SPYRO 2: GATEWAY TO GLIMMER (1999) – INSOMNIAC GAMES
The original Spyro The Dragon was relatively well received when it was released in 1998. What you got for your money was a new protagonist in a much more open 3D world than other titles on the Playstation (especially Crash Bandicoot), crammed full of collectibles and all wrapped up in an enjoyable narrative. There were a few things that brought it down however; a poor camera, laughable bosses and an awkward difficulty curve for younger gamers to name a few. Insomniac Games soon learnt from their mistakes however, and within a year had produced a sequel. With no rivals nearby (Crash was trying his hand at kart racing at the same time), Spyro 2 (called Ripto’s Rage outside of Europe) had the perfect chance to claim the title as the best platformer on the system.
Let’s start by looking at the plot. Whereas the first game was set in Dragon Worlds, Spyro 2 is set in the distant world of Avalar. At the start of the game, three residents of Avalar, Elora (a female faun), Hunter (the best cheetah in gaming EVER) and the Professor have finished creating a portal. During a test, Hunter inadvertently allows a wizard named Ripto, along with his grunts Crush and Gulp to come through, and noticing that the world has no dragons, decide to ‘move in’. Elora manages to deactivate the portal, and the trio work on building a new portal to ‘catch a dragon’. Spyro, looking to travel to Dragon Shores for a vacation, is the unlucky capture and is transported to Avalar, where he agrees to help remove Ripto from the realm. Upon proceeding through the world of Glimmer, Spyro then has to travel through several varied locations, collecting gems and talismans from each one, before he can challenge Ripto.
The plot is helped along by what has become traditional Insomniac wit, and some terrific characters; the main cast is excellent with Ripto displaying an obvious Napoleon complex, Moneybags the bear displaying levels of greed that would make Rupert Murdoch blush, and Hunter displaying levels of incredulity and idiocy that make him highly likeable. Even the level specific characters have a personality; the miners of Glimmer are little dogs with Scottish accents, the monks of Colossus engage in ice hockey, the inhabitants of Zephyr are war-waging pigeons etc. If nothing else, Insomniac know how to put charm and character into their games.
Given the solid base of the original, Insomniac decided to tweak the game for the sequel, and in doing so produced a game that up until that time was one of the most immersive titles around. The core elements from the first game are still present; you control Spyro as you transverse open 3D worlds with a certain theme all of which are filled with gems, lying around and kept in boxes. Spyro can still perform all the moves from the original game; running, gliding with his wings, spitting flame at enemies and charging around the places using his horns as weapons. Mercifully, the camera is much improved, and is now much more responsive when following the dragon’s movement. Spyro also has some new moves that he can use for the sequel; after learning the skills from Moneybags he can swim, climb ladders, and perform a headbash to open rocks. He also has the ability to hover in the air for a split second during a glide, allowing extra extension on jumps. You still face a variety of enemies that will force you to use all sorts of moves to outwit them, for example, some will be resistant to flame and can only be defeated by charging into them. Spyro also brings his trusty friend Sparx The Dragonfly along again, who acts as a health meter: Spyro can take up to four hits before losing a life, and can keep Sparx’s health finding butterflies around the levels, released from boxes and enemies.
The big change came in the form of level structure; whereas in the first game you had to free elder dragons from their petrified state, in this game you have to help the denizens of Avalar out. This comes in many forms; at various points you will be clearing out yeti’s, re-activating volcanoes, racing through a track and liberating a sieged ship just to name a few examples. The end result however is that for helping out the inhabitants of the worlds, you will be given a talisman. Collecting the talisman from each world is like the crystals in Crash 2 and 3: get each one and you can open up the dungeon to the world boss, before proceeding to the next world. It’s a simple system, and does nothing to divert attention. What does divert attention however, are the orbs. Scattered throughout each level are various challenges and minigames for Spyro to participate in, the reward for completion being the orbs required to go to Dragon Shores. These minigames are very good fun and help to break up the linearity of platforming, and like the worlds you play in they are highly varied, you can play one-on-one ice hockey, round up sheep, protect eggs from raptors and fight off a UFO sheep invasion, amongst many other things. These challenges can be redone at any time, so it gives the game great replay value. If you do get all the orbs (which have different difficulties attached to them), then you can finally get to Dragon Shores, which holds yet more surprises. Basically, you are getting a lot of game for your money.
Gateway To Glimmer also managed to pick up on more successes of its predecessor, in the art and sound departments. The first Spyro game was full of colour and barely slowed down at any point during the time you were playing it. The sequel is similarly full of colour and detail, and the environments being as varied as they are help to give you the feeling that you are travelling over a massive world. The character design is inspired at most times, and handily they decided to include a map this time round to help you see where you need to be going. The models look a bit jagged in the cinematics, but it’s a small complaint to make considering we get more of them now than last time out.
Sound quality in this sequel, particularly in the voice acting department, is also much improved; Spyro himself no longer sounds as whiny, Hunter (voiced by Gregg Berger, who also voiced Jecht in Final Fantasy 10) is hilarious, and the denizens of Avalar all have a voice that suits the design that they were given (my one complaint lies with that bastard buzzard who has planted the phrase ‘Trouble with the trolley, eh?’ in my head for over 11 years). The music and effects also retains the high standards employed in the first game. Its very difficult to explain why Spyro’s soundtrack works because there is no particular theme that they were going for (in this respect its more like Mario than Crash where everything has the twinge of…Australian in it): it just…works, and we have Stewart Copeland (the drummer in The Police) to thank for that. Standout tracks include Shady Oasis, Summer Forest and Glimmer.
So where does these leave us all then? Spyro 2 is undoubtedly a marked improvement over its predecessor; there’s more to do and more to see, which is what you want from a platformer. Did it take the crown of best platformer on the system? In my opinion, yes it did: eclipsing Crash Bandicoot 3 and narrowly outing Ape Escape for the honour. The one great shame is that its reign in this position lasted less than a year, before it was supplanted by its sequel Spyro 3 (which is my favourite platformer of all time and will get its own review soon), but it had enough of an impact in that year to put Spyro amongst the greats of the platforming genre. Well worth digging the old Playstation out for.