To coincide with the release of Spyro Reignited Trilogy, Richard Dobson looks back at the final game in the original trilogy and remembers his time with the little purple dragon during an incredibly tough period in real life, away from the Dragon Realms.
Even now, with the release of Spyro Reignited Trilogy, I couldn’t tell you which of the three my favourite Spyro game is.
It isn’t the first one, just because it feels a bit more primitive and restricted compared to the others, but I can’t choose between the second – Ripto’s Rage!, or Gateway to Glimmer here in the UK – and Year of the Dragon. Both were perfect platforming games that I completed multiple times throughout my childhood and in my opinion, they’re the best platformers out the original PlayStation. Better than Crash Bandicoot, Croc, Gex – all of them.
I was introduced to the Spyro franchise by a friend in primary school called Chris Clarkson, a professional rugby league player, but back in the day he was the kid that used to lean out of his car on the way home from school and stick his tongue out at me, my sister and my grandma when his mum drove past. Simpler times.
I went round to his house for tea one night, where we had an hour on the PlayStation and he introduced me to the first Spyro the Dragon. We had to start at the beginning of the game because inexcusably – even at the age of eight or nine – he didn’t have a memory card.
I was blown away; bright colours, huge open fields to charge around, and collectibles as far as the eye could see. It completely captured my attention and wouldn’t let go. Unfortunately, his was a chipped copy, and I refused to chip my PlayStation. With my birthday coming up in a couple of weeks, I finally knew what I was going to ask for.
The series went on from strength to strength from there. I got Spyro 2 the following Christmas and played it to death, 100% completing it and then instantly playing again with the superflame power-up. I expected to get Spyro: Year of the Dragon for the following Christmas but unfortunately, Santa didn’t read my list properly.
However, I did have enough birthday and Christmas money saved up to buy the game in the January sales from my local Sainsbury’s, which was just as well because I was in one of the darkest chapters of my life and needed that escapism with Spyro, Sheila the Kangaroo, Sgt Byrd and the rest of the gang.
“And we’re gonna party like it’s 19… Hold up it is”
New Year’s Eve 1999. Millennium Eve. The big one, seeing the calendar tick over from 1999 to 2000. When most people think of this period, it’s usually followed up with a joke about the panic surrounding the Millennium Bug, but for me, my tiny little ten-year-old world was about to implode before my very eyes.
We – my mum, dad and younger sister – were heading to a family friends house to celebrate this special New Year’s Eve. They’d rented a big marquee and invited hundreds of people. The BBC had started their coverage of the day at 12pm, showing shots from around the world welcoming in the year 2000. It was a big deal.
As kids, though, my sister and I weren’t interested in dancing, conversing and drinking – oh how times have changed – so thankfully for us and the other kids, a PlayStation was set up in the living room, featuring Brian Lara Cricket and Ace Combat 2, those well-known kids’ game. The point is, I was oblivious to what was occurring in the marquee.
Begrudgingly, as the clock was inching ever closer to midnight, we were all dragged outside to bring in the new year together. My mum and dad purposefully plonked me and my sister in-between themselves as we formed a circle for Auld Lang Syne. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but the symbolism of them not holding hands would be something I’d try to address later.
Singing, socialising and receiving kisses and well wishes for the New Year from all my mum’s friends successfully sorted, I wanted to go back on the PlayStation and finish up the next mission on Ace Combat 2.
The morning after the night before
Whatever happened between the party and getting home I can’t recall, but I do remember being on my mum and dad’s bed, sat between them, all three of us crying and me trying to force their hands together, to hold them together like the family we always had been up until this point.
I asked if they loved each other. Neither one of them was sure anymore.
My world was imploding before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. My mother slumped off to the spare bedroom, which would become her bedroom for the next 14 months, while my parents made the decision to no longer be husband and wife.
During this time, I used games to escape from the real world a lot. But getting Spyro: Year of the Dragon – just as details were being finalised on what would happen to our house, and where my mum and dad would be moving to afterwards – helped me get through the more physical aspects of my splitting up of my family.
Before my mum, my sister and myself could move into our new home, we spent a couple of weeks at my nana’s house on the other side of Leeds – and this is exactly where I got to grips with the many great things about Spyro 3 that still stay so firmly in my mind.
The Year of the Dragon
Spyro: Year of the Dragon released on November 10th 2000; the year 2000 was the year of the dragon in the Chinese zodiac, hence the name. It was the last Spyro game on the original PlayStation and capped off a trilogy that many would argue is the greatest in 3D platforming, myself included.
