The original Playstation was that new student at school that became very popular. It’s always difficult having to start from scratch in a new environment. While Mr. PSOne was doing very well with the mature crowd, a few of its peers felt it needed a mascot to identify itself with. While Mario and Sonic had done very well with fellow classmates Nintendo and Sega respectively, there was a friendly rivalry between Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon to be Sony’s top dog. Well, Naughty Dog had helped Crash dog Spyro in this dog eat dog world of dog fighting that is video games, although they remained friends.
In short, Crash and Spyro were the mascots of the original Playstation. Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft was more of an icon than a mascot, as she was a character of more realistic proportions, (the same can’t be said for her chest). I didn’t own a Playstation, but I knew heaps that had one, giving me a chance to play some of the most popular titles. I’m pretty sure all these Playstation households had a Crash Bandicoot title because that’s what I mostly remember playing. Crash was obviously the more popular of the two because I remember only one occasion where I played a Spyro game on the Ps1. Although I had properly played one Spyro game before, and that was from the pair of Game Boy Advance crossovers with Crash called Spyro Orange: The Cortex Conspiracy and Crash Bandicoot Purple: Ripto’s Revenge. They were essentially mini-game collections with 2D Spyro/Crash gameplay tacked on. It was mildly fun I guess, but not enough for me to bother linking the games together, which seemed to be a selling point.
As you all would be aware, 2012 was the year the world was supposed to end. It didn’t as we all know, and I like think I may have had something to do with it. You see, 2012 is also the Chinese year of the dragon, Spyro: Year of the Dragon was released in 2000, the last Chinese year of the dragon. It’s obvious why they chose that title, as it prevented Y2K. So I figured that I didn’t want to just sit down and let the world end, I wanted to sit down, play this bringer of good luck and save the world from the film 2012 becoming historically significant. Luckily a kind friend of mine who’s the other hero in this story lent me his entire Playstation collection, as Ps1 games work on the Slim Playstation 3 (but Ps2 games won’t for some reason).
Spyro: Year of the Dragon is the third title in the original Spyro the Dragon series and the last to be developed by Insomniac Games. They went on to develop Ratchet & Clank for the Playstation 2. Unfortunately, Sony lost grip on Spyro, and all his future games became multiplatform. Hang on this sounds a bit familiar…After making a few Crash Bandicoot games, didn’t Naughty Dog ditch the series to develop Jak & Daxter? Crash was a Sony mascot no more and appeared on other consoles. Sony had two mascots, but then they disappeared. That must be why they aren’t in Playstation All-Stars. It’s strange because Crash and Spyro are completely different franchises created by different developers, but they seem to go well together (hence the aforementioned crossover games), and Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank also seem to go well together. Were these guys in competition to see who could create the best animal mascot and then the best Banjo-Kazooie rip-off? Both these developers even have main characters in their new series called Nathan in Uncharted and Resistance.
Ok it’s taken me nearly 600 words to talk about the game, so better get cracking.
Spyro and the his friends are celebrating the “Year of the Dragon”, when a rabbit girl named Bianca and an army of rhinoceros creatures called Rhynocs steals all the dragon eggs on behalf of the Sorceress who scatters them throughout the worlds. Spyro, Sparx and Hunter set off to defeat their new adversaries and find all the dragon eggs. The story did its job and that’s all it needed to do. Being a family friendly game, the whole story is fairly predictable but the game presents it nicely with cut scenes featuring surprisingly good voice acting. I liked the characters too. Spyro didn’t have much of a personality, but all the other characters were interesting enough to further engage me in the game.
Year of the Dragon is a 3D platformer. Crash Bandicoot was 3D levels played like 2D platformers, where the goal was to reach the end of each linear level. Spyro on the other hand, is structurally similar to Super Mario 64; you wonder about free roaming worlds collecting dragon eggs, which can be hidden or given as rewards for completing objectives as levels. There are four hub worlds in which the many game worlds (over 30) can be accessed. Collecting eggs allows you to unlock more levels in the hub. Each world has a character that once you encounter or complete their objective, they reward you with an egg and exit the world to aid you reaching the next hub. Finding the character in each world is what allows Spyro to go to the next hub. Scattered all over the game are gems which act as a currency to bribe an annoying bear named Moneybags to do stuff to aid your quest. You also pay him to release captured characters that become playable in the game. Each hub world has a boss you must defeat before you can access the next hub. It is possible to complete the main portion of the game without collecting all the eggs. In fact I didn’t need to enter most of the worlds in the last hub as I had enough eggs to fight the end boss. The true final boss battle and ending is only unlocked after collecting every egg and gem in the game.
