment in the series despite it missing a number in the title, but alas, I’ve still not finished it off and most likely won’t…well, not the PlayStation 1 classic version I have downloaded on my PlayStation 3. Why, you ask? Well, there’s a little thing called Spyro Reignited Trilogy coming out next month–that’s November, y’all–and I’m mega-stoked to revisit the series with hopefully better controls and camera options. Oh, and it looks gorgeous too.

Spyro: Year of the Dragon opens with a celebration in the land of the dragons, where Spyro and his kin are celebrating the titular “Year of the Dragon,”, an event that occurs every twelve years when new dragon eggs are brought to the realm. However, unfortunately, during the celebration, a cloaked rabbit girl named Bianca invades the Dragon Realms with an army of creatures called Rhynocs and steals all of the dragon eggs. She brings them back to the Sorceress, an evil ruler of all the Forgotten Realms, who scatters the eggs throughout several worlds. Spyro, along with his trusty lifelong pals Sparx and Hunter, are sent to recover the dragon eggs.

Well…my save file says that I’m at 64% completion for Spyro: Year of the Dragon. Go me. That more or less equates to 10,110 out of 15,000 gems and 90 out of 148 dragon eggs, according to the in-game Atlas menu. Which, if I can say, is really handy for tallying up all your accomplishments, along with the objectives still to finish off in each distinct world. This is good information to have because you often need a certain number of dragon eggs to move forward to the next area, and most of them are easy enough to collect, except for the ones based on mini-games, like skating or boxing.

The gameplay is, more or less, the same as the it was in the previous two games. In this one, Spyro will explore over 30 worlds, defeat enemies, complete puzzles, participate in mini-games, and collect eggs and the usual colored gems. He doesn’t have any brand-new moves, but the controls are still fine, if a bit iffy when trying to both charge forward and jump; often, I would just send our poor tiny, purple dragon right off a cliff’s edge. The camera remains a constant opponent. That said, it’s still a lot of fun to explore these worlds and find all the hidden-away gems or see a dragon egg in the distance and figure out how to reach it.

Spyro’s quest to recapture the dragon eggs stolen by the Sorceress is aided by a number of furry and fuzzy friends. Such as Bentley the yeti, Sheila the kangaroo, Sergeant Byrd the flying penguin, and Agent 9, a blaster-wielding space monkey. These characters are represented in unique levels to highlight their different powers and abilities, with puzzles only for them. For example, Sergeant Byrd, has large, open levels to match his ability to fly and long-distance attacks. There’s also Sheila, who has much more vertical levels to make use of her double-jump ability, and these sometimes look like a traditional 2D platformer.

Spyro: Year of the Dragon‘s graphics, sound, and charm all work together to create something special. Yes, even some eighteen years later. The character designs, while low on the polygon count, still show off Insomniac’s knack for creating iconic characters that are the step-stones for what’s to come down the road, namely the Ratchet and Clank series. Honestly, I’m excited to revisit all three games next month, and I promise to get all them dragon eggs back from the Sorceress. Why? Well, mostly because they’ll be tied to Achievements. Ha, I can’t quit caring about those digital bursts of dopamine.

Spyro 2’s guidebook is stuffed full of gems, talismans, and orbs

gd-spyro-2-riptos-rage-final-thoughts

Earlier this year, I put the original Spyro the Dragon to bed. This was a game that I had started playing in 2014 and really liked, but moved away from over the years, only returning to it in 2016 with the drive to see its credits roll. Shortly after, I started playing Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! and vowed to not take the same length of time to beat it. And look, I remained true to my words, even if I maybe never said them out loud here, but whatever. That’s two purple dragon romps down for the count, with a third still waiting in the wings. Soon, Spyro: Year of the Dragon. Very soon.

Let’s see. After saving the world and many elderly dragons from Gnasty Gnorc in his last adventure, Spyro and his friend Sparx decide to take a vacation to the lovely, picturesque Dragon Shores. Unfortunately, while there, they are sucked into a magical vortex that takes them to a realm called Avalar. All three of Avalar’s worlds are in danger of falling under the power of a Napoleon-like dictator named Ripto. In order to save these worlds from destruction and tyranny, Spyro must travel to and fro, helping out who he can while also collecting a number of things: gems, talismans, and orbs. I emphasized the last one on purpose, with more to say later in this post.

