Review – Spyro Reignited Trilogy [Playstation 4]

spyro-2I’ve been gaming for a hell of a long time now and so you’d be forgiven for thinking that some of my viewpoints on modern gaming are somewhat cynical and the unfortunate victim(s) of rose-tinted vision. For example, I am about as interested in remakes and remasters as I am in that scene in Terminator Genisys where Emilia Clarke gets naked but the smart troll-ish 12-rated camera work denies you a glimpse of the goodness. Either I have no enthusiasm for retreading old ground in HD-o-Vision or I get all old-man grumpy and ignorantly presume that the developer will remix everything too much.

However, that has all changed very recently and my attitude towards a remake has softened a little. The game responsible for this shift is Spyro Reignited Trilogy, a full remastering of one of my favourite videogame series’ of all-time (pre-Enter The Dragonfly of course). Younger readers or newer gamers might not understand the big deal but I had the originals on release and still regularly play through all three most years. I adore these games and no amount of mowing down hookers in GTA (after purchasing their wares of course) has succeeded in dulling my enthusiasm for whimsical fantasy worlds and cutesy characters.

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The games look amazing now, all without any alterations to level layout or loss of the original charm [image: forgetoday.com]
As you might imagine then, I was gravely worried about what Activision and Toys For Bob might do to my childhood memories when Reignited was first announced but I needn’t have been concerned because the boys ‘n girls at ‘Bob did good and managed the near-impossible task of impressing this old-school gamer with a remake of all things. It isn’t all good news but the positives definitely outweigh the crappy stuff so I’ll talk about why this is such a great remake first and foremost.

My overall feeling is that Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a totally authentic and – more importantly – sympathetic remake. Everything from the level layouts to the word-for-word script is as I remember it. The individuality between games has also been retained i.e. the designs of the treasure chests, the shapes of the gems and the extra life systems. Immediately, there is nothing on a basic level to offend the traditionalists who demand the most minimal of changes and this is nice because Toys For Bob could have easily decided to bring each game in line and go for a uniform approach. The only big alteration to the trilogy as a whole is that the sideways roll feature that was originally canned for the sequels has been carried over to Gateway to Glimmer and Year of the Dragon for the remakes. This is actually a welcome change because many fans bemoaned the way that Insomniac took the roll away back when these games were first released. Now though, you can showboat to your heart’s content while avoiding enemy attacks.

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One for the ‘Furries’ out there. Bianca looks a lot foxier this time which ironic since she’s a rabbit [image: Youtube.com]
Then there is the all-important music, originally composed by Stuart Copeland of The Police and adored by fans ever since. The soundtrack of the first game in particular is especially good since each level has a distinct sound influenced by the theme of its home (or ‘hub’) world but the same set of instruments used throughout results in a very cohesive OST. The mix in Reignited is extremely gentle and in all honesty, it didn’t need to be dramatic anyway; the original OST was fantastic as it was and in some respects was ahead of the games themselves and what the technology of the time allowed them to do visually and technically. So it sounds very similar to the original tracks but with a bit of added depth in places. There is an interesting ‘dynamic’ effect too which alters the tone of the music when underground or in tunnels/caves. Stand stationary for a few seconds and the tone will shift to a more ambient, trippy chilled-out zen-like sound that I really enjoyed. You can switch the dynamic mode off and also revert to the original soundtrack if you wish so everybody should be satisfied.

All of that important preservation work acknowledged, we come to the new stuff. Most obvious are the brand-new visuals which really are beautiful. The dragon worlds and Avalar now look utterly sumptuous with so much more detail than was possible before. Obviously we cannot say for certain but this is perhaps what Insomniac would have wanted their games to look like if the technology had been available at the time. On the Playstation, they had to make do with simple colour schemes and basic textures to simulate the real things and define a level’s identity. Not so in Reignited. Flat greens are now proper grass with long blades that sway in the breeze, water looks good enough to drink and the smudgy, minimalistic backdrops now have some detail. It really was a joy to take my time exploring the familiar while absorbing the new.

Some levels in the sequels look like they have been revamped more than others but that’s down to their original designs. After all, some (especially in Year of the Dragon) felt a little uninspired back in the day and a retread of previously-utilised themes.

