Spyro the Dragon

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Spyro the Dragon (1998)

It’s the Halloween period, which can mean one of three things. To little children, it’s an almost too good to be true tale of free sweeties for doing just about nothing at all bar making yourself look silly in a costume for an hour or two. And for older adults, it represents buying two truckloads of sweets from the local wholesalers, only to do your best not to answer the door anyway, or at least frantically try to delegate the grand task to someone else.

But for those who just about get away with calling themselves young adults, like me, it’s alcohol at all hours. Secondary to that, it’s a time to observe people who either put huge effort into their costume but make out like it was nothing, or people who put huge effort into their costume and let everybody else know about it.

It’s the spookiest time of the year, that’s for sure, but what’s really frightful to me these days is the drinking. Simply put, I am not getting any younger. Older peers had assured me that my drinking career, once so promising like that of many others, would come to a shuddering halt at around the 23 years of age mark. They told me that there’d be one night, seemingly out of nowhere, where it’d all come to a head and you suddenly realise that you just cannot do it anymore. You might push your body through it, always regrettably in the end, and feign the soul part. But your spirit just ain’t there, and deep down, you know it.

It’s a really frightening thought, I have to say. I think it must be a little bit similar to how sportspeople feel when they’re getting near ‘The End’. Even if their performance that day was only a little bit below par, the pundits, spectators and tabloids will immediately proclaim them to be ‘finished’. That’s it, their legs have gone, just like that.

And that’s the heartstinging part of this sad melody. I’d like to keep going indefinitely, you know, make a proper career out of drinking. Take it in my stride. I shouldn’t be having to hang up my hip flask at my tender age. If Brendan Behan described himself as a drinker with writing problems, I’d have to dismally contrast myself as a hack with drinking inadequacies.

My word, though, the hangovers. Even if you push yourself right to the limit of your drinking, you will always pay for it. Newton, although he wasn’t much of a drinker, gave us all his spiel about actions and equal and opposite reactions with hangovers in mind. I’m sure of it. Look, I can’t pretend that my previous morning-afters were ever what you’d call a walk among the roses. But when your world comes crashing down at around 9 PM the day after the night before, and that’s even with a whopping 12 hours of sleep (because it’s not as if you were coherent enough to pull), you know you’re just about done. You are now the dreaded F-word.

At times like that, when the hangover has gotten to such a ridiculous state of affairs that you’ve got to lay perfectly still in the recovery position and keep your delicate homeostasis at optimal level or risk boaking all over your cast-aside slacks, ugly distractions and unwelcome annoyances you do not need.

You don’t want anyone in your ear, neither your family nor invariably disgusting members of the general public. You want to stick your headphones on and listen to some bangers, but you’re in such a tense state that even the slightest bit of buffering from YouTube will make you want to scream – it could even coax you into a very public breakdown.

And you’ll need food for this journey of yours through hell, of course, the greasier and more fattening the better. It’s obviously too late by this stage to be figure conscious, since you’ve had a rake of pints. And that applies even to the girls, the ones I see anyway. So although your gut protests with windy noises and a worrying upsurge in stretch marks, you lorry the pizza through your fat face and guzzle on the coldest soft drink you can readily find.

But when all that’s said and done, you’ve still got a number of hours to kill before it’s socially acceptable for you to return to bed and sleep again, before facing whatever hell awaits you on the day after that. Obviously leaving the house isn’t an option, and you’ve run out of junk Internet to read and ridiculous YouTube flame wars to spectate, so you’ve really only got two choices left: a film or a game. That is, assuming you’re not a complete dipso and you don’t decide to just hit the bottle again, in which case you’re clearly a battle-hardened daytime drinker. If so, it’s fair to say the previous paragraphs apply only to wet blouses like me and not worrrrrrr lads like you, but well done on being hard.

You could stick on a film, so long as it’s not too taxing or intense. You don’t want to be left with Schindler’s List playing – you may never again emerge from your pit. A funny film is in order, or one that you’ve seen a thousand times before. Or preferably both with Mrs. Doubtfire, if you’re me. Something like that ought to do the trick.