For good and for bad, not a lot has changed since Spyro’s last outing. Which, in terms of narrative, wasn’t that long ago. When it comes to development, there was only about a year between the release of the first game and the second. Anyways, you’re still charging enemies, breathing fire, jumping, gliding, and collecting butterflies to power up Sparx and stay alive. A couple new moves have been added to the little dragon’s arsenal, such as being able to swim underwater, using ladders to climb higher up, and an overhead smash stomp that I think I only used once or twice for a story reason and never again. There are hub worlds, which contain gems and orbs to find, and then within these hubs are warp gates to individual levels that will hand out talismans as a reward for finishing its main through-line. Story progression is gated by a specific number of these things, so it is in your best interest to get as many as you can…as soon as you can.

Alas, I really hit a wall between the third world of Winter Tundra and the final boss fight against Ripto. I needed 40 orbs to move on and was only somewhere around 25 at the time. This meant I had to go back, multiple times, to levels I had already completed and find the extra challenges to do to earn an orb. Generally, these challenges are towards the end of each level, which means a lot of replaying, something I already do excessively in them numerous LEGO videogames. I found that some of the orb challenges rated five stars were easy peasy and others rated two or three stars to be impossible. Some of that has to do with controlling the camera or Spyro, as moving him with both speed and skill is not easily doable; I preferred the slower challenges, like herding cows into a fenced off area, instead of chasing after thieves or playing a lackluster minigame of hockey.

I hope I’m not seeing a pattern when it comes to these final boss fights. The one against Gnasty Gnorc was long, frustrating, and had the nasty sting of having you redo the entire thing if you messed up once. Yeah, yeah…gaming in this generation is spoiled by lots of checkpoints and saves and magical power-ups to get us through the tough parts, but it really felt like the main chunk of the game sat at a difficulty level of 3 and then the last fight was cranked up to 11…just because. Well, it’s all that again with the final stand against Ripto, which is broken into three sections. Two are on the ground, easy enough if you keep dodging and picking up sheep for health, and the last has Spyro flying above a pit of lava, dodging incoming homing missiles while also trying to dish out his own damage. It definitely took me more than five tries to put Ripto in his place.

Spoiler alert: there are no plans to collect the remainder of orbs (15 left) to open up whatever is hidden behind that sealed door at Dragon Shores. There will never be a plan. If anything, I hope to start Spyro: Year of the Dragon soon, though that may be a more likely candidate for 2017 under the assumption that there are even more things to collect in that one. Mmm. I’ll also freely admit that I’m now much more curious about how things went for Spyro on the PlayStation 2 when Insomniac Games handed the reigns over to another developer and moved on to the Ratchet & Clank series.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with my favorite code for Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!, which is my favorite hidden code from every game ever, no matter what the genre – Big Head Mode! Pause the game, and then enter Up, Up, Up, Up, R1, R1, R1, R1, Circle. You are very welcome.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #70 – Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!

2016-gd-games-completed-spyro-2-riptos-rage

Vacation ruined
Dictator Ripto, must stop
Collect all them orbs

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

How to train Spyro the Dragon to conquer frustrating platforming controls

gd final impressions spyro 1 gnasty_gnorc_level

I quit Twitter in October 2014 and haven’t regretted it…all that much. To tell the truth, for the years I had it, I never used it for any great means. Sure, there was the occasional self-promotion, the randomness of writing down whatever weird thoughts popped up in my head, the handful of subtweets and then quick deletion of said subtweets, and the liking of others’ better constructed, more engaging updates. More often, I stayed quiet, observing everyone else. However, I occasionally had my moments, and this is one that I still like to this day, posted a few years ago while watching some speedrunners destroying games for Summer Games Done Quick:

Well, almost two years later, I’ve beaten Spyro the Dragon, finishing at a 71% completion rate. That’s fine, really. I have no interest in going after the full 100%, which would require finding the remainder of gems, dragons, and eggs. Though it does look like you get access to some special room/level. Eh, I’ll just look it up on YouTube later. Remember when there was a time that you couldn’t do such a thing? Yeah, me too. Okay, okay. Let’s get on with this post. I know you are foaming at the mouth to read my thoughts about a small purple dragon that tries hard to be mighty, but is diminished by outside technological elements. The camera, people. I’m referencing the atrocious camera, as well as the less-than-trustworthy controls.