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The revamp is dramatic yet respectful [image: silconera.com]
The dragons have all been given unique, detailed looks and personalities too which is a massive upgrade over the original designs. Some of these look a bit too comical and over-the-top to me but otherwise it is a nice injection of variety and individuality which wasn’t present before. As mentioned earlier, the dragons still retain their original speech so it’s a nice little compromise between old and new in my opinion. Overall on the graphics front, I felt that Reignited had an almost Pixar-esque quality to its aesthetics and all three games were just so enjoyable to play through for that reason alone, let alone any others.

Obviously the only issue with these remakes being so authentic and true to the originals was that I absolutely caned them and literally had to impose play time limits on myself in order to refrain from completing them too quickly! The original trilogy was released between 1998 and 2000 and I’ve been playing them on and off via my original PS1 discs or the digital versions from the Playstation Store ever since so I know all of the secrets and solutions. Handily, Toys For Bob did attempt to add a little extra longevity with ‘Skill Points’. Skill Points first appeared in Spyro 2 and rewarded the player with an extra life for completing bonus tasks such as flaming all of a specific object within a level or beating a boss while taking no damage.

Similar challenges await in Reignited but this time around, many of the ‘flame all of X object’ Skill Point requirements have been replaced by new targets for variety’s sake. These include burning hidden objects (some of which are genuinely difficult to find) in the first game, completing three perfect laps of the supercharge circuit in Spyro 2‘s Fracture Hills level and beating the course records for the skateboard parks in the third game. Each game features two pages worth of challenges and these are worth doing to unlock the concept artwork which I quite liked the look of. There are trophies too of course and I assume that the Reignited Trilogy will be a relatively easy platinum. I achieved around 80% trophy completion without trying for example.

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Speedways look awesome and provide a nice challenge as usual but the controls feel a little off to me [image: gamepressure.com]
So as a remake of a fan-favourite set of games, Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a resounding success that managed to make me feel rather moist in a sexy way. Perfection is an impossible destination to reach however and so I must now – regrettably – lower the tone and talk about some of the what I didn’t like as well as what nobody will like.

The first collection of criticisms will probably only be relevant to those of us who played the original games and it’s to do with controlling Spyro and some of the hit detection. To me, Spyro felt more difficult to control at charging speed with slower rotation and a less compliant turning circle as opposed to the super-sharp handling in the OG games. Flames don’t seem quite as wide-reaching as before (feels like you have to be just a touch closer to actually make contact) and – most frustratingly – the gliding felt “off”.

It’s difficult to describe properly but I noticed that many of the glides between platforms were now more strict. I wouldn’t have thought twice about these glides in the original games but now it’s almost as if they are only just possible and on the very edge of Spyro’s capability. It’s almost as if he loses altitude that much faster and it’s only really a big issue in the first game which wasn’t equipped with the hover ability that afforded Spyro a little extra reach in the sequels. I experienced many annoying deaths in this way but I will admit that a lot of this was probably down to my instinctive behaviour (learned from years of memory-mapping the originals) being challenged by the remakes. I’m not sure if newcomers or those who didn’t play their PS1 copies into oblivion over the last two decades will feel the same but I thought it was worth noting.

Flight in the ‘speedway’ levels also felt a bit weird and not as tight as before. There were many times when cornering or making a sharp turn that Spyro felt like he was drifting wide or ‘sliding’ in the air like a racecar would when drifting around a corner, causing me to miscalculate and miss a target. Again, it’s no disaster and just took a little getting used to but even so, I’m not sure that understeer and a loss of traction is possible in mid-air…

There are a few other niggles with fiddly controls in some of the third game’s many unique missions/mini-games, some of which used custom mechanics and viewpoints. Skateboarding is one of the biggest culprits with the occasional bizarre collision detection and the game failing to register some of the more complex tricks. The other example that immediately springs to mind are the hideous controls for the speedboat in Seashell Shore which seem to continuously change depending on which way the boat is facing.

