Nightwatcher's Spyro 20th Anniversary Special
Now this is what I call the year of the dragon!
The year was 1998, television shows were still pretty decent but the feel of the 1990's was beginning to fade. Business at the movies was mediocre at best with a hit every so often, two that come to mind for me being Godzilla and Small Soldiers, the latter being one of my favorite 90's flicks, in fact I'm still waiting for a release of Small soldiers on Blu-ray and digital *crosses fingers*.
On the video game front however, a little purple dragon with attitude was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public and he took the world by fire storm (if you pardon the expression). This of course was Spyro, who became madly popular, and is still so today, and now that we are in 2018 he is celebrating one heck of a twentieth anniversary. On a side note I would like to offer some comfort, don't worry, this will not be just a boring romp through Spyro's history, I will also talk about my fond memories with our favorite little Gnorc slayer.
So, you want twenty years worth of Spyro?
Well, here you go
Well, here you go
Note: This video includes the trailer for the Reignited Trilogy at the end. Sweet!
Remember this little beauty?
Ah, good times, good times
Ah, good times, good times
Spyro, the classics era
I got my first hands on with Spyro on Christmas of 1998 (if memory serves correctly) along with Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back when Santa left them for me under the tree with my PS1 console. This was also when I found out I have a half sister which made it one of my best Christmases ever so far. I had tried out the PS1 along with other systems at the kiosks at our local Blockbuster Video (how do I miss thee, let me count the ways...) and Walmart, but being able to play in my own living room made it seem even more amazing. Of course this new way of playing a video game, in 3D polygons, took some getting used to, especially in Spyro with it's open world layout, (I lost count of how many times I mistakenly head butted walls while simply trying to run. I could imagine poor Spyro getting a splitting headache because of me. Lol!) but I got the hang of it pretty quickly and really came to love the series (well, the first three games anyway).
In their first adventure Spyro and his best buddy Sparx the dragonfly must restore the Dragon Worlds after their sworn nemesis Gnasty Gnorc uses his dark magic to encase the adult dragons in crystal and turn all of the dragon treasure (pretty, colored gems) into lackeys for his evil cause, none of which would have happened if the dragons hadn't insulted him in the first place by calling him simple, non-threatening and, worst of all, ugly. The worlds are bright and colorful, the characters are charming and there is even some humor mixed in to keep you entertained. It should also be noted that Stewart Copeland, originally from the legendary pop band The Police, wrote and conducted the score music for the first four games in the series which also did them a huge solid. The first game was well made and well received but it was only the beginning, Spyro mania would reach it's peak the following year...
Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage/Gateway To Glimmer (depending on where you live) was released in 1999, only one year after the original set our PlayStations ablaze and quickly became the fan favorite of the series, even before the third installment was announced. Shortly after defeating Gnasty Gnorc, Spyro decides that he and Sparx could use a vacation at Dragon Shores. A vacation at the sea shore? Sounds good to me. However, just as the duo enter the portal it gets commandeered and they instead find themselves ejected into the world of Avalar which has been thrust into war by a pint sized jerk named Ripto and his two hench-monsters Crush and Gulp. Fortunately for Spyro and Sparx they also make some new friends to help them out: the Professor (the one who commandeered their portal), Hunter the Cheetah, Elora the Faun and Zoe the Fairy. And we can't forget about Money Bags, a greedy bear who charges questionable fees (in gems) to proceed through parts of certain levels (and who we can't wait to get even with later). Between the new characters and worlds it's no wonder that Spyro 2 took off so well, in fact Ripto may have been one of the biggest draws for this because he was a cool new villain who was both likable and hate-able at the same time. I remember my excitment for it when I saw it on the rack at Blockbuster, "they made a sequel?! Holy crap lemme at it!!!" Needless to say, I was not disappointed. The second game had twice as many levels and characters as the first, a lot more missions in each level to keep us occupied and Ripto was fun to beat up at the end. Some fans say that this was what the first game should have been, but I have excepted it as a great follow up and expansion to the first one.
