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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Thursday Night At The Arcade: Spyro The Dragon

How can a little purple dragon that everyone assumed to be the runt of the litter end up being the hero of several video games, and be regarded as one of the best video game characters of the PlayStation era?

If you are that dragon, and your name happens to be Spyro, it's just a matter of proving your strength and your cleverness to the entire dragon realm, and earning your hero status through hard work and determination.

Spyro The Dragon was released on the PlayStation game console on September 10, 1998, and immediately upon its release, the game garnered positive response from the gaming community, as well as video game magazines and reviewers all over.

In fact, I have a little tale to tell in regards to how I was introduced to the Spyro series of games.  Prior to the PlayStation years, I had been a Nintendo kid for most of my gaming life.  Although my first system was the classic Intellivision, I had always grown up with Nintendo.  I owned both the 8-bit NES, as well as the Super Nintendo.  I never owned the Nintendo 64 or the Nintendo GameCube consoles, as both of them were very expensive, so for years, I remained in Super Nintendo bliss, even after games became harder and harder to find for it.

It wasn't until my cousin ended up buying a PlayStation 2 that I ended up inheriting her old PlayStation console.  Keep in mind, this would be going back to the year 2002.  Nevertheless, I admit that the PlayStation was a huge improvement over the Super Nintendo of yesteryear. 

The first game I ever played on the PlayStation was Spyro the Dragon.  And, what a game it was!

You basically controlled this purple dragon named Spyro (and Spyro was supposed to have been green in the original concept of the game but was changed because the programmers worried he'd disappear against the lush greenery of some of the levels.) through a half-dozen dragon worlds.  Each world had its own distinct theme, and were beautifully designed with intricate detail.  You had the Artisan, Peace Keepers, Magic Crafters, Beast Makers, Dream Weavers Worlds, as well as the final boss realm to make it through.

In each world were three mini-worlds, a flying level, and a guardian in each world to defeat.

The object of the game was to get rid of Gnasty Gnorc, a vile creature that imprisoned each of the adult dragons in bluish-green crystal prisons.  As Spyro, you had to go through each world to rescue the dragons, as well as collecting gems along the way.  The gems varied in colour and value, with red gems the cheapest and most plentiful, and purple gems being the rarest and most expensive.  Obviously, your main goal was to defeat Gnasty Gnorc.  However, if Spyro could find all fifteen thousand gems, rescue all eighty dragons, and rescue twelve dragon eggs from some of Gnasty Gnorc's thieves (who strangely look like Marge Simpson in a blue bathrobe), then you got to see a bonus ending.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of playing this very addictive game, have a look at one of the levels, as played by some random YouTuber.

Although Dark Passage doesn't appear in the game until you reach the Dream Weavers world, there is a reason why I chose to use this level to show off the game.

For one, out of all the levels in the whole game, this one happens to be my favourite one to play.  It's challenging, it has brilliant colour schemes, and the level has the most dragons to rescue and five hundred gems to of the longest levels in the whole game to complete.

If you can hear the background music of this level, the composer of it has some previous fame.  You may have heard of the band known as 'The Police'.  It was fronted by Sting, and had a few hit singles in the late 1970's and early 1980's before Sting went solo.  Did you know that Stewart Copeland, who was a member of the band, scored all the music for the first four Spyro video games?  The whole soundtrack of Spyro The Dragon was one of the best video game scores for any video game I've ever played, and it was all because of him.

Even the game play was fun.  You found gems lying around on the ground, but sometimes you had to trigger events to get them to show.  Sometimes, you had to ram through a treasure chest.  Sometimes, you had to shoot a rocket at it.  And sometimes, you had to blow up dynamite to get the gems to appear.  The levels all had secrets to them, and if you found every secret, it got you one step closer to Gnasty Gnorc, and helped you get closer to the secret ending.

Oh, and you could also get gems by killing off Gnasty's minions.

The fight against Gnasty is a treacherous one, and Spyro fortunately has help.  He has a dragonfly friend named Sparx that can help Spyro collect gems, and can even protect Spyro from getting attacked by a monster.  Be careful though...Spyro can only take so many hits before Sparx decides to take off, leaving him incredibly vulnerable.

Spyro's levels are mostly on the ground, but there are some cases where Spyro has to fly through levels in order to collect more gems.  Have a look.

This is Icy Flight, and again, this level can be found in the Dream Weavers World (which happens to be my favourite world, might I add).  It's simple.  You have to smash or torch eight of each item in the level (in this case, lamp posts, treasure chests, barrels, and helicopters), and if you do it before time runs out, you beat the level and add some more gems to your total.

So, all in all, it's a really decent game, and I'm happy that of all the games for the PlayStation that this one was my first one.

There's a reason why I chose to talk about this video game for today's blog entry.

Spyro ended up being a huge hero in the game, but prior to Gnasty Gnorc coming in and wreaking havoc, Spyro was considered to be a bit of a runt.  He didn't have nearly the worldly experience and intellect as the guardians of the Dragon Worlds, and he certainly didn't have the skills.  He could breathe fire and fly somewhat, but he couldn't swim, or climb a ladder, or headbash into objects.  (He wouldn't learn how to do those until Spyro 2)

What he lacked in skills, he made up for in heart.

When all the dragons became frozen, Spyro managed to avoid meeting a similar fate by using his small size to his advantage...a fact that initially was considered to be a hinderance.

But, that's the way Spyro was.  He turned his weaknesses into strengths, and because of that, he rescued his friends, defeated Gnasty Gnorc, and saved the treasures from his hench...gnorcs.

I'm gonna say this.  I've had my own little Spyro moment.  Mind you, I never saved dragons from a monster dressed like a container of Jiffy Pop...but I have a story where I turned a weakness into a strength.

It involves my writing ability...or rather, my penmanship ability.

I used to have the most horrible penmanship when I was a kid.  I mean, it was so bad, I used practically a whole page in a notebook just to write one sentence, because that was the only way people could read it.  My motor skills were somewhat on the underdeveloped side, and I had trouble holding pens and pencils the correct way.  I didn't care though.  As long as I could read it, it was fine enough for me.  Besides, most kids my age at the time were competitive, and as far as the class was concerned, the one who finished class assignments the fastest was the smartest kid in the class, so naturally, as a six-year-old, I wanted to rise to the challenge.

(I never said I was INTELLIGENT at six.)

Anyway, I did finish my class assignments in half the time as most of the others.  Problem was, my handwriting was hard to make out.

My first grade teacher at the time (and believe me, I plan on talking about her quite a bit as she held an...ahem...impressionable imprint on my early childhood), once told my parents that my handwriting was so atrocious that I would NEVER learn how to write neatly, and she made sure I was the last one to get the writing notebook (which was a notebook a student got once they learned cursive writing).  Nevermind the fact that there were kids who wrote just as badly as I did, I was the last one.

I got a D in handwriting that whole year.  And those words from her that I would never learn how to write properly again?  I wanted to prove her wrong.

It may have taken me years to improve my motor skills enough to master the art of handwriting, but I believe that I've done a fantastic job now with it.  I'm even starting to learn calligraphy as a result.

All because I was determined not to be defined by my horrible writing.  I would rather be remembered for being a good person, not for things that I could or couldn't do.

I think that's what Spyro wanted too.

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