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Excuse the language but fuck the controls of this boat. Seriously. [image: gamepressure.com]
The game has also fallen foul of the need to be a little more politically sensitive in order to achieve a family-friendly age rating to slap on the box cover. The enemies in Twilight Harbour no longer resemble guerrilla fighters for example and their machineguns have been exchanged for comical paint guns; their grenades for explosive barrels. Guns were also taken away from the enemies in Spyro 2‘s Scorch level and replaced with catapults. Lastly, the fairies and various female characters are a lot less busty and sexualised this time around, particularly noticeable in the third game’s Desert Ruins level where the Lara Croft-imitating character of ‘Tara’ no longer has the titantic breasts to match her inspiration.

These alterations are not really “negative” changes that should affect your feelings towards Reignited but they stood out to me personally as a staunch anti-Political Correctness kind of guy. Other little differences that I wasn’t so excited about were Hunter’s new voice actor and a tiny portion of the updated soundtrack for Year of the Dragon. A few tracks sound very different (not bad just less recognisable vs the majority of Reignited‘s mixes) and I feel that Bamboo Terrace – one of my favourites – loses something without the chilled chanting in the background.

These are trivial moans that won’t apply to everybody. The universal gripes that should unite all players are the glitches however. It’s worth mentioning that I was lucky and managed to complete all three games without any major issues but looking around online, many have complained about game-breaking problems that render levels impossible to complete amongst other horror stories. Personally, I encountered some dodgy collision detection and occasional (but dramatic) framerate drops as well as a glitch at Lost Fleet’s skateboard race where crossing the line didn’t trigger the next lap (I had to keep trying and eventually I overcame it).

The blame for all of these technical issues can be levelled squarely at Activision and their insistence that the game be on store shelves in time for Christmas, pushing Toys For Bob hard in the process. They had already intended for Reignited to be released in September 2018 before pushing the date back, don’t forget. It’s the same reason that Spyro 2 and 3 don’t even ship on the physical disc and have to be downloaded as a 20GB+ “update”. My internet is perfectly fine for regular web browsing but too slow for fat-ass downloads like this and so I had almost completed the first Spyro before the rest of it had finished downloading in the background (it took FOUR DAYS). Worse still, there are (at the time of writing) no patches or word on forthcoming fixes for the bugs in this game.

All of which is a massive shame because Spyro Reignited Trilogy did pretty much everything right for me and was the first game in a long time that I couldn’t pull myself away from. To have such a good thing slightly spoilt by bugs and a game disc that may as well be a download code on a piece of paper is like enjoying a particularly tasty sandwich only for a seagull to swoop down and snatch the last mouthful. Shame on Activision and their pushy policy but much kudos to Toys For Bob for reviving a much-loved series in such an accomplished manner.

Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t going to live up to expectations

When Square-Enix revealed the long anticipated and much demanded Final Fantasy VII remake in 2015, they finally put their fanbase out of their misery and sent the community into meltdown mode, especially as the same expo saw the announcement of Sega’s Shenmue III. Things have gone decidedly quiet since then however with only the occasional reassuring statement to let fans know that development is still on-track.

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[Image: wccftech.com]
This isn’t a post about how I have concerns for the project’s progress though. This is going to be me exploring why I believe that the FFVII remake – no matter the eventual quality of the finished product – will fail to satisfy expectations. This isn’t just baseless doom-mongering and negativity on my part but a stance inspired by videogame history itself which has shown that remakes and sequels to beloved games/franchises have such a microscopic sweet spot to hit if they want to please everybody.

Change too little and the new game can seem unnecessary and can even come off as a quick, lazy money-spinner for a publisher. Alter too much and the developer risks alienating fans of the original products. With the FFVII remake, it is my belief that Square could run the risk of the latter. I have no doubt whatsoever that the finished product will be a fantastic, polished game of high production value in its own right but in the process of thoroughly modernising everything and going down the episodic route it could lose too much of the original’s charm and ‘feel’. To look at one example, the FFVII community has been slightly split in the years following the original game with many not entirely happy with the realistic, sometimes ’emo’ mood that the spin-offs and – in particular – the Advent Children CG movie adopted. FFVII Remake is certainly going to look a truckload more realistic than the world inhabited by Popeye characters in the Playstation original but it’s important that Square don’t try and get all serious and gritty as with more recent Final Fantasy installments.