First, a plot summary despite probably covering most of this in my last post on Spyro the Dragon. This not-so-nice fellow Gnasty Gnorc–not sure if that’s a cross between a gnome and an orc or an entirely separate, standalone race–has gone and turned all the dragons of the realm into stone statues. For reasons, I guess. Well, almost all of them. Somehow, teeny tiny purple-scaled Spyro made it through the transformation wave unscathed and is now everyone’s only hope. He’ll travel through six worlds, freeing as many dragons as possible while also collecting gems, which are hidden in enemies, chests, and even across the map, eventually taking down Gnasty Gnorc in the final level.

Our titular hero has a decent array of moves for a PlayStation 1 mascot-driven platformer. He can breath fire, charge, float, and even do a barrel roll on the ground. The problem is that, coupled with the unfriendly camera, doing any of those moves while moving fast is a recipe for disaster and death. I found the easiest way to move forward was in chunks: enter an area, spin the camera round to see everything there, and then tip-toe over to the gems or enemy to take care of business. This worked mostly fine until you got to areas where you needed to run down a ramp and gain speed or do some light platforming. Unfortunately, jumping Spyro from one area to another is not as easy as it sounds: Spyro’s jump is both floaty and floaty, meaning you can hold the jump button after pressing it to float for a bit. However, letting go doesn’t simply stop the float in mid-air, so you really need to aim your jumps specifically and accurately. The camera will be your toughest enemy in this endeavor.

While I found a lot of the maneuvering in Spyro the Dragon frustrating, I didn’t outright hate the game. In fact, I loved collecting the gems and dragons and checking the list in each hub to see what I was missing. I know, what a shock. Paul enjoyed collecting things in a game that does a good job of having things to collect and lets you know what you still have left to collect.

Anyways, despite all my progress, I nearly walked away from the Spyro the Dragon when I got to the final fight against Gnasty Gnorc. I stopped counting after ten attempts to take him down. First, you have to complete the whole thing with no mistakes, as the boss fight is made up of three sections and there are no checkpoints. The first section is easy, chasing down two enemies that are carrying keys, and I eventually got so good at this part that I contemplated a career in speedrunning Spyro the Dragon. The second part isn’t too tough, with Spyro using a shortcut to catch up to Gnasty Gnorc and damage him. Lastly, and you can see this in the screenshot above, you have to platform across lava, landing on thin slivers of platforms that are slowly retracting into the wall. It’s not terribly long, but you’ll remember that I mentioned moving fast and moving with precision are not friends in this game. One false step or lack of speed, and you have to do everything all over again.

Truthfully, my mascot-driven platforming journeys are only just starting. Yes, it’s 2016. It’s never too late to dive back into the industry’s history. I bought this digital copy of Spyro the Dragon during a crazy good PSN sale back in April 2014, as well as some related titles. Next up are Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! and Spyro: Year of the Dragon. Then maybe Gex: Enter the Gecko. Maybe. I also grabbed a bunch of Crash Bandicoot games though I’m less interested in those as Crash Team Racing is still my favorite game starring the horribly misshapen Crash Bandicoot. That probably says something.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #42 – Spyro the Dragon

2016 gd games completed spyro the dragon ps1

The smallest dragon
Soars, scorches, charges, saves realm
The biggest impact

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

If only Spyro the Dragon could burn the in-game camera to a crisp

spyro ps1 early impressions

Spyro the Dragon is a cutesy fantasy action-adventure game from Insomniac–y’know, the Ratchet & Clank folk–that I got to play demo-wise way back in the day when videogame magazines came coupled with demo discs or you could even drop five bucks at the local brick-and-mortar store for a retail disc containing a mighty selection of different games to experience. I have a bunch of these in my collection still because I made a vow to myself long ago to never get rid of or trade in anything. In fact, it’s this one here from PlayStation Underground Jampack that I’m talking about, which I guess I got some time in late 1998 or early 1999:

WP_20140714_002

For those that can’t see due to camera glare in the above pic, on this are demos for Spyro the Dragon, MediEvil, Metal Gear Solid, A Bug’s Life, CoolBoarders 3, NHL FaceOff ’99, NFL GameDay ’99, Rally Cross 2, Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft, and Small Soldiers. Some classic titles there, for sure. Now, for me, a teenager with little cash to my name, spending five bucks ($7.99 for you Canadian suckers!) to sample a smörgåsbord of all games, ranging from sports to action to fantasy to RPG to racing, sounded a whole lot better than saving up for one big game that could potentially disappoint me. Plus, the natural idea behind these demo discs is that if I enjoyed what little nibble the demo could give, I’d probably like the full meal. Years later, the company Nintendo still has no idea how demos work, but that’s a post for another day.