For the third installment, and incidently the last really good one for some time, Spyro, Sparx, Hunter and Zoe must journey to the the Forgotten Worlds, an area that is located on the other side of the Dragon World but hadn't been populated by the dragons in some time, following an egg theft headed up by a new villainess known only as the Sorceress who plans on getting more power by waiting until the baby dragons hatch and soaking up the magic of their wings, which apparently come pre-packaged with them but not pre-attached. Maybe baby dragons should come with a 'some assembly required' notice. In any case, Spyro must now collect the dragon eggs and send the babies home before the Sorceress gets her disgusting, greedy claws on them. This entry is most notable for the frustrating "popcorn crystals" mini games and the totally sweet skateboard levels. The biggest draw for this one though was that you got four new playable characters to try out: Sheila the Kangaroo, Bently Yeti, Sgt. Byrd the Penguin and Agent 9 the Monkey. Fans didn't like all of them, mostly the love went to Sheila and Sgt Byrd with some complaining about Bently's lack of speed and his boxing mini game needing some work, and Agent 9's shooting mini games being lackluster at best. I admittedly found some faults with them myself, but not enough to ruin the game for me.
The Handheld Phase
I will try to make this part brief since there are a lot of titles in this area. Following the release of Year of the Dragon Insomniac gave up the rights to Spyro and it wasn't long before they were picked up by other companies in an attempt to continue the main series. The first attempt was on Game boy Advance with Season of Ice and it's direct sequel Season of Flame.
These games were not very good by any stretch of the imagination. They were played in the same locations as the previous major console series games but at an isometric angle and I found them to be cute but not very enjoyable. Still, the attempts continued...
Next up was a very potential but sadly failed attempt at a cross over with Crash Bandicoot which also marked his first appearance on a Nintendo system, GBA or otherwise.
Naturally, I was quite excited to see a cross over between Crash and Spyro and the story line was pretty good. It seemed that Spyro's old enemy Ripto was back, somehow, and had crossed the dimensional line over to Crash's side which allowed him to join forces with Dr. Neo Cortex as they attempted to get rid of their respective heroic nemeses for good. This one brought both series into the side scrolling area for the first time and the game play was pretty simple. Unfortunately it still wasn't enough, I, like many others, found the end result to be very disappointing.
This was the final installment on GBA (thank God!) and followed Spyro and the Professor as they tried to recapture Ripto and imprison him once and for all (obviously it didn't happen that way as we found out later). It returned to the isometric angle and made one last try to rekindle the series overall charm but sadly it fell flat in that area. It seemed that the GBA was just not the right system for Spyro and so an attempt was made to bring him back to PlayStation. This would also also prove futile in the long run though.
The PS2 and DS Phase
Note: These titles were also released on Game Cube and XBox making this Spyro's first foray into the multi platform realm. Spyro: Enter The Dragonfly has become the most notorious entry in the series thus far due to it's short length and numerous glitches. This was because Sierra, the company that had the rights to Spyro at the time, was forced to rush production on the game which resulted in it being cut short and lacking proper testing. The end result was a brainless, bug filled nightmare. They also never explained how Ripto came back from being roasted alive in lava at the end of Ripto's Rage and also, Enter the Dragonfly was supposed to feature the return of Gnasty Gnorc as the second villain but thanks to the rushed production he was left out. I clearly remember the frustration of playing through the game, and doing pretty well too, until it would suddenly freeze up on me. At those moments I was ready to chuck my controller at the TV screen.
As for A Hero's Tale, it was definately better that time (a little bit). It seemed that Sierra was trying to apologize for the travesty that was Enter The Dragonfly and they (sort of) succeeded. A Hero's Tale was produced by a company in England (who better to make a game about dragons, right?) and thankfully, it was bug free again and brought back some of the old school charm, but it still didn't really hit the right note. This was also the biggest spyro game so far and I remember it taking me forever just to finish a single level. I would eventually get bored with this and move on, but Spyro would have one more adventure in the classic series continuity.
This was the final entry in the classic series and this time they decided to try unleashing Spyro on two screens at once. Shadow Legacy was actually kind of fun and a step back into the right direction. The charm was slowly returning at this point but was still not quite back in full yet, however, the addition of a dual screen mechanic made things a little more interesting here. You had your game play screen on top and your inventory, map and other useful features on the bottom which were available with the tap of a finger (touch screens, you've gotta love em'). This was where we would bid classic Spyro farewell (for now...) as his adventures seemed to be coming to a close. Now it was time for a new version of Spyro to rise.
