There are few members of our generation that would not remember playing at least one of the Insomniac-produced Spyro games at some point or another. These games were a perfect family adventure, spotlessly clean humour merged with straighforward gameplay and crucially, tight controls – something that even modern AAA titles often fail to get right.
So what makes this particular entry to the series so special? Well, think of Year Of The Dragon as the refined product of the series, the cream of the crop, if you will. All the qualities that made the previous two games so popular have reached their peak. Graphically, it is as vibrant and youthful as ever – character models are razor-sharp and the textures look fantastic, even spread across the massive level environments. As ever with older consoles, developers have had to find ways to deal with the limited onboard memory offered by the system (2MB, in this case), and here have opted for a technique known as Gouraud shading on the 3D models, which allows for butter-smooth lighting effects and very convincing shadows, even with the limited hardware.
But sexy pixels would be useless without solid gameplay (Looking at you, Sonic 2006!)
Thankfully, Year Of The Dragon stays entirely true to its prequel, providing perfectly responsive movement and a camera that doesn’t try to give the player a prostate exam every twelve seconds, a problem which plagued so many early PS1 titles. Massive levels are accessed from smaller hubworlds, with 37 areas accessible in total, giving a solid 20-25 hours of gameplay, certainly commendable for a game classed as a ‘kid’s title’. A fantastic addition to the series comes in the form of four entirely new playable characters, each with their own tailored levels and individual gameplay styles, for example hugely expansive, open levels for the James Bond-alike air shooter Sgt. James Byrd.
A special mention is deserved by the game’s sound team, as I feel that this game’s soundtrack could sell the game alone. Stewart Copeland, of The Police fame, returns to produce his most polished effort yet, tracks sound rich and highly textured, always present but never intrusive. Notable examples include Sunrise Spring Homeworld and Fireworks Factory – well worth a listen!
The voice acting in the game is hilariously goofy, but crucially never irksome. Incredibly exaggerated accents and inflections merely add personality to the surprisingly well fleshed-out NPCs present, which gives the residents of each world a lovable charm of their own.
My personal thoughts on the game must be rather obvious at this point. In every respect, I believe this title to be up there with the very best the Sony Playstation had to offer. An original copy in good shape will run you around £40, but trust me, it’s worth every penny.
Author: Ollie Burton
Ollie is a student at Newcastle University in the UK studying Cellular & Molecular Biology. In his spare time he operates this website, is an avid gaming & film fan and plays in a blues-rock band, as well as editing for the University's student newspaper, The Courier.