SIDE NOTE: I’d love to do something here on Grinding Down with these demo discs of mine–I have about seven or eight in total–but I’m not sure just what yet. I mean, I guess I could simply deep-dive back into them all and write about playing these wee slices some fifteen years later, though who knows how interesting that would be. If you’ve got an idea for me to try, please do share.

Anyways, so far, my favorite thing about Spyro the Dragon, which I’m playing on the PlayStation 3 after nabbing it and others during a really good sale a few months back, is that it wastes no time getting into the mix of things. I can think of only a few other games that open just as swiftly and let you start playing before you can even speak a word–Jetpack Joyride and Scribblenauts come to mind first.

Okay, you ready for this. Spyro the Dragon begins with a short cutscene that can’t possibly last for more than 30 seconds. In it, a news team sets up an interview with a couple of dragons within the Artisan World, one of five realms in the Dragon Kingdom (the others of which include Peace Keepers’ world, Magic Crafters, Beast Makers, and Dream Weavers), which have lived in harmony for eons. Well, when the reporter brings up Gnasty Gnorc, a gnorc who lives within his own, sixth realm, one of the dragons describes him as an ugly, simple-minded creature who poses no threat to the Dragon Kingdom. Daaang. Those are fighting words, for sure. And yup, fortuitously, Gnasty is watching the live feed at that exact moment; enraged, he casts a magic spell that encases all of the dragons in crystal and sends out an army of gnorc soldiers to take over the realms. However, one purple dragon called Spyro, due to his smallish nature, is able to dodge the spell, and it’s now up to him to save his elders.

And that’s the gist of the story so far. You are the lucky wee dragon left alive, and you must save everybody us, and you do this by charging into the crystal statues and freeing the elders. Each of these older, bigger dragons has a name and something to say to Spyro upon rescue, but then they are gone in a poof. Rinse and repeat until you find all the dragons in a given themed area (36 levels spread across six worlds). Other than that, Spyro can shoot a small burst of flames from his mouth and jump and even fly a bit (though technically it is falling with style). You want to also defeat enemies and collect gems. More or less, it’s a very traditional character-dependent action adventure game, and there is nothing wrong with the premise to begin with.

However, in a game all about jumping and flying from one place to another, the in-game camera needs to work with the player. This camera is atrocious. Really just horrible, and you can only turn it left or right, not up or down, so if you are standing on top of a castle and want to jump to that smaller castle below, you kind of have to wing it (pun intended) because there’s no way to rotate the camera enough to see where you need to land. You can press the triangle button at any time to lock the camera directly behind Spyro, but this is only handy when you want to ram an enemy head-on with your horns.

Thankfully, despite the camera issues, Spyro the Dragon is a fun, harmless game. And it’s not too punishing, so even if you missed a jump due to not being able to see the land below, you can always try again. Interestingly, instead of some kind of health bar or string of hearts on the screen, Spyro’s health is visible through his butterfly companion, so depending on how that fella looks and acts, you’ll know just how many more hits our little dragon hero can take. You can save your progress at any of the statue spots where you’ve rescued an elder dragon, and most of the difficulty just comes from traversing, rather than fighting enemies or solving puzzles. Oh, and to tie this back to that demo disc above, I remember fondly being super impressed that Spyro could burn plants to a pile of black ash at the touch of a button, and it’s still an amusing thing to do many years later.

I’m looking forward to playing more when I can, as I also have Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! and Spyro Year of the Dragon downloaded and ready for chomping. Not to mention Gex: Enter the Gecko, Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2, and Crash Bandicoot 3: WARPED. Yeah, I went a little crazy on the PS1-era mascot games during that sale. Not the worst mistake I’ve ever made.

Lastly, I’ll leave y’all on a fun tidbit about Spyro the Dragon–its soundtrack was done by The Police’s Stewart Copeland.

