Welcome to this week’s edition of Protagonist Profiles. This week, we continue to look at gaming mascots from the 90s by filling in the file for yet another one of Sony’s gaming heroes. This time, we’re looking into Spyro the Dragon, the protagonist of his own titular series of video games spanning 10 years from 1998 to 2008. Despite a rather short run compared to other protagonists in this series, Spyro continues to be a well liked gaming mascot, with vocal fans requesting he too makes a comeback to the modern era of gaming. What made him favourable among gamers? Let’s find out!
One year after the release of developer Insomniac Games’ first title Disruptor for the Playstation, the developers decided to change gears in terms of what style of game to develop. This was mostly a result of the huge success of Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot, also released for the Playstation at around the same time as Disruptor. Inspired by the success 3D platforming was having on the console, Insomniac Games wanted to throw their hat in the ring and began development on their own 3D platformer. Insomniac artist Craig Stitt first came up with the idea of a dragon protagonist, a creature that would benefit greatly in a 3D world. His original colour was to be green, but after developing the Spyro world as a greenland, it was thought that he would blend in with the background, so they changed him to the now-famous purple.
Much like other gaming protagonists, Spyro the Dragon is shown to be energetic, curious (even if it gets him into trouble) and somewhat rebellious. But his courage and heroic nature help make him a good role model for his target audience of young kids. Indeed, after the first creative pass of the project, Insomniac Games decided to cater their series towards kids around the 10 year range, and so made the dragon ‘cute’ but at the same time mischievous and somewhat of an upstart. This character design was to cater to a similar audience that enjoyed other platformers at the time like Mario, Sonic and Crash Bandicoot. With a small body size (significantly smaller than all other dragons in his series), Spyro is a purple dragon with twirled horns, medium sized wings and a spiked ‘mohawk’ running down to the tip of his tail. Unlike most dragons in the Spyro universe that are bipedal (stand on 2 legs), Spyro uses four legs, which is used for increased mobility. In the first game, Spyro is limited to ramming enemies/chests with his horns and breathing fire but as the series progressed, he learns to fly and breathe more than one element (including ice and electricity).
Spyro the Dragon was released on September 11th 1998 and was received well by critics and gamers alike. Insomniac Games went on to create a ‘trilogy’ of sequels for the game (Spyro: Ripto’s Rage! and Spyro: Year of the Dragon, respectively), each received more positively than the last (85%, 87%, then 91% according to GameRankings). By the year 2000, Spyro was at the height of it’s popularity, but despite this, Insomniac Games stopped producing anymore games in the series, as CEO Ted Price believed that they had taken the character as far as they could possibly go and they wanted to move on to other projects (which we will get into very soon here on Protagonist Profiles!)
Regardless, more sequels to Spyro were released by other gaming companies. Early sequels to Spyro were released for the Gameboy Advanced (Season of Ice & Season of Flame). Later sequels, such as Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly and Spyro: A Hero’s Tail ranged from moderately well received to not well received, and the series never reached the success of the original trilogy. Even a reboot of the series in 2006, titled The Legend of Spyro, wasn’t as well received as the developers (Krome Studios) wanted it to be, even with the introduction to celebrity voice actors (such as Elijah Wood as the voice of Spyro).
Spyro remained popular as a character throughout the shifts his series had between developers. He has made appearances in Skylanders and even had a tie-in game with last week’s profiled Protagonist, Crash Bandicoot. He was rated the 39th most popular video game character in Guinness World Records Gaming Edition 2011 and has had compliments served for his…cuteness? Yes, most reviews of his first game made note of his cute character design and he even made an appearance on UGO.com‘s cutest video game characters. Even with a reboot series to his name, fans continue to wish the purple dragon made a return to the modern era of consoles for maybe one final outing. With the influx of old gaming series being rebooted, will Spyro make the list? Only time will tell…
That’s it for this week’s edition of Protagonist Profiles. Tune in next week where we look into what Insomniac Games did next!