Jenny’s house was the best. In the salad days before YouTube, Facebook, and next-gen consoles, we all had that one friend with the PlayStation whose house became a mecca for technologically-challenged neighborhood kids. Jenny’s house was that house. She was my best friend—and she had a DDR mat. A good portion of my childhood was spent sprawled out on her family’s shag carpet (a bold choice even in the early aughts) playing FINAL FANTASY VIII, MONSTER RANCHER, TEKKEN 2, and SPYRO THE DRAGON.
Fast-forward to today: I’m in my mid-20s, I have a full time job in the entertainment industry at a management company, I’m the TV section editor for a moderately successful website, I’m in a long-term relationship, I have an apartment that needs rent, a car that needs insurance and gas, a cat that needs food, and I’m told I have a couple friends kicking around but I haven’t seen them in ages. I’m not sure when or how it happened, but I think I’m an adult? So one night when I was feeling particularly stressed and sad, I did what adults do and dropped 40 of my hard-earned dollars on SPYRO: REIGNITED, the remastered trilogy of one of my most cherished childhood games. …And it took so long to download that I couldn’t even play it until the following afternoon.
The insufferably long download time coupled with the fact that the game bait-and-switches you with only one playable level after the download is “complete,” at which point it’s barely a third of the way done, was the first in a long string of disappointments. For a game based so heavily on precisely bashing into things at top speed and landing perfectly on ledges, it really controls like shit. Charging feels like running on ice, and I constantly found myself running in wide circles around enemies trying to overcome Spyro’s shoddy turn radius. If you are one goddamn inch short of a ledge, it’s back to the drawing board for you, because dragons can fly and breathe fire but absolutely cannot hang from a ledge. Levels are designed with deliberate dead ends with collectibles dangling just out of reach, requiring the player to backtrack through the entire level to figure out how the hell to get over there. And don’t even get me started on the flying challenges. The result is a game so willfully frustrating that the ticket price should factor in the cost of a new PS4, a new TV, and a divorce.
SPYRO: REIGNITED has been out for over two weeks now, so these aren’t exactly hot takes. Many disappointed millennials have spent hours tearing their hair out and writing screeds (like this one!) about how Activision threw a fresh coat of paint on a roach motel and called it a day without even bothering to get the exterminator on the phone. Yes, the game is very pretty, but it’s literally a PlayStation game thrust into a PS4 world.
It’s exactly how I remember it.
Well… almost exactly
Children’s games in the early console days were predicated on the Jenny’s Houses of the world. They weren’t difficult in the skill-based way that CUPHEAD and DARK SOULS are where it feels like a challenge you can overcome. Since the technology of the time limited just how much game could be in any given game, developers used backtracking and wonky controls to extend play time. In order to balance this out, it’s expected that younger players will have a parent, friend, or sibling to pass the controller to when the going gets tough, resetting the timer on the frustration clock. Watching your friends try to beat an impossible game, laughing at their despair, then celebrating their triumph is such a vital experience in our consciousness that we’ve built an entire genre of entertainment around it.
SPYRO and games like it aren’t meant to be played by disaffected millennials combating seasonal depression and an unsustainable workload. That’s what STARDEW VALLEY is for—a game so wholesome, straightforward, and zen that I’ve only stopped playing because I logged 90 hours and I’ve run out of things to do (until I start my new farm…) I’m frustrated enough every day at my job because I can’t come home and play SPYRO—the last thing I need is to finally get home and play SPYRO, only to not be able to complete the flying challenges because the TOWERS ARE THE SAME COLOR AS THE SKY AND I CAN’T SEE WHERE I’M SUPPOSED TO GO.
The perfect solution – directional arrows that are also the same color as the sky!
These are games for children of a very specific time: pre-internet kids on Saturdays and summer vacations, who don’t know a damn thing about game theory, with literally nothing to do but spend five hours with their buddies trying to beat a single level of SPYRO. Activision gave us the game we remember. The problem is that we’ve aged out of it. I’ve aged out of it. In a big way, confronting the fact that those lazy summer Saturdays are gone and aren’t coming back is a source of my frustration with SPYRO. I only have an hour or so on any given day to unwind with some media, and if I choose to play a game where I spend the entire hour slogging through one level and getting mad, it feels like a waste of time to my adult brain. Even if I wanted to invite a bunch of friends over to play SPYRO for a day, chances are it would wind up rescheduling in three-week cycles until we all eventually forgot about it. I can’t just show up at Jenny’s house. She doesn’t even live there anymore.
Growing up is about nuance. Sure, it sucks being tired and busy all the time to the point that scheduling social interactions feels like the work you’re trying to avoid. But if I wanted to, I could stop writing this article right now, go to Ralph’s, and buy an entire birthday cake just for fun. Hanging out at Jenny’s house as a kid was awesome, but going back and forth between my mom’s house and dad’s house every week was exhausting and sad. So too goes SPYRO. It’s a product of a very particular time, a time I bet we all remember differently than it actually was. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but it ultimately makes us stronger, better grown-ups.
But for real – fuck Night Flight.