A shortened, but solid adventure in Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters

A quick flash of memory: I’m 24 years old, in Target, aimlessly wandering the aisles by the home entertainment section, just killing time. I am alone, as I’m wont to be. I walk by the videogames section and hear that distinct sound of bolts being absorbed by Ratchet as he moves about. Sticking out from an endcap was a demo PSP, with Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters there for anyone to experience. Now, at this point in my life, I had already devoured the original Ratchet & Clank trilogy with extreme pleasure during my formative years, though reflecting back on it I’m not sure which of the three I never beat, but there is one that I didn’t see to the end, and it had to do with a boss battle and grinding rails and losing a lot of health from one hit. Hmm. Anyways, back to Target; I’m standing there, holding a PSP attached to a wall, staring down at a game that looks just like its home console counterparts, a bit of drool beginning to form and escape over my lower lip. Alas, it was not meant to be, as I had already decided on my portable system then and there, a Nintendo DS.

But man, I continued to want to play that Ratchet & Clank game, as well as all the others that came out afterwards for the PlayStation 3, but the systems were not mine or ever going to be mine, and so it was not meant to be. Boo, wah, a thousand tears. That is until I found a PS2 port of Size Matters at my local GameStop last year for a fair price, probably during their buy-2-get-1-free promotions. Generally, console games get ported to handheld devices with devastating results due to size restrictions, but it all switching around the other way seems to be more frequent these days.

It starts off with a vacation. Heck, Ratchet and Clank have surely earned it. Heroic work is quite tiring–at least that’s what I’m told. A young, red-headed girl named Luna–voiced by that woman from MadTV and the one who walks Carrie’s father on Queen of Kings–stumbles upon them and asks for their help with her school report on heroes. Unfortunately, some robots show up and kidnap her, and then Clank finds an ancient artifact from the race of intelligent beings called the Technomites. Captain Qwark shows up too, bummed about never knowing his parents. The plot thickens quickly after that, but saying any more would ruin some surprises.

Gameplay remains, as always, a mix of platforming and shooting. Guns level up with use, and for me, it seemed like they leveled up a whole lot faster than ever before. By final boss time, all of my favorite weapons were at their max level, and I never used the Scorcher or Suck Cannon once, despite enjoying them in previous games. I’ll pour one out for them later on. Ratchet’s health increases too as he defeats enemies, eventually capping at 50 for the first playthrough. There’s a handful of planet to explore, but, as the title indicates, they are not as open and vast as previous games in the franchise. I mean, that makes sense for a portable game, as the planets are almost cut into distinct sections, rather than flowing from one to another naturally.

The concept of armor for Ratchet–which I love–came into play with Going Commando, strengthening itself in Up Your Arsenal, becoming pivotal in Deadlocked, and turning into a toybox in Size Matters. As you travel from planet to planet, you’ll collect pieces of full armor sets, like the Crystallix boots or the Wildfire helmet, naturally aiming for a full set. In the meantime, you can wear any combination of armor pieces to make your own type of suit, which varies on damage reduction and appearance. I played around with this a lot, finding new types of suits simply by mixing and matching. Seems like there are more armor sets in New Game+, too. In the end, I used the full Mega-Bomb Armor set the most.

Seeing as this version is a port from the PSP, visually and technically…it fails. On a larger screen, the environments appear much more bland and empty, and the game itself locked up on me twice for no reason. Cutscenes appear very compressed and lower quality than expected, but other than that, it plays fine. Not the greatest in the franchise, and not the better of the two, but it’s still another Ratchet & Clank game to devour.

Okay, now for something else: Size Matters is a funny title. One, it continues the trend of Insomniac’s games being heavy on the innuendoes despite their Pixar-like look, feel, and overly friendly vibe. Seriously, here’s a couple of ’em, and just try to keep a clean mind as you read: Going Commando, Up Your Arsenal, Quest for Booty, Full Frontal Assault. Right. Two, this title also has to do with the fact that you’re playing a PS2-size game on a tiny portable system. And three, for plot’s sake, you are battling against the Technomites, which are teeny yet highly intelligent beings, and so, on occasion, Ratchet will shrink in size and/or Clank will grow to massive heights.

As with all the Ratchet & Clank games I’ve played so far, you can start over with a New Game+, keeping your weapons, skill points, armor, and bolts, but upping the difficulty, especially for the bosses, and dropping in new versions of leveled guns, as well as special armor sets. Mmm mmm. Usually, I skip New Game+ options, like I did in Deadlocked–yeah, I really need to write a blog post on why some day soon–but I immediately started over, excited to keep going. So far, it seems like you can now add a multiplier to your bolts collecting by defeating enemies in succession without taking a hit, which will definitely help in procuring those finer, mightier weapon editions. Plus, figuring out skill points and finding those large silver bolts to unlock Big Head mode is a totally legit excuse to keep playing.