Developers: Insomniac Games
Publishers: Sony Computer Entertainment
Plot: Avalon is taken over by an evil tyrant, Ripto, putting them under a world of misery and oppression. Cue one purple dragon and his dragonfly sidekick to save the day.
There is an odd trend recurring between Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot, the two major games of my youth. As I look back, I struggle to entirely embrace the very first game of both series. They have the charm and characters, but the developers hadn’t entirely figured out what their products were yet. Crash’s first game didn’t have the formula that really defined the series yet and Spyro, while still boasting the colour and layout that we associate with the game, was a tad too easy and slightly under-developed. Both of these series seem to really take off when we hit the second game. Spyro 2 isn’t just an amazing sequel; it is one of the pillars of the Playstation One.
Everything is just a little more thought out. I found the first game painfully easy to complete. I am not saying that Gateway to Glimmer boasts any level that will have you pulling your hair out in frustration, but it doesn’t let you walk through the game either. It is the right blend of fun and challenging, so you can find yourself building a relationship with the game and its developers, as you tackle it. We progress through the game, learning all of Spyro’s techniques (his various glides, which attack suits which enemy), and figuring out which move to use at which time becomes a progressively harder talent. Some of the later levels require an intricate knowledge of the Spyro series to truly overcome. The boss fights also demand your attention. Spyro 1’s biggest flaw was a pathetically simple final boss fight, which is the biggest improvement Gateway to Glimmer has in store. Sure, the boss fights are typical platformer style. Crush, Gulp and Ripto all throw a series of attacks at you, which usually requires you dodging and avoiding, until an opportunity to lay a counter-strike opens itself up. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out, but that isn’t necessarily what I wanted. I just craved a slight challenge that the original refused to offer me. As you take on the boss fights, especially the final one with Ripto, you need to be on your toes, making Gateway to Glimmer a fun, immersive game. There are also side-quests, a brand new feature in the series, which make Spyro the Dragon the kind of game that you can return to. Alongside the main quest, the residents of Avalon will ask you to track them down orbs, which often involve a quick mini-game or mission, either during your current level or hidden in the map once the level is done. These are much harder, because the game doesn’t necessarily require you to complete them, therefore they aren’t worried about turning away any younger players. Orb missions also keep your favourite supporting cast members in the loop, so none of the side characters are forgotten, as they were in the first game (all of those dragons you freed rarely equated to anything). And then, for the true Spyro fans, you can return to the game, when everything is completed and try to gather every gem in the game. It is a tough task and asks you to use every corner of the map, as well as unlocking before useless areas. However, it keeps the game alive in its dying days and makes Gateway to Glimmer far more lengthy than the average PS1 game.
To accommodate all of these bonus objectives, Gateway to Glimmer needs to give itself a more intricate map. Therefore most of the levels we complete are far more interesting than the last game’s series of settings and frozen dragons. Each one starts with a community that has a problem. It is hardly anything that requires a degree in writing to achieve. One level sees you team up with a handful of monks, terrorized by a Yeti. Another sees you help out a robotic farming community. It is just enough to give each map its own personality and charm. Your appreciation of a level depends on how much you bond with the characters handing you out the mission, which gives the game another level to develop a relationship with the gamer. One interesting subplot sees you help a bunch of anthropomorphic birds take on an army of Landlubbers (no idea what animal they are meant to be!). A future level sees you switch sides. It is a small touch, but one that offers up an interesting perspective on Avalon. Simply put, there is more life in this game, the corners of the world are better polished and we are given a better final product. When I am asked to think back on Spyro the Dragon, this is the game my mind turns to.
Final Verdict: Platforming at its best. Gateway to Glimmer doesn’t just boast the best Spyro game, but one of the best PS1 games.