Spyro the Dragon: Out of the Fire

Spyro the Dragon has been around for longer than many young Skylanders fans may have realized. Since the days of the PlayStation, Spyro has been one of the most prominent video game characters around, appearing in many video games over a wide variety of many different consoles. Designed by Charles Zembillas of Insomniac Games, he is an energetic and somewhat cocky purple dragon with little regard for his own safety and a penchant for saving the day whenever the need should arise.

During the initial development cycle of the character, Spyro was actually to be coloured green at first, but the problem with this was that developers became concerned that the character would blend in too much with the grass areas in the original game. So it was eventually decided that the character should be coloured purple instead. The developers wanted the character to appeal to the 8-10 demographic, as a lot of the most popular video game characters at the time were mainly marketed to kids; Mario and Crash Bandicoot to name but a few. Spyro was designed to look cute, but at the same time, somewhat immature, with the added element of unpredictability to make the character exciting.

Amidst the low sales of their previous game Disruptor, the first Spyro the Dragon game was a do or die attempt from Insomniac Games against potential bankruptcy. But thankfully for them, the game was very well received upon release, garnishing aggregate scores of eights and nines out of ten from reviewers, and it also sold extremely well. So much so that a sequel was developed called Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage; or as it known in Europe, Gateway to Glimmer. It was also at this time when Spyro got the second of five different voice actors, Tom Kenny, who replaced the original voice actor for the character, Carlos Alazraqui. Once again, Insomniac Games managed to impress critics and players alike, going leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor, and delivering improvements on an already excellent gaming formula. In a time when Sony where struggling to put out a decent 3D platforming game to compete with the many excellent games in the genre on the Nintendo 64, the original Spyro the Dragon trilogy was a monumental step in the right direction, having the right kind of movement controls implemented, as opposed to earlier PlayStation efforts, such as Blasto, Croc: Legend of the Gobbos and Bubsy 3D.

The third game in the trilogy, Spyro: Year of the Dragon, was even better received by critics, with the inclusion of multiple playable characters, and an extensive set of mini games thrown in for good measure. But it would be the last game in the series developed by Insomniac. Their CEO, Ted Price, cited the reasons for doing so in an interview being that Spyro’s actions were limited, as the dragon could not hold anything with his hands, and therefore, the development team were out of options as to how they could further improve on variety in the gameplay of the series. As the development rights were passed around to such companies as Check Six Games, Equinoxe and Traveller’s Tales, two more games in the series, Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly and Spyro: A Hero’s Tail, were released for consoles of the next generation such as the PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox, but were met with a considerably more negative reaction from critics, who cited that they were simply replica games, and added nothing new to the table, highlighting the concerns voiced by Ted Price and Insomniac Games.

After the failure of the last two games, the developmental rights to Spyro the Dragon then fell to Krome Studios, who then attempted to revive the series with the Legend of Spyro trilogy, which spanned both the sixth and seventh generations of gaming. Interestingly, after Jess Harnell stepped down as Spyro’s voice actor, he was replaced by Elijah Wood of Lord of the Rings fame, who is an avid gamer himself, having dominated in gaming sessions of the Lord of the Rings games between himself and fellow Lord of the Rings cast member, Dominic Monaghan, Sean Aston and Billy Boyd. However, the newly re-vamped Spyro the Dragon series was once again met with mixed reception from critics; the most well received in the trilogy being the third game, Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon, which received aggregate scores of merely 50-60%. But in 2011, the franchise would be given a second reboot, and I believe no one in a million years could have predicted the outcome.

Video game developers Toys For Bob, were given the option of reviving a single Vivendi Games franchise, and they plumped for Spyro the Dragon. At first, the CEO of Toys For Bob, Paul Reiche III, had low expectations for the outcome of their attempted reboot of Spyro, citing that previous attempts to revive long running video game franchises in the past had not been met with the previously expected huge reception, and that reinventing the character to have a more realistic feel to him didn’t seem like a good idea. But for a number of years prior, Reiche III had been dabbling with the idea of integrating toys into video games, and believed it was an idea so outlandish that it could possibly end up working in their favour.

Originally, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure was designed to be a much more mature game entitled Spyro’s Kingdom, with a much darker tone than in previous games in the series, even going so far as to include blood. But after enthusiasm for this idea was lost, they instead decided that their target audience should be children, as they would have next to no prior knowledge of the character of Spyro the Dragon, and of course, toys would appeal more to them than they would do to adults; indeed, I remember an instance when I was on a bus, and a child sitting in the seat in front of mine noticed I had two Skylanders figures in my bag, and asked me if they were for my children… I don’t have any children.

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, was released in the summer of 2011, and whilst it didn’t receive greatly impressive reviews from critics, it later on became the third most profitable game in North America and Europe by the fist quarter of 2012, even exceeding sales of the number one action figure line of the time; Star Wars. To date, over 30 million of the original Skylanders toys have been sold worldwide, and has garnished profit of over $500 million in the US alone. The game has since generated into a hugely popular franchise, with additional merchanise being sold all around the world including books and different kinds of toys, and of course, has so far warranted the development of several sequels on most seventh and eighth generation consoles; Skylanders: Giants, Skylanders: Swap Force, Skylanders: Trap Team, Skylanders: Superchargers and the upcoming Skylanders: Imaginators. So thanks to an addictive gameplay concept and a stroke of marketing genius, Spyro the Dragon has come from facing a fall into video game obscurity to becoming an integral part of one of the most profitable and popular video game franchises of the modern day. It all gives testament to me of what kind of overwhelming impact that the reinvention of a character can have on the video gaming industry, and how one development team’s loss can be the substantial gain of another.

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