But even the poignant moments in that film could grab a hold of you while you’re in the midst of an emotional hangover, shake you about and leave you a blubbering mess. And I should know. We might have to strike all films entirely off the record, actually, because you still have to focus just a little bit on them. You really do, because I’ve seen the Scary Movie series and Sharknado go over people’s heads, which says more than I have the strength to mention.

That leaves you with only a video game to pick, but it still must satisfy very specific criteria: it must be very easy, hand-holdingly easy in fact. It must not have shrill music. It must control easily. And you must not be expected to remember stuff for later on.

Step forward Spyro the Dragon, the PS1 3D platformer that planted fond memories in the minds of possibly millions of young PS1 gamers worldwide. Put it this way: the girls, and I mean the right girls, still tend to recognise Spyro on sight. Whereas Sonic might leave them flummoxed, and Mega Man will just have you laughed out of the room completely.

I’ve got to come clean on two counts here: I never really played Spyro back in the days when he wasn’t a vehicle for those dubiously popular Skylanders toys. And secondly, for the longest time I was convinced that the first Spyro the Dragon game in particular would just be average personified. And generic too. You know, cartoony graphics, silly stereotypical characters, go from A to B collecting 100 trinkets for extra lives like a thousand platformers on the SNES except now in 3D.

And Spyro 1 does have elements of all of the above, but that doesn’t mean that it’s dragged right down. With an open-ended approach to gameplay, and several interesting environments to visit, this game has definitely got some ideas. Yes, it may not do an awful lot new, even at the time, and the 3D graphics were premature enough to reasonably be considered ghastly. But the game isn’t trying to put itself across as the next best thing after sliced bread and stone-washed jeans, because it knows it isn’t. It’s a game with enough self-awareness to recognise that those looking for an irreverent yet substantial 3D platforming adventure will get exactly that.

In normal situations, the controls are mostly tight, although we do have to mention that things get pretty hairy when Spyro’s running at speed and both his Titanic-turning circle and the suddenly lackadaisical camera start to conspire against you. You’ll know this when you’re trying to chase after egg snatchers and suddenly Barney the Dinosaur is no longer first on your list of purple dragons you’d love to slaughter.

But with otherwise good controls, a lot of peppy music, gems and other items to collect towards 100%ing the game and many objectives to clear, Spyro’s got the moves to compete. Our main dragon doesn’t beat Mario and he doesn’t beat the two Sonic Adventures (although he obviously has the likes of Sonic and the Secret Rings all ends up). But I’d put him in an echelon above Crash Bandicoot and, though I’m loathe to admit it, the great Croc himself.

How does it do on our hangover test? Well looking at our criteria, the game’s palatable to control for the most part. The music is all nice and easy on the ear as well. The difficulty is fairly easy all throughout, not hand-holding like we’d requested earlier but handy enough not to demand too much of you. One or two rotten bits of course, like those occasional flying bits that demand perfection, but that wonderful phrase ‘non-linear’ comes to rescue us here. And all’s you have to remember is which button is fire and which is jump, which isn’t too unreasonable.

Calling Spyro a perfect hangover game might seem like I’m damning it with the faintest of dubious phrase but I’m really not. If anything it’s an incredible accolade, being a source of entertainment even to an emotionally high-strung mess in the depths of an alcohol-driven crisis of confidence. Some days, even the roughest and toughest of men are stricken by hangovers where they need someone to come and cuddle them, perhaps feed them and wipe after them, and let them know that everything is going to be okay.

Little Spyro proves to be outstanding in that category. He won’t be the greatest of all time, he never has been or anywhere near to that. But he’s a solid and reliable performer, and when you’re in such terrible drink-induced doldrums that even your own immediate future looks uncertain, the reliability and unwavering playability of a game like Spyro the Dragon is always something that can be appreciated.

28 October 2014

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