Retrospective: ‘Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!’

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Insomniac Games scored a big success with their PlayStation platformer Spyro the Dragon during the holiday season of 1998. Naturally, a sequel was immediately put into development, following buddy studio Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot trajectory. Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! (or Spyro: Gateway to Glimmer in the UK) was speedily readied for fall 1999, and ended up being a big improvement on its predecessor in many ways…

Spyro the Dragon was by no means a lacking game. It was, in 1998, a top notch platformer that allowed players to navigate seamlessly through detailed, high fantasy-like realms full of details. Artistically, Spyro the Dragon – with its ace art direction and excellent soundtrack from ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland – was great. Gameplay-wise, there could’ve been a little more meat to the bones. Your objectives, level by level, were basic: Free dragons, collect all the treasure, and retrieve stolen dragon eggs. Nothing beyond that. It got a little monotonous, get each world was well thought-out that it ultimately didn’t matter…

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Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage doubles everything, like a great video game sequel…

This game has an actual story, the first one simply introduced a baddie, what he did, and why you have to clean the mess. The only dialogue came from brief, unremarkable interactions with each dragon you free that has to magically disappear because of the villain. The wafer-then story in that game also made no sense, the villainous Gnasty Gnorc trapped all of the dragons in crystal, but didn’t get Spyro because… He apparently can’t see the little young dragon, yet he could see every dragon in every hub world- you know the more I think about it, the more it falls apart. But that really didn’t matter…

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Here? The story is thought-out and detailed in all kinds of ways. There’s tons of cutscenes, the story is nicely set up, and each level requires you to talk to characters! Already a big addition right there. In Spyro’s world of dragons, it has been raining nonstop, so Spyro opts to take a vacation to the beachy Dragon Shores. Unfortunately, he ends up in a world called Avalar, which has been taken over by a baddie named Ripto. How did Spyro get there? Three inhabitants – a faun named Elora, a cheetah named Hunter, a genius mole who simply goes by “The Professor” – rigged a portal to line up with the dragon world, and the portal to Dragon Shores. Spyro finds himself in a whole other world, for his vacation will have to wait.

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Ripto is a to-the-point bad guy who isn’t fond of dragons, and has been looking for a world to rule over. Since Avalar is dragon-free, he and his two beastly minions take control. Spyro is guided through his adventure by the three who get him there, and a fairy named Zoe. They have personalities, and so does Spyro this time. In the first game he’s kind of an impatient whippersnapper, here he’s – in addition to having a new voice actor, Tom Kenny – a little more mature, and has a lot more to say.

Avalar is divided into three big hub worlds: Summer Forest, Autumn Plains, and Winter Tundra. Not counting the boss battles and Dragon Shores, the game has 22 individual realms. That’s significantly less than the amount in the first game, but considering how much more involved the worlds are and all the things you have to do, the game seems longer than its predecessor.

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Each level isn’t “collect this, get all of that, and leave”… Each level comes with its own little storyline, and you have a mission for each one. For example, in the level Colossus, you have to help the locals defeat a yeti that has been disturbing their peaceful home. In another level, Aquaria Towers, you have to fill the underbelly of an underwater city with the water that was drained by the enemies. When your done with the main objective, one of the given levels’ locals will give you a talisman. You need a talisman from each realm in order to restore order to the first two hub worlds. The talismans become like maguffins by the time you finish the second hub world, then it’s all about the orbs…

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Orbs are obtained early on in the game when you complete level side missions. Each level has about 3-4, and they have varying difficulties. Orbs come into play once you get to the second hub world, so if you’re lacking, you can’t get around! It’s a game that literally has you backtrack when you get to the halfway point. So even if you’re like me and you want to 100% everything as you go along, you can’t. Some levels require you to go back because… You learn new moves at various points in the game, and before you learn them, you can’t access certain areas of these levels.

Spyro’s flame and charge abilities are back, but now he can swim (!), dive (!), headbash, and climb ladders. All of these abilities are given to you by the game when you pay a crafty, scheming fatcat bear named Moneybags…

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A small fee…

Moneybags, with his monocle and tailcoat and stuffy voice, was probably #1 on the most-hated characters list for many players who had this game growing up. You have to pay this guy quite a lot of your gems throughout the game, and he knows he’s siphoning you. You pay him not only for new moves, but also some levels, things within levels like bridges and elevators! So you absolutely need to collect the gems, no ifs, ands, or buts… And quite frankly, I like that! I like that the game gives you more of an incentive to collect. It also inadvertently introduces young players to… Taxes! (Enjoy giving your virtual gems to a greedy bear while you still can, kids!)

So gems and orbs, a must. Talismans, the main point. There are also temporary power-ups, which are activated with these light balls that you get after defeating various enemies. In this game, gems don’t come from defeated guys, so you use the light orbs that come from them to power things like flight, supercharge, ice breathe, and so on. More additions to an already beefed up sequel.

