GEORGE STURGEON CONTINUES HIS LOOK AT ICONIC LEVELS IN VIDEO GAMES. THIS TIME IT’S THE TURN OF THE ‘DARK PASSAGE’ LEVEL IN SPYRO THE DRAGON
This cosmic floating network of lantern-lit caves offers much more than first appears, strewn with all manner of tricky enemies and surprising secrets. Let us light the way as to why Dark Passage is a shining example of a Super Stage.
Dark Passage debuted on the original PlayStation in 1997 as a level within the original Spyro the Dragon, published by Insomniac Games. Fast forward to 2018, and the level found itself rekindled in the Spyro Reignited Trilogy on the PlayStation 4, with a gorgeous graphical upgrade, courtesy of the Unreal
Engine and the Toys For Bob development team. Since its original appearance on the PS1, this level has garnered a reputation as an apparent fan-favourite.
Spyro must journey through the winding tunnels of Dark Passage, navigating every twist and turn in the landscape to find the exit portal. Along the way, players must seek out five hundred gems of lost treasure and rescue five trapped dragons. The purple dragon will also have to lock horns with some fierce new shapeshifting fiends to achieve this feat!
Suppose the Dream Weavers home's lively antics weren't enough of an indication that Spyro's world and its creatures are inherently bizarre. Setting foot into the Dark Passage will indeed reaffirm this, thanks to its striking colour palette of dark purple tones and vast quantities of temperamental foes.
On the first playthrough, this level can feel large and intricate due to the twisting tunnels, but within a short time of exploring, players will begin to understand that the layout here is relatively simple.
Despite its simplicity, the level is littered with clever design touches. There are meditative moments where players are stopped in their tracks when they are short on gems, just as they reach the exit portal. This realisation brings players a moment of concentration as they quickly scan the surroundings for further clues on where those missing gems could be. At this point, players will see the value in the bright ideas, intelligent level design, and one-of-a-kind enemies that this stage executes so well.
Dark Passage has to be one of the most uniquely presented Spyro levels of the late 90s due to its cavernous purple theme that contrasts nicely against the glow of the Lamp Fools lanterns and from the bright flames launched by the Armoured Turtles. The graphic updates seen in the Reignited version of the stage further enhance the cave walls and elegant marble hallways, set beneath a stunning nebula sky.
This stage also stands out as one of Spyro the Dragon's most extensive levels in terms of collectables. Indeed, it presents players with a more demanding challenge due to its narrow corridors packed with shape-shifting foes. However, negotiating your way forward isn't the only thing to watch out for, as lighting plays a crucial role in conquering this level. When hit, the Lamp Fools will transform into giant lanterns
and illuminate the surroundings. These jester-like pests cannot be defeated, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be attacked, as their purpose here is essential. The lights that they turn on and off will have a surprising effect on certain enemies within the level.
In a nightmare-inspired twist, the Armoured Turtles and Demon Dogs will appear large and ferocious, proving challenging to beat when in the shadows. Still, they will shape-shift into a less fearsome form and are easier to take down once illuminated. Players can look forward to being kept on alert as they're pelted with projectiles and have to avoid being eaten as the shape-shifting enemies attack, all whilst trying to gather collectables with limited space to manoeuvre.
The path through these caverns can initially feel intimidating due to the narrow field of play and darker lighting; however, things always seem worse in the dark. The combination of winding passages and narrow stairways show how intelligent design features can make this nightmarish level feel larger and more complex than it truly is. Throughout, players are often teased with the possibility of exploring new areas, denoted by a few shiny gems or a cave opening in the distance on a seemingly unreachable ledge.
The developers have made great use of this cavernous environment despite the ‘apparent lack of long glides and open spaces that you'd usually associate with Spyro stages. Dark Passage more than makes up for this by hiding an entire second half of the level away from the immediate view of players. Only peering over the edge and into the abyss below will players be able to spy the hidden cave opening – a particularly devious detail!
The Reignited Trilogy versions of the dragons you'll be rescuing all assist in conjuring up the level's distinct dream-like vibe. Kitted out accordingly, Bakari can be seen wearing slippers and a nightcap, with Kasiya possessing a magic golden flask and Apara holding a magic lantern, which he taps before vanishing. As expected, each comes with its own personality and distinct designs, which add that extra bit of charm. Leaning over the edge of the abyss only to spot a cave entrance to an entire second half of the stage was an unexpected curveball. Changing its approach from the usual wide-open spaces, Dark Passage packs a fantastic volume of enemies into this cramped network of caves, helping to make this a memorable experience.
The Soundtrack is one of the most potent elements that help to make this stage so unmistakably ‘Spyro-esque'. The recurring notes of the game's central theme make a return and remain instantly recognisable, further accentuated by the heavy-hitting guitar and drum beats. We guarantee that once you hear that iconic guitar tune and see the characters spring to life, Dark Passage will deliver the 'Spyro' feeling you're looking for.
Overall, the themes and ideas explored throughout Dark Passage add atmosphere aplenty, with each design choice having been weaved to perfection. When considering the level in its entirety, the harmonious combination of every element working well together contributes to a highly re-playable stage laden with atmosphere.
Dark Passage differs due to its darker theme, but it's the bright ideas, shape-shifting foes and candlelit caverns that carve out a unique ambience that is pure ‘Spyro'.