Spyro has a number of abilities; he can breathe fire, glide, body slam, headbutt and swim. There are also “powerup gates” which grant Spyro extra abilities such as invincibility and flight for a limited time. The majority of the game is spent using these abilities to break stuff, defeat enemies and progress through each level to find eggs and gems. Some enemies can only be defeated by certain moves. As mentioned before, there are other playable characters to add more variety to the game. There are also hidden mini-games and challenges in each world, which upon completion reward the player with an egg. Each hub has a world where you only play as one of the other characters, and a world that only consists of racing and time attack challenges.
I found that the other playable characters, mini-games and special levels added a welcome variety to the game and never overstayed their welcome. Not all of these sections were great, but there were no bad ones. The other playable characters were Hunter the Cheetah, a friend of Spyro who helps him throughout the game and hosts sporting challenges; Sheila the Kangaroo who can double jump; Sargeant Bryd the penguin who can fly and shoot rockets; Bentley the Yeti who can smash stuff; Agent 9 the space monkey; and bonus top-down levels featuring Spyro’s companion Sparx, the dragonfly. The mini-games included sports challenges, puzzles and mini-boss fights.
Year of the Dragon is a very well made game and has charm to boot. The difficulty curve is very good, with the first hub being very easy and the Game Over screens began to appear once I reached the third hub. The level designs are also great, with none of them feeling either too big or too small. They are also very varied with settings in many different environments. It’s not at all daunting to explore these levels and immediately start having fun in them and find eggs. Just wondering around will often lead to finding eggs easily, while others you find you have much more to do. Some eggs you can’t get until you return later in the game. I feel as if the game developers took their time to make sure that progressing through the game is a smooth and flowing experience. You start to get the swing of things; enter the world, find some eggs and make sure you find the helpful character before you leave. It’s unlikely you will get stuck as not all eggs are required, meaning that if you can’t complete a challenge you can just try another. As mentioned before, I had more than enough eggs to battle the end boss straight away when the game gave me the opportunity. Don’t get me wrong as the game becomes quite hard later on. The length is also quite good, the game didn’t feel too short nor did it feel like the game had run out of steam by the end.
The music of the game I didn’t like very much. I think Stewart Copeland (drummer for The Police) tried to make the music feel subtle in the game worlds. In the end I just found the music to be bland; even the boss battles don’t have exciting tunes. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t add to the experience.
As said before, the game requires all gems and eggs to be collected to unlock the true final world, boss and ending. I have mixed feelings about this as a concept as it restricts players to discovering the real end of the game until they collect everything, but on the other hand, at least the reward for 100% completion is worth it. I’m not 8 years old anymore, so I no longer have the time or the patience to 100% complete games like I used to. In saying that, Year of the Dragon isn’t very hard to 100% and it wouldn’t take too much time to do so, but I’m still a busy fellow these days with a ton of other games to play, so I just watched the ending on YouTube.
Besides Spyro Orange, I haven’t played any other Spyro games. I did some research and by the looks of it, the original trilogy on the Playstation seems to be the most critically acclaimed, with Year of the Dragon having the highest score in the series on Game Rankings (a site that that takes all review scores and creates a percentage). On Game Rankings it is the 14th highest rated Playstation game of all time, with a 91% rating. My research indicates the general consensus is that Year of the Dragon didn’t change the series formula very much, but it added new playable characters, more variety in the mini-games and excellent level-design. So while I can’t definitely say Year of the Dragon is better than the other two as I haven’t played them, the reviews I’ve read had indicated that it is. If you want to play all three, go for it, but if you only want to play one, I recommend Year of the Dragon over the others for the above reasons, but of course without me playing the others this wouldn’t be the most reliable recommendation. However what is reliable is my recommendation on the game on its own. It’s a great game!
Judging this game on its own and not by its predecessors, Spyro: Year of the Dragon is very well made with a ton of variety in the gameplay. It’s easy to see why Spyro the Dragon was popular as Year of the Dragon is a lot of fun. At times it did feel a little dated, such as the life system and the music was a bit too boring for my liking, but the game is incredibly fun to play. You can download all three games together or separately on the Playstation Network Store or track down copies, but either way Spyro provided great gameplay for all. I’m giving Spyro: Year of the Dragon 4/5.