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What works so well about Spyro 2‘s world is that each level has a sense of community to it. The individual levels in Spyro the Dragon, lovely as they were… Were kind of lonely and desolate. Once you toasted all the enemies, there was nothing. Sometimes there would be a fairy or two, but they never spoke. (If they did, it was only via text.) All freed dragons magically disappeared, so you were left in levels that were beautiful, but roomy and not very… Well… Jumpin’.

This game is a complete 180 from that. There’s a few locals, in addition to enemies and recurring faces Elora, Hunter, Professor, and Zoe. Each level also begins and ends with a cutscene! Some of them range from mildly amusing to surprisingly dark… Yeah, like take the level Magma Cone for instance. A volcanic level full of a happy, partying Irish-accented fauns. In the ending cutscene, once you’ve saved the land, they party! They jump, dance, one obnoxious blows one of those horns. So one of the fauns just nonchalantly pushes the one blowing the horn into the lava below… And then quietly kicks his party hat into it. The heck?!

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Some levels… They’re at war with each other! Zephyr is a world of blob creatures, and Breeze Harbor is full of birds. In the former, you help the blobs battle enemy birds with canons and stuff, as if you’re on the front lines! Then in Breeze Harbor, you’re helping the birds beat the guys you just helped! In the Zephyr level, there’s even a little Romeo and Juliet side mission where you free a bird so she can fall in love with one of the blobs!

Spyro also gets to use a ton of things, from rolling trolleys to canons. In the speedways (basically the Flight levels from the first game), you can engage in sports with Hunter or help him shoot targets. It’s little things like that, though, that boost the lived-in feel of each realm.

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The boss battles… Oh, the boss battles. Ten times better than what we got in the first game. In the first game, you went to each boss’ world, did some stuff, then fought the baddie. Even Gnasty Gnorc’s level did this. Each boss was fairly easy to beat, too. Some of them were just nonexistent, unless you weren’t all that good at video games. Here? We get three, first we square off with Ripto’s monsters – Crush and Gulp. Crush – a big biped lizard-like buffoon – runs around with a club, and steps on colored panels to temporarily hurl attack waves at you. They function more like Crash Bandicoot bosses, complete with health bars. Gulp is more like a dinosaur bull, complete with launchers strapped to him. In his boss battle, you have to wait for vultures to drop items that you use to beat him. Just make sure he doesn’t get any of them!

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Then there’s the final battle with Ripto, which is like what I just went over… Times three! Oh, and is set to an operatic tune that really raises the epic factor in the final battle. First it’s like fighting Gulp, get items (three orbs) before Ripto gets them, and then use the temporary power-ups to stop him. Then he brings in robo-Gulp (!) and then things just get wilder from there. Once robo-Gulp dies, then the battleground is submerged in lava, Ripto flies around on a big mechanical bird while you fly after him… What an improvement!

Your ending, Dragon Shores, is not a treasure trove like Gnasty’s Loot. Instead, it’s an amusement park with Coney Island-esque gnorcs (why? Are they reformed or something?), full of minigames. The most fun is obviously the roller coaster where you have to pop balloons and not get hit by obstacles, but there’s also a shooting gallery and a dunking booth. Everything else is pretty much decoration, but it’s a fun ending nonetheless.

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Now, each world is pleasant to look at, they boast strong color schemes, and Stewart Copeland returns to do the music for the game. Here’s where I’ll get a little brutally honest… Aesthetically, I feel the first game is the stronger one. Copeland’s music aims for various genres and styles, and in many levels they are blended quite well. Zephyr in particular ties a jumpy 90s sound with some of the spirit of the first game with a ramblin’ banjo! Various influences from around the world find their way into tracks like Colossus, Cloud Temple, and Scorch. There’s a lot of diversity in both the soundtrack and the level design: High fantasy/castle worlds, Eastern-inspired levels, Arabian Nights, swamps, spacey cities, robot farms, volcanoes, underwater city levels…

However, there are some levels where the atmosphere feels pretty basic. Some music tracks, while pleasing and memorable, also don’t quite leave much. Some I kind of find monotonous too, such as Magma Cone. (Throughout that track, an Earthshaper enemy grumbles – over and over and over. Sorry Copeland, this one didn’t quite do it.) Spyro 2 definitely feels a bit more like a Saturday morning cartoon than it does a mythical fairy tale epic like the first game. It works a lot of the time, and sometimes it can be kind of jarring. Dialogue ranges from enjoyable to cringeworthy (mostly in the early moments of the game, thankfully). What I do ultimately like about this soundtrack is not only the diversity in the better levels, but also its callbacks to the first game’s sound. You particularly get that in the level Breeze Harbor, which sounds like something out of the Beast Makers world from game numero uno.

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In all, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! is a huge leap over its predecessor in terms of the gameplay. It’s a real blast from start to finish, a game that challenges you more and makes you have to revisit worlds you already went, as well as having bigger orders to fill. While I personally prefer most of the aesthetics of its predecessor, Spyro 2 is still a very visually pleasing game with a pretty darn good if inconsistent soundtrack, lots of nice-looking levels, and so much to do. It’s definitely an instance of bigger meaning better.

Would it get even better with part three? Stay tuned!

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