Spyro: Year of the Dragon
|Spyro: Year of the Dragon|
North American cover art
|Publisher(s)||Sony Computer Entertainment|
Spyro: Year of the Dragon is a platform game developed by Insomniac Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment for the PlayStation. Year of the Dragon is the third installment in the Spyro series. The game was the last Spyro game Insomniac developed; their next title would be Ratchet & Clank for the PlayStation 2. It was released in North America and for PAL regions in October and November 2000, respectively, but unlike the other two games, it was not given a Japanese release.
Named after the animal of the Chinese zodiac, which was the symbol at the time of the game's release, Year of the Dragon follows the titular purple dragon Spyro as he travels to the "Forgotten Worlds" after 150 magical dragon eggs are stolen from the land of the dragons by an evil sorceress. Players travel across thirty different worlds gathering gems and eggs. Year of the Dragon introduced new characters and minigames to the series, as well as offering improved graphics and music.
Upon release, the game sold more than two million units in the United States and received critical acclaim. Reviewers noted the game built on the successful formula of its predecessors by adding new activities and expansive environments. Year of the Dragon was followed by the multiplatform title Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly, and was later re-released under the Greatest Hits label, and remastered as part of the Spyro Reignited Trilogy in 2018.
Year of the Dragon is portrayed primarily in the third person; its gameplay makes few deviations from that of its predecessors. The main objective of the game is to collect special dragon eggs which are scattered across 37 worlds. These eggs are hidden, or are given as rewards for completing certain tasks and levels. The worlds of Spyro are linked together by "homeworlds" or "hubs", large worlds which contain gateways to many other levels. To proceed to the next hub, the character must complete five worlds, gather a certain number of eggs, and defeat a boss. Players do not need to gather every egg to complete the main portion of the game or gain access to new levels; in fact, certain eggs can only be found by returning to the world at a later time. Gems are scattered across the worlds, hidden in crates and jars. These gems are used to bribe a bear named Moneybags to release captured "critters" and activate things which help Spyro progress through levels (Such as bridges). Gems, along with the number of eggs collected, count to the total completion percentage of the game.
The player controls the dragon Spyro for most of the game. Spyro's health is measured by his companion Sparx, a dragonfly who changes color and then disappears after taking progressively more damage. If the player does not have Sparx, then the next hit would cause the player to lose a life and restart at the last saved checkpoint. Consuming small wildlife known as "fodder" regenerates Sparx. Spyro has several abilities, including breathing fire, swimming and diving, gliding, and headbutting, which he can use to explore and combat a variety of enemies, most of which are rhinoceros-like creatures called Rhynocs. Some foes are only vulnerable to certain moves. Spyro can run into "Powerup Gates", which give him special abilities for a limited period.
Year of the Dragon introduced playable characters other than Spyro, known as "critters", which are gradually unlocked as the player proceeds through the game. Critters can be found blocking the level they are played in until released from Moneybags. Subsequently, the player plays as the character in specially marked sections of levels. Each homeworld features one world which is played through entirely by a non-Spyro character. There are a total of seven playable characters, which all have their own special moves and abilities. Sheila the Kangaroo, for example, can double jump, while Sgt. Byrd is armed with rocket launchers and can fly indefinitely.
Besides the primary quest to find dragon eggs, Year of the Dragon features an extensive set of minigames, which are split off from the levels into smaller zones. Some of the minigames were featured in Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage! and were subsequently expanded for Year of the Dragon, while others are entirely new to the series. These minigames are played by Spyro or the other playable characters.
Setting and characters
The game's protagonist Spyro the Dragon is assisted by additional characters throughout Year of the Dragon. Sparx, Spyro's dragonfly sidekick, functions as the player's health meter and assists the player in gathering gems; Sparx is also a playable character in certain levels. Also aiding Spyro is Hunter the Cheetah, who teaches the player game mechanics and is a playable character at special racing levels. Four other playable characters are freed during the game; Sheila the kangaroo, Sgt. Byrd the penguin, Bentley the yeti, and Agent 9 the monkey. The main enemy is the Sorceress, the iron-fisted mean and bad-tempered queen of the Forgotten Worlds. Aiding her is Bianca the Rabbit, her apprentice who attempts to hinder Spyro on his mission, with almost no success.
The game opens with a celebration in the land of the dragons, where Spyro and his kin are celebrating the "Year of the Dragon", an event that occurs every twelve years when new dragon eggs are brought to the realm. During the celebration however, Bianca invades the Dragon Realms with an army of rhino-based creatures called Rhynocs and steals all of the Dragon eggs, bringing them back to the Sorceress, who spreads the eggs throughout several worlds. The worlds are split up into four home realms: Sunrise Spring, Midday Garden, Evening Lake, and Midnight Mountain. Spyro, Sparx, and Hunter are sent down a hole to find the thieves and recover the dragon eggs.
