Dragon Years: The History and Evolution of Spyro - Part Two
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.
This is Part Two of our feature. Missed Part One? Find it here.
A Hero's Renewal: The Legend and Beyond
2004 - Spyro: A Hero's Tail
2002's Enter the Dragonfly opened the series up to a new, multi-platform generation. It was the first time a Spyro game appeared on both the PlayStation 2 and any other major console (Nintendo's GameCube). Two years later, A Hero's Tail was released for the same systems as well as the Xbox. Eurocom Entertainment Software was at the helm.
A Hero's Tail made Red, a banished dragon elder, the latest wrong-doer to threaten the safety of the Realms. Like Enter the Dragonfly, this game brought another series veteran back to life: Gnasty Gnorc. As usual, Spyro learns some new moves, such as Horn Dive and various Breath Attacks, and five playable characters are available: Sgt. Byrd, Blink the Mole, Hunter, Sparx, and of course, Spyro. For this game and the next (Shadow Legacy), Spyro's voice work is handled by Jess Harnell, who played Wakko on Animaniacs.
2006 - The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning
One year after Shadow Legacy's continuation of A Hero's Tail hit the DS, a new age of Spyro commenced. The Legend of Spyro would be a new trilogy, leading the famous purple dragon into the present day. Developed by Krome Studios and Amaze Entertainment (DS), A New Beginning rebooted the series and made Spyro accessible to owners of the PlayStation 2, Xbox, Nintendo GameCube, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS—more platforms than any other game in the series' history so far.
This momentous makeover boasted some big Hollywood names. Elijah Wood was now the voice of the star dragon, David Spade spoke for Sparx, Gary Oldman voiced Ignitus, and Cree Summer played the evil dragoness Cynder, who wants to use the elemental power of the four Guardian dragons to free the Dark Master from his prison. As the series would go on, more attention was paid to hiring voice talents who were household names—or close to it.
2007 - The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night
As a whole, The Eternal Night was united by a network of developers. Krome and Big Ant Studios managed the PS2 and Wii versions, the DS game was covered by The Fizz Factor, and Amaze Entertainment and Griptonite Games developed the title on GBA. As for the voice-actors, Billy West (Futurama) replaced David Spade as Sparx, and Mae Whitman (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) succeeded Cree Summer as Cynder. Gaul the Ape King (actor Kevin Michael Richardson) surfaces as a new antagonist, one with the same dark intent as Cynder.
The game faced the same concern that many of its predecessors did: it was too difficult for kids but too simple for adults, or just too "kiddie." The series had, somewhere along the way, lost contact with the cocky, back-talking dragon that Insomniac Games created and instead adopted a replacement suitable to even younger audiences. Spyro's image had become more for kids and less for all ages, no matter how desperately developers tried to please both.
2008 - The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon
Dawn of the Dragon brought out bigger guns: in the way of voice talent, it had Wayne Brady, Christina Ricci, Blair Underwood, and Mark Hamill as the Dark Master Malefor, as well as trilogy mainstays Elijah Wood and Gary Oldman. The game celebrates the series' tenth anniversary.
In the game, Spyro teams up with former enemy Cynder in a combined effort to stop Malefor. Cooperative multiplayer, with Spyro and Cynder joining forces simultaneously, was an option. Dawn of the Dragon was also the first instance of Spyro on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and the game also released for the PlayStation 2, Wii, and Nintendo DS. Company Étranges Libellules developed the console editions while Tantalus Media oversaw the one for DS.
2011 - Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
Three years passed before another Spyro game, the first of a whole new series, came into existence. The recently released Skylanders (coming October 16 for consoles in North America) is a massive undertaking. XPEC Entertainment is in charge of the PS3, X360, and PC versions; Vicarious Visions is developing it for the 3DS; Toys for Bob is on top of the Wii title; and Frima Studio is handling the iPhone, iPad, and web versions. That's a wider wing span than Spyro has ever had before.
