One of the most well-known genres of video games is the platformer; whether 2D or 3D, it would be difficult to find anyone who hasn’t enjoyed one over their gaming career. Plenty of the 3D platformers from the last decade or two also seem to be getting a reboot or remake of some sort. Ratchet and Clank just got rebooted on the PS4, and Yooka-Laylee is releasing later this year as a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, but for a game I enjoyed in my childhood, Spyro the Dragon, there seem to be no plans in sight.
Spyro, and other characters like Crash Bandicoot, were PlayStation’s response to Mario and Banjo over on the Nintendo 64. Originally created by Insomniac Games, Spyro the Dragon allowed you to play in and explore the many different worlds of the dragon realm. The Spyro franchise is one that lasted a long time, and some could argue that it is still ongoing with Skylanders, but the true core of the original games was lost a long time ago. Spyro is one of those games where Insomniac saw that the formula wasn’t broken, so they weren’t going to mess around with it—the fact that each Insomniac game got higher and higher praise even proves that.
The formula found in those original Spyro games consisted of the following: trouble arises in the first hub world, you collect items from each level in the hub world, face a boss to travel to the next hub world, and rinse and repeat until you’ve finished the game. When you boil it down to its basics it’s difficult to see the charm, but it’s in the originality and character of each of these hub worlds that makes exploring and clearing them so entertaining. You can go to the war torn hubworld of PeaceKeepers, a dry dessert, and travel to a level like Ice Cavern where you need to navigate a series of maze-like caverns and chilling barracks filled with Gnorcs.
In the later titles like Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage, or Gateway to Glimmer as I knew it growing up, there were even quests with short stories attached to them, adding even more depth to each level. It might be that an evil chef is trying to cook turtles, the king seahorse’s children have been locked away, or even a case of forbidden love between a bird and her worm. These worlds manage to take advantage of Spyro’s skills to the fullest, requiring you to charge, glide, and fire breathe across high platforms and through plenty of enemies. Many levels even have hidden secrets that are only accessible by getting the timing of your jumps and hovers perfect. Across many of the early Spyro titles you would be hard pressed to find two levels that were too similar to one another. It’s the originality like this that has you never thinking “Oh I have to get more gems from this world” but instead compels you to see all of the sights.
Each of these levels, and even the hub worlds, have a variety of collectibles including gems, the currency of the games, an item attained for completing each level, and some kind of secondary collectible that would be required for 100% completion. There is always just enough direction that if you were already on the path to collect as many gems as possible, you would manage to run into all of the different collectibles as you went, leaving 100% completion as something that could take time to get to but is always an attainable goal. With each collectible gained you’re just that much closer to the complete ending; a game like Spyro is one that definitely gives gamers that sense of instant gratification, probably why I’m so addicted to achievements to this day. In some of the titles, like Ripto’s Rage, you would even get a fun bonus for 100% completion, like a new hub world and even an endless powered up fireball.
Ripto’s Rage also introduced the idea of an expanded skill set that you would purchase from Moneybags. This would be a natural way of not only stopping your story progression until the skill was purchased but would also have you travelling back to earlier stages to access areas that you weren’t able to earlier. If you returned to a prior stage, there would always be a purpose for it. This didn’t help any of the games improve replayability in a single playthrough, but it’s the kind of game that you can put down for a couple of years and then binge through on a weekend play.
From the first three games scoring around the high 80s, it was all downhill as no future console Spyro game would break into the 70s. The next game in the franchise was developed by Check Six Games and Equinoxe Digital Entertainment under the name Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly. With many glitches, difficult controls, and sound issues, it was not recieved well. President of Insomniac Ted Price made the following statement about Spyro’s first console adventure away from Insomniac: “Spyro has become an abused stepchild… Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly on PS2 and Gamecube was an absolute travesty.”
The biggest future change to Spyro would be his reboot in the three part Legend of Spyro, which took away a lot of the exploration and open worlds of the previous Spyro games and replaced them with a darker story, an increased focus on combat, and very linear levels. After the Legend of Spyro, the next outing for the purple dragon is in the Skylander series of games where, while Spyro is a main character according to the lore, he is just one of 32 characters in the original Skylander title.
The history of Spyro clearly shows that the classic platforming adventure game was the best version of the beloved purple dragon, and with so many other 3D platformers getting to come back, including one of Insomniacs’ other titles, a new Spyro could be a fantastic new start. The chances of it are extremely slim with Spyro’s reoccuring cameo in Skylanders though. It wouldn’t have to be a new entry in the franchise, just an updated version of the original titles like we have been teased with so many times by artists on the internet.
What do you think of the Spyro franchise getting a new classic entry? Which of the Spyro games was your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!