Spyro the Dragon is a cutesy fantasy action-adventure game from Insomniac–y’know, the Ratchet & Clank folk–that I got to play demo-wise way back in the day when videogame magazines came coupled with demo discs or you could even drop five bucks at the local brick-and-mortar store for a retail disc containing a mighty selection of different games to experience. I have a bunch of these in my collection still because I made a vow to myself long ago to never get rid of or trade in anything. In fact, it’s this one here from PlayStation Underground Jampack that I’m talking about, which I guess I got some time in late 1998 or early 1999:
For those that can’t see due to camera glare in the above pic, on this are demos for Spyro the Dragon, MediEvil, Metal Gear Solid, A Bug’s Life, CoolBoarders 3, NHL FaceOff ’99, NFL GameDay ’99, Rally Cross 2, Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft, and Small Soldiers. Some classic titles there, for sure. Now, for me, a teenager with little cash to my name, spending five bucks ($7.99 for you Canadian suckers!) to sample a smörgåsbord of all games, ranging from sports to action to fantasy to RPG to racing, sounded a whole lot better than saving up for one big game that could potentially disappoint me. Plus, the natural idea behind these demo discs is that if I enjoyed what little nibble the demo could give, I’d probably like the full meal. Years later, the company Nintendo still has no idea how demos work, but that’s a post for another day.
SIDE NOTE: I’d love to do something here on Grinding Down with these demo discs of mine–I have about seven or eight in total–but I’m not sure just what yet. I mean, I guess I could simply deep-dive back into them all and write about playing these wee slices some fifteen years later, though who knows how interesting that would be. If you’ve got an idea for me to try, please do share.
Anyways, so far, my favorite thing about Spyro the Dragon, which I’m playing on the PlayStation 3 after nabbing it and others during a really good sale a few months back, is that it wastes no time getting into the mix of things. I can think of only a few other games that open just as swiftly and let you start playing before you can even speak a word–Jetpack Joyride and Scribblenauts come to mind first.
Okay, you ready for this. Spyro the Dragon begins with a short cutscene that can’t possibly last for more than 30 seconds. In it, a news team sets up an interview with a couple of dragons within the Artisan World, one of five realms in the Dragon Kingdom (the others of which include Peace Keepers’ world, Magic Crafters, Beast Makers, and Dream Weavers), which have lived in harmony for eons. Well, when the reporter brings up Gnasty Gnorc, a gnorc who lives within his own, sixth realm, one of the dragons describes him as an ugly, simple-minded creature who poses no threat to the Dragon Kingdom. Daaang. Those are fighting words, for sure. And yup, fortuitously, Gnasty is watching the live feed at that exact moment; enraged, he casts a magic spell that encases all of the dragons in crystal and sends out an army of gnorc soldiers to take over the realms. However, one purple dragon called Spyro, due to his smallish nature, is able to dodge the spell, and it’s now up to him to save his elders.
And that’s the gist of the story so far. You are the lucky wee dragon left alive, and you must save everybody us, and you do this by charging into the crystal statues and freeing the elders. Each of these older, bigger dragons has a name and something to say to Spyro upon rescue, but then they are gone in a poof. Rinse and repeat until you find all the dragons in a given themed area (36 levels spread across six worlds). Other than that, Spyro can shoot a small burst of flames from his mouth and jump and even fly a bit (though technically it is falling with style). You want to also defeat enemies and collect gems. More or less, it’s a very traditional character-dependent action adventure game, and there is nothing wrong with the premise to begin with.
However, in a game all about jumping and flying from one place to another, the in-game camera needs to work with the player. This camera is atrocious. Really just horrible, and you can only turn it left or right, not up or down, so if you are standing on top of a castle and want to jump to that smaller castle below, you kind of have to wing it (pun intended) because there’s no way to rotate the camera enough to see where you need to land. You can press the triangle button at any time to lock the camera directly behind Spyro, but this is only handy when you want to ram an enemy head-on with your horns.
Thankfully, despite the camera issues, Spyro the Dragon is a fun, harmless game. And it’s not too punishing, so even if you missed a jump due to not being able to see the land below, you can always try again. Interestingly, instead of some kind of health bar or string of hearts on the screen, Spyro’s health is visible through his butterfly companion, so depending on how that fella looks and acts, you’ll know just how many more hits our little dragon hero can take. You can save your progress at any of the statue spots where you’ve rescued an elder dragon, and most of the difficulty just comes from traversing, rather than fighting enemies or solving puzzles. Oh, and to tie this back to that demo disc above, I remember fondly being super impressed that Spyro could burn plants to a pile of black ash at the touch of a button, and it’s still an amusing thing to do many years later.
I’m looking forward to playing more when I can, as I also have Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! and Spyro Year of the Dragon downloaded and ready for chomping. Not to mention Gex: Enter the Gecko, Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2, and Crash Bandicoot 3: WARPED. Yeah, I went a little crazy on the PS1-era mascot games during that sale. Not the worst mistake I’ve ever made.
Lastly, I’ll leave y’all on a fun tidbit about Spyro the Dragon–its soundtrack was done by The Police’s Stewart Copeland.