When the original PlayStation launched it had no mascots, no characters which were associated with the brand and nothing for gamers to attach too and then along came Spyro, the little purple dragon that could. With three games on the original PlayStation alone, Spyro instantly became a PlayStation classic and a mascot for the console. What spawned from that was an entire franchise of platforming adventures that lasted over 10 years. But one-day Spyro disappeared and with 2018 being the 20th anniversary of Spyro I thought id take a look at what happened to the franchise and explore why we haven’t had a main series entry in almost ten years. I think to get to the bottom of that, we need to take a trip down memory lane all the way back to 1998.
1998 was a glorious year, A Bugs life was storming the cinema, Half-life was released and to top it off I was brought into the world. But on top of all that 1998 saw the release of everyone’s favourite purple dragons first adventure “Spyro the Dragon”. The action platformer put in you in control of the titular dragon and saw you rescuing other dragons across varied worlds and landscapes. Given only two basic attacks, fire-breathing and charging the gameplay itself is incredibly simple to pick up and play. Each level is filled with a variety of enemy types, hidden treasure and of course a dragon to find, all of this is padded out with various platforming sections which use a multitude of the genre tropes (Moving platforms, gliding sections etc.). Like I said before its simple, easy to pick up and as so easy to fall in love with.
Spyro had a struck a chord with its audience, its simple design, replayability and charming cast entered the hearts of thousands and as such Insomniac decided to capitalize on that. Because not much more than a year later saw the release of Spyro Gateway to Glimmer (or Riptos Rage in the US) a sequel that gave fans of the first exactly what they wanted, more Spyro. The game played exactly the same as the first, but with the added additions of new mechanics like swimming and climbing. If it wasn’t for the change in collectables it would be nigh on impossible to distinguish between the first two games. But nevertheless, Spyro 2 won the hearts of millions and insomniac managed to get a third entry to the franchise only another year later. Again, very little changed, but very little needed to change to keep the player-base happy. Insomniac had found themselves a character that people loved and bought up in their thousands. Like Crash Bandicoot before it, Spyro had become a PlayStation icon, a symbol of platforming greatness. That was until 2001 when a change in development team led to a controversial change in the console and as such began Spyros isometric era.
With sales slowly declining, but still remaining high (along with a positive critical appeal), Spyro was never just going to disappear off the radar when Insomniac sold the rights. But I think it came as a shock to everyone when Spyro’s next adventure was on Nintendo’s Gameboy Advance. Spyro Season Of Ice was an isometric platformer game which sees you controlling Spyro (with his standard array of moves) and finding fairies in colourful worlds. But even with a severe change in setting, gameplay and console, Season Of Ice dominated the market. It quickly became the 13th highest selling game release of the GBA, and with that title came a flood of positive reviews. Interestingly enough it’s also the best-selling Spyro game outside of the main franchise, meaning that Spyro taking the leap to handheld may have been a brilliant move for the franchise. But as always when a game sells well, much alike the original trilogy, sequels are pumped out thick and fast. So from 2001 to 2008, we saw a humongous 10 handheld Spyro games. Most notably though is a call back to another franchise I mentioned earlier, Crash Bandicoot. Because this was another drastic leap for the Spyro franchise, one that saw him go from 3D all the way down to 2D. 2004 saw the release of the Crash and Spyro Fusion, a crossover of sorts which let you play as either Crash or Spyro (Depending on the version you bought). The games see you play through a series of minigames like Breakout, or Tank Battles all intertwined with 2D platforming segments much akin to other Crash Gameboy games. It’s a notable step away from the isometric Season Of Ice and Fire and even more so from the original trilogy. But you may be wondering why the Spyro franchise would have strayed so far from its roots for this crossover game, well like with most big came changing decisions the answer is in the numbers. While the first 2 Spyro handheld games (Season of Ice and Fire) sold really well for the platform they were on, the third one did not. Spyro’s Adventure (or Attack Of The Rhynocs) was a disappointing flop, sale wise. Critically speaking it was faring no less than the previous two games but the drastic sales drop was a worrying sign for the franchise. So really the franchise needed a shakeup to garner more interest. While Spyro fusion might not have got the sales they were hoping for it did show a marked improvement. But with it being 2004 the sales of handheld Gameboy games were always going to be on the decline, especially considering on other platforms, Spyro was recreating his good old 3D days with an entirely new set of games.
Spyro 4, or Enter the Dragonfly, was a risky game, it was the first mainline series entry that wasn’t developed by Insomniac, it was the first PS2 Spyro game since the much beloved original trilogy and it was the first to release on other home consoles such as the rival Xbox. And unfortunately, it lived up to none of the high expectations. Personally, speaking this was my favourite Spyro, the gorgeous graphics and fantastic world design combined with a neat elemental breath system led to some really different gameplay to the previous entries. But my love for the game was not enough to stop the onslaught of poor reviews, all of which slated its control scheme and numerous bugs. Spyro was in a rather large hole at this point, every game they released was selling less and less, even the sequel, A Hero’s Tail, only saw a further decrease in sales. The franchises best selling games were that of a console at the end of its life cycle. If the franchise was to survive it needed to suddenly and drastically turn around its sales figures. The best way to do that? A full-on reboot.
Enter the Legend of Spyro trilogy, a Frankly awful attempt at saving the life of one gaming’s most beloved mascots. The three Legend of Spyro games saw you once again playing as Spyro, but this time your aim is to defeat the Dark Master Malefor to stop him from taking over the world. Each game decided to take a much darker approach to the series, stripping away the fun colourful elements that made the previous games a joy to play. They removed the open level freedom and saw much more linear levels. They introduced an unnecessarily complex and repetitive combat system which meant the games no longer had anything left which even closely resembled what made Spyro great. Each game made an attempt to be interesting with the second introducing a time-altering mechanic (unoriginal in terms of gameplay, but a first for the franchise) and the third had the ability to switch characters between Spyro and Cynder. But with each game in the trilogy it became painstakingly obvious this was the end of Spyro’s career, the review scores kept getting lower, sales kept on declining and interest died down with it. Spyro had run its course, it oversaturated itself and ran its franchise into the ground, publishers weren’t listening to the criticisms of the previous games and they were just pumping out game after game. It comes as no surprise to me that the franchise would eventually die off. The game hasn’t developed enough from the original Spyro the Dragon on PS1 to the end of the Legend of Spyro trilogy.
Despite running its own franchise into the ground Spyro still does have a name for himself, it was used as a crutch to introduce people to Skylanders and is beloved to this day by fans of the glory days. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a remaster of the original PlayStation trilogy appear on the PS4 sometime soon (Especially after the humongous success of the Crash N’ Sane Trilogy), but I think the constant reboots and attempts to revive the franchise have already killed its chances at a current generation Spyro game. Spyro will forever live on in the hearts of thousands as a PlayStation icon but unfortunately for some that may be where he remains for a very long time…
Would you like to see Spyro make a grand return? Let us know in the comments below.