While pursuing the thief, Spyro discovers a world once inhabited by the dragons, but long abandoned and forgotten. This world is under the iron-fisted reign of the Sorceress and her Rhynoc army. Spyro meets with Shiela the Kangaroo, Sergeant Byrd the Penguin, Bentley the Yeti, and Agent 9 the Monkey who help him on his quest. Shiela in particular tells how when the dragons left the realm, the world's magic began to dry up. Spyro travels through each world in the forgotten realm, acquiring aid from the local inhabitants and rescuing the dragon eggs. It is revealed that the Sorceress not only actually banished the dragons originally without realizing they were the source of her kingdom's magic, but is seeking not the baby dragons themselves, but merely their wings to concoct a spell that can grant her immortality. Once Bianca learns about this, she turns against the Sorceress and decides to help Spyro defeat her. Spyro fights and defeats the Sorceress, but she survives the battle and waits for him, even though the game is considered "beat" at this point as evidenced with the subsequent rolling credits. After he defeats her again and retrieves the last dragon egg, Spyro returns all of the baby dragons to the Dragon Realms. Along the journey to help Spyro recover the eggs, Hunter forms a crush on Bianca, and after Spyro's first battle with the Sorceress, they both start a love relationship, with Spyro and Sparx looking on in dismay.
Development of Spyro: Year of the Dragon spanned about ten and a half months, from November 1999 to September 2000; the development team was influenced by a host of other games, including Doom and Crash Bandicoot. Among the new features touted before the game's release was "Auto Challenge Tuning", which Insomniac CEO Ted Price described as "invented to even out the gameplay difficulty curve for players of different abilities". The levels were made much larger than those in Spyro 2, so that more areas for minigames could be added; to prevent player confusion on where to go next, these areas were designed to load separately from the main hubs. Price stated that the addition of critters was a way to make the game more enjoyable and varied, instead of just adding more moves for Spyro. The game was named "Year of the Dragon" simply because it was released during 2000, the year of the Dragon in the Chinese zodiac.
In previews, publications such as IGN and GameSpot noted that the graphics had been improved, and that there were many new characters and locations. The new minigames were previewed, and IGN pointed out that they offered enough complexity to back up the simple gameplay. In an interview with GameSpot, Ted Price stated that the emphasis for the title was on the new critters, but that Spyro would not be left behind in the story. Year of the Dragon also implemented crack protection, in addition to the copy protection previous games had contained. This helped prevent hackers from cracking the game until two months after release.
Despite the positive response the game would go on to receive, Year of the Dragon was developer Insomniac Games' last Spyro title. In an interview, CEO Ted Price said that the company stopped producing the games because they could not do anything new with the character, and that after five years of development on a single series, the team wanted to do something different. Future Spyro games were produced by, among other developers, Digital Eclipse, Equinox Digital Entertainment, Eurocom, Krome Studios, Étranges Libellules, Tantalus Media, Vicarious Visions, and Toys for Bob.
The music for Year of the Dragon was composed and produced by Stewart Copeland, former drummer for the rock band The Police, with additional contributions by Ryan Beveridge. During the band's hiatus, Copeland composed several movie soundtracks, and composed the scores for the previous Spyro titles; Price stated that Copeland's offering for the third installment was his best work to date. In an interview, Copeland stated that his creative process for writing the music for the Spyro series always began by playing through the levels, trying to get a feel for each world's "atmosphere". Copeland noted the challenge of writing for games was to create music that would both be interesting to listen to and complemented the gameplay; his approach was to incorporate more complicated harmonies and basslines so that the music could seem fresh for players, even after repeated listening. He complimented the compact disc format of the PlayStation and its support for high quality audio; there were no technical constraints that stopped him from producing the sound he wanted. Copeland recorded entire orchestral scores for extra flourish when the visuals called for an expansive sound, but used more percussive and beat-driven melodies for "high-energy" moments in the game.
Release and reception
Year of the Dragon was first released on October 24, 2000. It was critically acclaimed, with the game receiving an average score of 91/100 based on 15 reviews on Metacritic. According to GameRankings, Year of the Dragon is the 19th highest rated PlayStation game of all time. The game sold more than two million units in the United States. It received a "Platinum" sales award from the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA), indicating sales of at least 300,000 copies in the United Kingdom. Year of the Dragon was remastered along with the first two Spyro games in the Spyro Reignited Trilogy.
GameSpot noted that while Year of the Dragon made no significant changes to the formula of its predecessors, the combination of new playable characters, more detailed graphics, and the wide variety of minigames made the game worth buying. IGN praised the game's appeal to all ages and the polished levels, as well as the successful multi-character focus. GamePro noted that the ability of the game to automatically drop the difficulty if players get stuck was an excellent feature. Next Generation Magazine's Kevin Rice provided one of the most positive reviews in which he stated the top-notch level design, intuitive controls and excellent graphics made the title the best Spyro game to date, and arguably the best PlayStation game overall. Publications like PSXExtreme thought the music helped bring atmosphere to the varied worlds, and Allgame enthused that "Insomniac should be commended for realizing the importance of music in games; it seems to enhance the whole experience." Other points of praise were the voice acting and character development.
Some reviewers critiqued that the camera could be annoying at times, particularly when it was unable to keep up with Spyro. Joseph Parazen of Game Revolution found the sound to be well done but nothing extraordinary, arguing that the background music and sound effects were both fairly generic, while the voice acting was better than usual. He also called the game's premise its only real flaw, as it was too unoriginal, but added that "the story that unfolds as you actually play the game is flawlessly interwoven and quite entertaining". Other publications cautioned that elements of the game might feel too much like those of its predecessors.
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