The Legend of Spyro: A Darker Take
I had started playing The Legend of Spyro: A new Beginning and was actually somewhat impressed. The atmosphere was darker this time and the enemies were harder to defeat, so I thought it was pretty cool, (especially considering that I was in my early twenties at this point so I needed something that was more on the mature side) and yet, there also seemed to be something off about it. Looking back on it now I think the problem for me was that I had become sort of heart sick for the three classic games at this point and this just seemed like kind of a stretch for the series. I also wasn't ready for a Sparx who could speak although I did appreciate the voice talent that was brought in for the two main characters: Elijah Wood as Spyro and David Spade as Sparx (with something of an attitude which I didn't really like to much). This version did, however, do something that I had hoped would happen somewhere in the series: Spyro finally got a girlfriend who's name was Cinder. Yeah, that's a cool name, I like it. ;) A New Beginning was where I had decided to bow my controller to him and take my leave (for the time being...) so I never finished the series, although, in retrospect I probably should have because I have heard many good things about it.
Note: The Legend Of series was also relesed on DS but anyone who has played through them will tell you that the major console versions were way better.
Skylanders: One Final Try
Yes, I know, a lot of you are going to hate me for including this here but it is part of the franchise so I don't really have a choice. Incidentally, my apologies. In any case, after ending the Legends Of series Sierra dropped the rights and they are now in the hands of Toys For Bob, the same studio that gave us the Pandemonium games back in the day. To start with TFB decided to make a Spyro game that incorporates the element of collectible figures into the story line. Now you could scan different character figures into the game via a special base and play as them, pretty cool. Skylanders also had many different variations over the course of it's run, including one in which, for the first time in the franchise, players could create their own custom characters, which was actually a nice touch for this. This take is more kid friendly and has it's own brand of charm, but of course it wasn't without it's drawbacks. The problem with Skylanders was that it was aimed entirely at children and most parents, many of whom most likely grew up with classic Spyro, just couldn't get into it. They also complained about Spyro's appearance in this one saying that he looked ugly with some even calling him "pug-like". His appearance here doesn't bother me since I never played it, but to each there own.
For a while it looked like we might never get another chance to head butt and breath fire as our little classic buddy again. But then, this past April, we got a special gift from the Easter Bunny...
Wait, can it be?!
Oh my word, it is!!
I'm crying! I'm actually crying!
Finally, after twenty long years (can you believe it?!) classic Spyro returns with a glorious new face lift. The Spyro Reignited Trilogy will give us the first three games: Spyro The Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage/Gateway to Glimmer and Spyro:Year of the Dragon, completely rebuilt from the ground up. They will have re-imagined versions of Stewart Copeland's classic scores, as well as the originals for those who so desire, Tom Kenny is reprising his role as Spyro (FOR ALL THREE THIS TIME!!!), and they will be playable for the first time in HD and 4K Ultra HD, so now you can relive all of those fond childhood memories like never before. Best of all, it's not a PlayStation exclusive this time, it will be available on both PS4 and XBox One. From what I've heard it will have extended intros and outros for the levels, possibly including Spyro 1 this time. I also understand that the bosses in Spyro 1 will be much better this time which is good because they were pretty lame the first time, probably the only part of the first game that I didn't like (except for Dr. Shemp, he was pretty cool). Also, and I love this idea, each dragon in Spyro 1 will be different in both appearance and personality this time. The release date was originally September 21st but was delayed back in August to November 13th in order to fix some issues with it, first and foremost being the whole download problem for those who had pre-ordered a copy on physical disc. My best guess is that Year of the Dragon wasn't quite finished just yet so Toys For Bob had put in a request with Activision (the publisher) for more time and they got it. Hopefully this is a good thing. ;)
Spyro has endured for twenty years with three good games and most of them bad, after a track record like that I think he deserves a nice comeback like the Reignited Trilogy, and I think we have earned it too for being so patient. I also feel that I should apologize for the delay of the other article I am working on, the one about a "16-bit classic" that I mentioned in my last article, but between a promotion at work that has nearly doubled my hours and trying to hurry and get this article finished in time to post for Spyro's twentieth, and originally the release of Spyro Reignited although we now have two more months to go for that, I haven't had much time to work on the other one. I will try to have the other article finished and posted soon, in the meantime I hope that everyone has enjoyed this one and that we all enjoy the Reignited Trilogy when it finally releases. Until next time retrojunkers, keep that nostalgia flame burning. Nightwatcher out.