Skylanders includes single-player, co-op multiplayer, and competitive PvP modes—another change for the series.
The total marketing potential for the series is immense, considering the number of purchasable toys and trading cards, which could increase with future games. Players assume the role of Portal Master, controlling 32 characters, including Spyro. The explanation? They've all been ejected from their world, becoming frozen in ours until put back in the game (hence the real-life toys). Activision (the US publisher) has partnered with Toys R Us and other stores to launch the game with certain exclusives. Given that Skylanders was produced with newcomers in mind and that a more mature Spyro was ditched in favor of cute toys, it's clear that the series has been well on the path to kiddie land for years.
For more on Skylanders, see GameZone resident Mike Splechta's article, "Why Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure Will Bring Out the Collector in Me," for the silver lining hidden among all those collectables and cards.
A Footnote: The Publishers
Spyro the Dragon was originally published by Universal Interactive Studios and Sony Computer Entertainment. They stayed dual publishers until Enter the Dragonfly, when the series was given solely to Universal. The pressure the company placed on developers Equinoxe Digital Entertainment and Check Six Studios was too great, and as a result the rushed Enter the Dragonfly tarnished the early series' otherwise strong reputation.
Universal Interactive was also publishing the Game Boy Advance games, with Konami representing Season of Ice in Japan. It was rare for Spyro games to hit Japanese shores at all—only several times to date. Square Enix is due to publish Skylanders in Japan.
Universal Interactive became Vivendi Universal Games by the time of Spyro Orange: The Cortex Conspiracy, as Vivendi bought Universal Studios in the early 2000s.
A Hero's Tail and Shadow Legacy were co-published by Vivendi Universal Games and Sierra Entertainment, then a division owned alongside Blizzard Entertainment (Vivendi property since the year Spyro was started). Sierra Entertainment was the sole publisher of The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning and The Eternal Night. By this point Vivendi Universal Games had shortened its name to Vivendi Games, and soon the company would merge with Activision, becoming Activision Blizzard. Dawn of the Dragon was published by Sierra Entertainment and Activision and distributed by Activision Blizzard.
Now, Skylanders is being published by Activision in the US.
A Footnote: The Image
The personality and appearance of Spyro have changed dramatically over the years. He started as an underdog (erm, under-dragon) with attitude and slowly transitioned into a more compassionate and brave hero with an arsenal of moves and breath of fire, water, ice, and lightning. No matter the story, Spyro has always been there to save worlds—and friends.
Physically, he's undergone a lot of developments, including one that predates any game. Originally Spyro was going to be colored green, but developers Insomniac Games were worried he would blend in too much with his environment. And so a purple-scaled Spyro was born.
In his early years, Spyro was small and dangerous—a dragon not to be messed with. Since then he's beefed up and taken on a more detailed exterior, thanks to graphical improvements. Varying developer approaches have had a huge hand in these depictions. For example, instead of joyfully chasing sheep, he made a serious and silent cameo in Crash Twinsanity (published by Vivendi Universal Games in 2004, the same year as Spyro Orange and A Hero's Tail).
The Legend of Spyro series has imposed the most alterations to Spyro's look—from a goofy, toothy grin of a cartoon child to a more muscular, adult build. Skylanders takes him in a wildly different direction. He more resembles a clumsy lizard than a powerful dragon.
In Closing: Remembering the Dragon
Whether you feel nostalgic for days of burning sheep, love toting a portable Spyro around with you, or came in when the heat had long cooled, Spyro is iconic to different generations of gamers. Love him or loathe him, it's hard not to admire his everlasting determination to fry the bad guys and keep going no matter what the demographic, design, or gameplay. In an era of blockbuster hit-and-runs, Spyro refuses to hide his horned head in shame and go the way of the bandicoot. As a character that survives the damaging cycle of new developers and new visions, he's more than worth his weight in gems.
How do you remember the dragon?