So far, Spyro had saved all his elder dragons in the first game, then, unbeknownst to him, travelled to a new world to save it from a tyrannical warlock. In this third outing, he needed to save all the unborn dragons by retrieving their eggs. What made this game special was that to an 11-year-old like myself, it was rich in plot and had me gripped from the start.
The eggs were stolen by an anthropomorphic rabbit named Bianca, but as time went on, you realised Bianca was merely working for the Sorceress. When Bianca realised the Sorceress’ true intentions, she quickly switched allegiances to help Spyro and his crew.
Year of the Dragon was split into four overworlds which, in themselves, could be explored for hours at a time. In these, portals allowed you to travel to levels – each overworld had seven or eight of them. Overworlds were a series staple from the very first Spyro game, and were one of my earlier introductions to non-linear gaming. Their open-endedness made them feel enormous in scope and design, and their hidden doorways and secrets kept me coming back time and time again, sometimes just to canter round them as Spyro, and other times to get that 100% playthrough.
Year of the Dragon also included my favourite Spyro level of all time: Fireworks Factory. Arriving in the second half of the game – and with a suitable difficulty to boot – it’s always been a level that has stuck out for me. It had many different structures all connected by bridges over insta-death lava and was where the Sorceress was building a big rocket. Yet it was the music that made it stand out; Stewart Copeland had done a stellar job on each Spyro game, but Fireworks Factory has always, and will always be, my favourite Spyro track.
Years later I found out Copeland had a part-time job on the side as the drummer for the Police, and I’d tell my Dad this info in one of many failed attempts to introduce my family to videogames.
Collectibles for days
3D platformers such as Spyro, Crash, Super Mario and Banjo-Kazooie have always been known for their masses of collectibles. As a child, I had the opportunity to maximise my playtime with these titles and target all collectibles. Since then, as time came at a premium and my patience sadly waned, it’s now a rarity that I see a game through to completion.
But I always had the respect for Spyro for going above and beyond what was standard numbers for collectibles. Year of the Dragon made it a bit easier to follow by only really focusing on dragon eggs, compared with Spyro 2 that had talismans, and then orbs, to collect. But while Year of the Dragon made the main collectible easier to understand, the gem count made all other targets quiver with fear.
Year of the Dragon had 20,000 gems in total. 20,000! That was double the number in the second game and still 6,000 more than the measly 14,000 gems in the first game. It still amazes me to this day that an original PlayStation game could include that many ‘things’. It amazes me even more that I collected them all on more than one occasion.
On the subject of gems, it’s important to just stop for a minute and talk about how much of a shithouse Mr Moneybags is. Originally appearing in Spyro 2, this awful character – who took your hard-earned gems off you when charging you to access certain areas – is up to the same tricks in Year of the Dragon.
Speedrunners found ways to bypass his ‘taxes’ but for many a lowly player, he was a scumbag. He was the original Tom Nook from Animal Crossing, but far less tactful; he didn’t care that he was being a bastard. Thankfully, in endgame bonus levels, you were able to give him his comeuppance.
My own cupboard under the stairs
Back to February half-term 2001, and the ordeal of having parents essentially living in opposite sides of the house was drawing to a close. The deal was nearly completed on my mum’s new house that my sister and I would end up spending the majority of our time. We had to have a couple of weeks living with my nana while everything was being finalised. I have hundreds of fond memories of my nana – she was an amazing lady – these two weeks though were not one of those times.
I had my own bedroom there – the box room at the front of the house – with a 10” CRT TV for personal use. It had no aerial, though, so I had to make do with my PlayStation and the only game that wasn’t boxed up with the rest – Spyro: Year of the Dragon.
It’s at this point that Spyro 3 becomes more memorable for me than the others in the original trilogy. An accumulation of the collectibles, open-ended gameplay, secrets and yes, even Moneybags, really allowed me to escape into the world of the purple dragon, and I’m forever grateful that it came around at the time that it did. It really helped this preteen came to terms with what had happened, and also pull myself away from it.
But it wasn’t Spyro from dusk until dawn. One day in particular still stands out.
Just after my lunch, I moped back upstairs to sit alone – the way I liked it – In my room and turned my PlayStation on. The iconic sound started before the intro to Year of the Dragon kicked in. I went into the portal for Charmed Ridge and was just about to climb a beanstalk with a guy conveniently called Jack when there was a knock on the bedroom door. It was one of those pointless knocks though, as the following second, the door flew open and a familiar figure stood in the door.