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The game is going for a more action-based, realistic look this time around but will it put off stalwarts? [image: polygon.com]
Speaking personally, I can’t criticise the newer games because I haven’t played them but the battle systems and general gameplay have left me doubtful purely based on the footage I have watched over the years. Obviously, this could simply be me refusing to let go of the Active Time Battle system but on the flipside, I am one of millions of gamers who enjoyed the original on the PS1 and so a remake that behaves like many other action games will be off-putting. It looks a bit Kingdom Hearts-like thus far and while I had no issues with the battle system in those games, I also don’t have any overly fond or nostalgic memories of it either. Like it or not, people like me have to be catered for if you choose to remake a game that is as special as FFVII. Newer FF sequels…not really; they can do as they like and lean more towards the younger gaming generation. It’s called progress.

If you want to see some examples of remakes that succeeded in the black art of remaining true to the structure(s) and feel of the originals while also looking like fresh, modern experiences for newcomers then you need to check out the likes of Yakuza Kiwami, Pokemon FireRed & LeafGreen and last year’s Spyro Reignited Trilogy. All of these were brought right up to (the then) modern standards with minimal meddling with the original game design and mechanics.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is going to be an entirely different beast that will not resemble the original game that much at all and while I reiterate that it will be a great product, I also think it will simply be too different for those that adore the Playstation classic and still regularly embark on play-throughs of the game all these years later. This reasoning aside, it has also been too long, With all of the hype and anticipation that has built up over the past fifteen years or so (remakes were first talked about by Square in the PS2 era!), there’s very little chance for the remake to actually meet these sky-high expectations. This isn’t a damning prediction that I am levelling exclusively at the FFVII remake but at any long-awaited remake or sequel such as Shenmue III, Half Life 3 or Streets of Rage 4.

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It doesn’t look like this segment will appear in the remake which is a shame. Direct your thanks to those who would find some way to twist it into an “offense” or social injustice…

You could say then that Square were foolish to even consider greenlighting such an ambitious project that has to be realised in a very precise and specific manner. On the other hand, a lot of the old guard amongst their fanbase have drifted away over the years anyway with hardcore fans who have been there since the early days of FF not gelling with the likes of FFXIII and the the recent MMO style sequels. In this sense, perhaps they don’t fear pissing off the loyalists as much as they might have done ten or fifteen years back. At the end of the day, it will be a great end product and it’s good to see a publisher committing money and manpower to a bring into being something that their fans have pleaded for.

Me personally, I would have opted for a much more mild remake that would have risked less consumer division and taken less time to produce. I would have kept the third-person perspective that they are going with for the town/overworld exploration but ensured that things don’t get too dark by careful use of colours and music. I would have retained the Active Time Battle system (regardless of how outdated it may seem) and given the music a sympathetic mix (i.e. not transforming the OST into the “badass”, techno and rock update that I fear will actually happen) with the option to use the original composition. I would have let the visuals, CG scenes, updated script and a few extra expanded areas here and there do the talking when it comes to the actual updates and new content.

But that’s just my view as a gamer who has a special place in his heart for the original and doesn’t wish to see radical changes that will alter the atmosphere I recall. The remake will be a big event, will be a good game and will likely sell by the bucketload so the opinion of a dusty oldtimer like me doesn’t necessarily mean all that much but there are a lot of us out there and I – sadly – don’t see us all being satisfied come release day. Pleasing everybody is impossible and that’s just a fact.

“It has risen again!” (Medievil remake coming for PS4)

There have been some very interesting announcments in the world of videogames over the past few days but there was one in particular that got me feeling all excited as well as depressingly sceptical. That announcement? A remake of Medievil is heading for the PS4 next year (source here).

First of all, let’s begin with some positivity and explain why I’m excited about this. Medievil is one of my all-time favourite games and along with such other Playstation classics as Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, Driver and Tekken, it is one of the reasons why I fell in love with gaming in the first place and am still here today (for better or for worse). Thanks to my Dad, we got the original grey Sony slab beneath the TV in our house in 1998/1999 and one of the best things that came in the box was the most recent version of the famous “Demo 1” disc. This disc contained demo versions of all the big releases that had just hit the shelves as well as some previews of upcoming titles. Medievil was one such game on the disc and my Dad and I must have played that demo a thousand times before he bought the full game.

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The dreaded boulder section of Mausoleum Hill. Not so difficult as an adult but slightly more fiendish as a wee nipper still new to games!

