Dragon Years: The History and Evolution of Spyro - Part One

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure  - 870036

The year 1998 gave us some fondly remembered video games. Resident Evil 2, Pokemon Red and Blue, and Ocarina of Time all washed up on American shores, like a mythic sword on a sandy beach. It was also the year that Spyro the dragon was born (see our "Top Ten Dragons in Video Games" feature for the most famous fire-breathers in history) under the roof of Insomniac Games, a developer that's gone on to create Ratchet & Clank and Resistance. With Spyro far from the comfort of popularity nowadays, it's easy to forget where the series began and how far it's come. Hang around while we glide through the years and follow Spyro as he punishes Gnasty Gnorc, flies to distant lands, grows up, and shrinks down to a cutesy, collectible size.

Early Beginnings: The PlayStation Era

1998 - Spyro the Dragon

In Spyro's first adventure, players explore the realms and homeworlds of the five main dragon families—the Artisans, Peace Keepers, Magic Crafters, Beast Makers, and Dream Weavers—who have been imprisoned in crystal by the villain Gnasty Gnorc. With the aid of his dragonfly friend Sparx, who absorbs damage and changes in color from gold to blue to green before leaving his companion vulnerable, Spyro charges and glides through lush pastures and arid deserts, freeing his dragon elders and recovering stolen dragon eggs along the way. The character was originally voiced by Carlos Alazraqui, who's starred on Reno 911! and provided the voices of Rocko from Rocko's Modern Life and even the Taco Bell chihuahua.

1999 - Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage

Also known as Gateway to Glimmer, the second Spyro game transports the rambunctious dragon to the land of Avalar. There Spyro befriends a cheetah named Hunter, a faun named Elora, a fairy named Zoe, and a mole named the Professor, working with the peaceful inhabitants to end Ripto's evil rampage. Spyro learns some new tricks, such as climbing ladders and swimming underwater—all for a generous donation to the bank of Moneybags. From now until the fourth installment, Spyro would be voiced by Tom Kenny—currently the voice of the Ice King on Adventure Time with Finn and Jake.

2000 - Spyro: Year of the Dragon

After Spyro and Sparx beat Ripto and his goons and warped back home to the Dragon Realms, an unwelcome guest cut their vacation short. A cloaked rabbit girl called Bianca has escaped with all 150 dragon eggs delivered on the sacred Year of the Dragon festival, smuggling them to the Forgotten Realms—the dragons' former dwelling place. Pulling Bianca's strings is the Sorceress, the queen of an army of Rhynocs and a malicious, reptilian witch to boot.

The game introduces the characters Sheila the Kangaroo, Sgt. James Byrd the flying penguin, Bentley the Yeti, and a monkey named Agent 9—all playable, a first for the series. Sparx is also playable for the first of many times.

2002 - Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly

By this time, Insomniac's reign on Spyro has ended (see the next section, "Handheld Spin-offs"), and so has the series' glory days with Sony. Enter the Dragonfly's replacement developers turned out to be Equinoxe Digital Entertainment and Check Six Studios.

With young dragons come young dragonflies, and an inexplicably alive Ripto has sabotaged the newest generation, accidentally scattering them across the world. The game adds transportation to the series: a tank, plane, UFO, and manta ray. Even with the achievement of Year of the Dragon still fresh in mind, Equinoxe could not continue Insomniac's success. Rushed into development, Enter the Dragonfly was plagued by glitches, long load times, inconsistent frame rates, and bad reviews.

Handheld Spin-offs: Spyro on the Game Boy Advance and DS

2001 - Spyro: Season of Ice

Season of Ice represented Spyro's big entrance into the small world of handheld gaming. It marked the departure of his days on the PlayStation and the end of his exclusivity with Sony. Insomniac Games said goodbye to their trademark purple dragon and left the series in different hands. In this case, the responsibility fell with Digital Eclipse Software. As for Spyro, he's tasked with releasing the fairies from countless ice prisons and defeating the Rhynoc librarian Grendor.

2002 - Spyro: Season of Flame

Also for the Game Boy Advance, Season of Flame is a companion to Season of Ice, focusing instead on the abduction of the fireflies, a disaster that causes the dragons to lose their fiery breath, which turns freezing cold. The game also complements Enter the Dragonfly, in which baby fireflies are separated from their young dragon counterparts.

2003 - Spyro: Attack of the Rhynocs

Attack of the Rhynocs (or Spyro: Adventure in Europe and Australia) is a much deeper excursion into RPG territory than any other Spyro game, and many consider it the best in the GBA line-up. An accidental window between the Dragon Realms and the Rhynocs' homeworld is opened, and Ripto and his legions pour through. Uniquely, Attack of the Rhynocs was the first Spyro game not to use a lives system. Once again, Digital Eclipse Software acts as developer.

2004 - Spyro Orange: The Cortex Conspiracy

Spyro Orange (aka Spyro: Fusion) for the Game Boy Advance was a weird blend of two platforming series: Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot. Just about any Crash player will recognize the name Cortex—he's routinely played the mad scientist role. Here Spyro travels through Crash's universe in side-scrolling fashion rather than the isometric view of the previous handheld games or the more traditional, top-down view of the console versions. For the first time in Spyro's handheld career, a new developer took over: Vicarious Visions. This was also the first multiplayer-possible Spyro game, with use of a Game Link Cable.

2005 - Spyro: Shadow Legacy

Shadow Legacy stands as the series' first DS entry, and it's similar to the GBA oddballs that emerged before it. The game is basically a sequel to A Hero's Tail (see Part Two tomorrow for "A Hero's Renewal: The Legend and Beyond"), supplying each dragon realm with a parallel Shadow one. DS users drew shapes and symbols on the touchscreen to input spells, and the idea of trading collecting creatures was humored but never became more than a concept—until today.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part Two of our history and evolution of Spyro. Coming up next: Spyro gets a whole new, legendary makeover and goes miniature in his latest adventure.

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Stephanie Carmichael Twitter: @wita
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