Spyro: Year Of The Dragon

Very quickly, I’ll throw this in- Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rampage was a Fin.

I played Spyro 2 immediately after finishing the first game, and it didn’t seem worth making another post for it; It’s part of the same collection, and technically I have already played it, in its original form. After finishing Spyro 2 however, I decided I wanted to take a break from the genre for a while before jumping into Spyro 3, a game which I haven’t played previously.

Well, I’d been hoping for a little bit longer of a break, but the dice have decided as they will. So here’s Spyro 3, hot on the tail (heh heh) of my previous post.

There’s… not a whole lot to say that wasn’t said before. It’s Spyro 3, which is a great deal like Spyro 2, which was quite a lot like Spyro 1. Ripto’s Rampage added a lot of complexity to the first game’s barebones affair, but the meat of the meal was mostly identical- collect gems and thingamabobs to progress through aggressively-colourful worlds, using jumping, gliding, and fire breath to solve mostly-harmless platforming challenges (and, in the case of the infamous Treetops level, a couple of infuriatingly difficult ones).

It’s a safe bet that if you like any one of these games, you’ll probably like the others, but that’s a double-edged sword; irritations you have with one game almost certainly weren’t resolved in the others, either, and 3 games in those irritations start to chafe.

It’s my blog, so here’s mine- the games all require you to fail. It was the dawn of a new era- video games were taking those first bleary steps into 3d worlds to explore, and developers wanted to encourage you to dive into every nook and cranny. Spyro did it by hiding gemstones in every crevice imaginable. But when collecting those gemstones is literally the aim of the game, that kind of exploration becomes a chore, instead.

Lets take the most basic standard platforming challenge- a pit you must jump across. If you fall in, you have to climb back up, and try again. Most games will put a small collectible down there as a sort of consolation prize, but where Mario might give you a handful of coins, Spyro hides its game-centric gems instead- meaning one way or another, you have to fail the challenge. Either you deliberately jump down into the pit to get the gems, and then try (and potentially fail!) the challenge for real, or you attempt to pass the challenge, and upon your success you have to go back into the pit anyway. That’s tremendously unrewarding game design by modern standards, and all 3 titles are absolutely rife with examples of it.

Fin or Bin:

I do enjoy these old platformers. Warts and all, it’s fun to bounce around these open areas and find hidden little secrets to investigate. With a few noteworthy exceptions the Spyro games tend towards the easier side of platformers, and Spyro 3 appears to be no different. It’s a Fin, then, as I’m not having a bad time- but it’s not the strongest recommendation, either.

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Game jams- the events where dev teams get a very short amount of time to produce a game from scratch- are an absolute gold mine of creative ideas. The compuslory lack of time investment is the perfect excuse for developers to explore whatever “wouldn’t it be cool if…” ideas they’ve had, without having to worry about ending up with a marketable product or fully realised game. The end result, then, is often more of a toy than a game; a single gameplay idea in a sandbox that doesn’t really have any aspirations beyond ‘look at this cool thing!’.

Receiver is a product of the 7-day FPS challenge, whose ‘wouldn’t it be cool’ seed was the concept of realistic gun management. Each part of the gun must be handled manually, from switching the safety off to pulling out the magazine and replenishing the bullets within. It’s incredibly clunky at first, as you uselessly mash keys in the wrong order trying to fumble another shot out of the gun only to realise you left the safety on, but as muscle memory kicks in the process gets more fluid and you start to feel- dare I say it- pretty cool.

Beyond that, however, there’s really nothing going on. You start in a random location with a random gun and a random number of bullets (sometimes as few as one) and are tasked with evading the randomly-placed enemy sentry guns and drones, while locating the randomly placed tapes containing the games story. There’s 11 of these tapes, and you have to get all of them in a single life- which, considering you die from a single hit, is an arduous task.

Fin or Bin:

The concept is one that was worth exploring, and would fit really well in a more fleshed out game- the horror genre would especially benefit from the sudden tension of realising you forgot to chamber a bullet, and the frantic scrabble to reload before you get nobbled by a zombie. Taken by itself though, Receiver doesn’t have much to offer beyond a genuine “you’re right, that was cool”; I don’t feel any need to play it again. It’s a Bin, but a good-natured Bin.


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Two in a row for “there are no more humans” games, but Primordia takes a more traditional approach to the subject than Subserial did. A vast and incredibly brown wasteland is home to Horatio, a scrap-collector, and his wisecracking floating ball friend Crispin. Life sure is sweet as a desert robot, until one day a giant talking PS2 comes and nobbles Horatio before running off with his little power crystal majigger.

What follows is your fairly standard “interact X object with Y environmental feature” style puzzle adventure game. If you’ve played any of Wadjet Eye’s other titles you know what you’re getting into here (go play the Blackwell series if you haven’t!). Wadjet Eye usually manage to avoid the genre-typical problem of completely inscrtutable solutions that require multiple huge lateral leaps in logic to arrive at which I’m thankful for. Despite that, I still struggle with such things, but that’s not Primordia’s fault.

Wadjet Eye’s real strength comes from the storytelling and the characters, with the Blackwell series again being a personal fave. Adventure games never really get beyond “pretty ok” in terms of gameplay for me, but I’ll stick around for a ripper of a yarn.

Fin or Bin:

To that end- Primorda has a pretty slow start, but the stakes are already high as without their power crystal thingy, Horatio and Crispin only have a few days to live. The desert wasteland isn’t a particularly cheerful setting for the world, either. If I hadn’t played a WadjetEye game before, I might be on the fence here, but I trust Dave Gilbert to pull some real shenanigans with his stories as they develop, so on the power of back catalogue Primordia is going to be a Fin.


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Subserial Network

Changing up the format for this one- Subserial Network is a game that is 99% reading web pages, and no one wants to watch me do that for an hour. I’ll probably do a video like this for each game I play going forward- the contents will mainly be the same as the write-up, with the hour of gameplay uploaded as a separate supplemental piece.

From that one-line description, you probably already know if Subserial Network is the kind of game you’d want to play. The core ‘gameplay’ comes from figuring out based on context clues what keywords within a body of text will give you more information, and as such it’s almost entirely reading comprehension.

In a post-human world, society is now comprised entirely of Synthetics- machines and AIs designed to be as ‘human’ as possible. But, part of being human is being curious- and many Synthetics are breaking the law by modifying their bodies in ways The Machine didn’t intend. By attaching networking components, they are able to upload their selves into the MeshNet and become ‘serial’, leaving behind their perfectly imperfect bodies and becoming something more, or perhaps just something different, from ‘human’.

It’s a pretty hefty concept and one that I think will resonate very strongly with a very specific kind of person- someone who has ever felt that something wasn’t quite right, either in body or mind; some intangible incorrectness with who they are versus who they feel they should be.

The presentation, too, is something that will appeal to a very specific demographic. If you’ve ever stumbled upon an old forum, long abandoned by its regulars, and just spent a few hours reading through it- all the silly arguments, the dramatic “I’m leaving!” announcements, the many hirings and firings of moderators- you’ve experienced something like Subserial Network. Ancient blog posts, deadlinks, animated GIFs with corrupted transparency- the Old Net is alive and well, here, and it feels like coming home.

Fin or Bin:

It’s me. I’m that person. The target demographic for this game was ‘Beebs’ and they were spot-on with their execution. Subserial Network is one of those games that is over reasonably quickly (most estimates are 3-4 hours) but will sit with you for days afterwards. I’ll still be thinking about the MeshNet long after I Finish exploring it.


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