It was Chris Clarkson! My mum had surprised me and my sister with a day with Chris and his sister. My nana lived on the other side of Leeds, so it meant I hadn’t seen any of my friends at all while having an extended stay there, so it was the greatest surprise I think I’ve ever had.
Best of all, he hadn’t played Year of the Dragon, so I was able to return the favour and briefly show him a new Spyro experience just like he had for me. But it wasn’t going to be a full day of Spyro; my mum had planned a full day out for us, starting with a trip to the cinema to see The Emperor’s New Groove.
Interestingly, the aforementioned local garage band that Spyro composer Stewart Copeland drummed for had a lead singer called Sting, who managed to blag his way into Disney and wrote the main song for The Emperor’s New Groove, even earned himself an Academy Award nomination for it!
Despite dragging me away from Year of the Dragon, Chris and I – along with our sisters – had a great day. My sister was a bit too young to understand everything that was going on around her but we both hugely appreciated the surprise and gesture from my mum. Perhaps, for the first time since it had happened, I felt a bit more positive about the situation, and Year of the Dragon was still waiting for me when I needed a true escape from things.
The pre-Skylanders crew
One of the best things about Year of the Dragon was that it introduced a whole new cast of characters that were playable along with Spyro, and they were all very different. Even Sparx the Dragonfly had his own levels, which played as top-down shooters like Smash TV without the twin-stick controls.
They also felt vastly varied in terms of both personality and controls. Sheila the Kangaroo was helpful, kind and the most akin to Spyro in terms of playability. She was the kind of kangaroo you’d be proud to take home to your mother. Then there was Agent 9 the space monkey, Bentley the boxing yeti and Sgt Byrd, a penguin spy that was equipped with rocket launchers as shoulder pads.
Spyro had to rescue each of them from the Sorceress – and in some cases, Moneybags charged a fee for them – but they then appeared throughout the game at random intervals to help Spyro out either in a sub-level or even a boss fight. They were Spyro’s friends, and it was a joy to see them pop-up from time to time. It was just a shame they weren’t there all the time, like a Final Fantasy party following Spyro around and all folding into his body when not required.
I always felt like these characters were the pre-cursor to the Skylanders series. Seeing Spyro interact with other playable characters, and letting them have their own adventures with their own playstyles, was what Skylanders was all about: its origins are buried deep in Year of the Dragon.
Another pre-cursor to this later series was the amount of variation in what you could do. Spyro was never just running along a linear path killing anything in his way. That was only the first bit; after that you had to complete the sub-levels and minigames. Just a few of the stars of the show, off the top of my head, were boxing, ice hockey, speedway, tower defence, and even effing skateboarding! Now don’t get me wrong, there were some that played better than others, but each one brought so much variety to the game and many could be replayed.
The future’s bright… The future’s purple
While Skylanders was the future of Spyro for a period of time, the series expanded far beyond the fire-breather and into its own franchise. It’s since quietened down – much like the toys-to-life genre in general – though Starlink will have a few words to say about that.
It seemed for a very long time that Spyro would never see a return to our consoles, but after the success of the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy, the Spyro Reignited Trilogy was officially announced on April 5th, 2018. By this point, it was almost universally known that it was happening because you cannot keep anything secret in the age of the internet but whatever, Spyro was coming back! It ‘reignited’ my emotions for a game that became so iconic for a period of my life that it even prompted me to tell this story.
I won’t lie, though – even with Year of the Dragon to help me through that tough time of my life, I eventually completed it and had to face up to the dark truth of the matter, and it took me a long time to readjust to my family now being this way.
But my story has a happy ending. My parents both found other people and I couldn’t imagine my family being any other way now. My stepmum and stepdad are both fantastic people in their own right; I can’t fault them at all. My sister had her first baby earlier this year, and I can’t wait for her to grow up and pass my gaming knowledge onto her. This is already happening right now with my cousin, who’s at the age where games like Rayman Legends and Disneyland Adventures are perfect for her.
Spyro Trilogy Reignited will be another game she’ll adore, and I for one am already looking forward to seeing her joy at gliding through levels, flaming sheep for fun and the addictive collectibles and getting every last one.
- The game helped me through the hardest time in my life
- Heaps of variety and things to do aside from just platforming and jumping around
- Sound and voice work were excellent for a PS1 title
- Not much difficulty when compared to its biggest rival, Crash Bandicoot
- Felt a bit shorter compared to Crash games
While I already think Spyro: Year of the Dragon is the greatest platforming game of all time, it’ll always hold a special place in my heart for helping me through one of the most difficult things in my life.