I can only decribe the game as having a “magical” atmosphere. The design is a clever mix of horror and comedy with a perfect balance between the two being struck. Aesthethically, it reminds me of a Tim Burton movie with all the darkness and evil elements being kept in check by funny bits and the almost cartoon-like character/scenery design. The twisted shape of the gravestones has always stuck in my mind for example as have the sinister airborne demons from later in the game. Don’t forget the imps or killer pumpkins either. In short, the game has a lot of memorable visuals and made the sort of impact on me that other games (despite their quality) have failed to do in the 19 years or so since I first experienced Medievil.

The music too was incredible and carried a haunting, gothic tone that thoroughly bewitched my ears and added to the magic. To this day, it is a perfect example of an impressive, fitting videogame soundtrack composition and I often stick some earphones in and revisit my favourite tracks via Youtube.

I re-played both games last year as I so often do and found the original to have lost none of its charm. Yes, the game felt a little bit clunky and unforgiving (especially when it comes to falling from edges) at times but overall it still held its own. That graphical style in particular has really helped Medievil age well and does a super job at compensating for the general ageing that all early 3D videogames have suffered with many being cited as “unplayable” due to how poor they look today or how offensive those once cutting-edge textures are on the eyes.

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If I were a female groupie then this kind of graphical style would have me dropping my undergarments in an instant.

Medievil 2 (to discuss it quickly) was a little different in that I also recalled it fondly but upon re-playing the sequel (I usually just revisit the original) I found it to be a lot more fiddly and frustrating than I remember with numerous irritating elements such as the Dankenstein boxing match, trying to save all of the civilians on the Kew Gardens level and the monstrous difficulty of the final few levels. I’m ashamed to admit that I had to resort to an old-school print-out of cheat codes from back in the day that had been folded up and stuffed inside the game case. As far as personal gripes went, I missed some of the classic weapons such as the magic bow and dragon armour. Obviously with the game being set in more modern time, these fantasy items made no sense but even so, I still mourned their absence. The game is still decent and worth playing but I much prefer the fantasy setting of the original which didn’t come with so many annoying, gimmicky additions to the core gameplay. At the time of writing this reaction to the remake announcement, it isn’t clear whether Medievil 2 will join the original and mirror the recent Crash Bandicoot remasters (which included all three main PS1 games) but I can honestly say that I’m not fussed either way.

Unfortunately I now come to the part of this article where I must do a bit of doom-mongering and air my reservations. First of all, I’m usually extremely sceptical about ANY remake (whether it’s a videogame, movie or music) because more often than not, it isn’t really needed and in the case of older games, developers feel the need to expand on things or add new bits to the original formula in order to give a game the necessary meat that it needs in order to exist as a full-fledged release in the modern age where consumers have come to expect more for their money. In my eyes, Medievil is a perfect game and doesn’t need anything adding to it so there’s that.

Secondly, it is utterly vital that they preserve a) the tone of the original b) that superb soundtrack (whether it gets remastered or not) and c) the balance between gothic horror and comedy. Before anybody accuses me of baseless assumptions, let’s not forget that Medievil was already re-imagined for the PSP as one of the machine’s launch titles and that version changed several things as well as tipping the scales firmly towards comedy. It has not been well-remembered by fans of the original and the comedy look to the ghost at the end of the remake teaser trailer does give me cause for concern.

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The tomes on these stands provided hints and added to the game’s lore/atmosphere.

In general I am trying to remain on the fence until we have some more information or at least some footage to make a judgment on what kind of direction the developers behind this remake are taking. Using the PSP game for a base would be an instant turn-off for me and many others (judging by the comments section on the official Playstation Blog page for this news story) but remaking the game and losing that special balance in general would also leave me no other choice other than to say “no thanks”.

If it does turn out badly then it’s important to remember that we will always have the original to comfort ourselves with whether we dig out that old Playstation copy or fall back on the PSN re-release. When we still have this choice, I try not to moan or rant too much about what I consider to be “botched rehashes” because nobody can take away our memories or ability to play a game as it was originally released and nobody forces us to play a remake. Even rare games are available to play via emulation these days so we will always be pretty much sorted for the OG products when the marketing men take a steaming dump on our memories.

Here’s hoping that I will be looking forward to revisiting Gallowmere in 2018.