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Monday, March 02, 2015

The Music of Spyro the Dragon

You know, I've played a lot of video games in my lifetime.  I can't help it.  I happen to find video games fun and enjoyable to play.  And, well...truth be told, I probably had a lot of late night "I have to get this homework done or else I'll fail" moments in school because I had a marathon gaming session of "Donkey Kong Country" or "Super Mario Brothers" calling.

NOTE:  Even though I just basically admitted to shirking off all responsibilities in my teenage life to play video games, this is not an invitation for all of you to do the same.  Stay in school, kids.  And do that algebra!

Anyway, since I brought up the fact that I am a video game addict, I suppose that you're probably expecting a blog about video games.  And you would be right.

Now I would say that for most of my video game playing life, I've been loyal to one company.  And it's true that Nintendo will always hold a part of my heart forever.  My life has been made forever better because Mario, Yoshi, Mega Man, and Link were a part of it.

But when I was older, I started to also develop a love of Sony video games, and owned a PlayStation 2 for a good many years before it finally quit working a couple of years ago.  I initially moved towards Sony for my love of "Final Fantasy" games, but there were other titles that kept me glued to the screen.  I remember getting pleasantly frustrated at the difficulty level of "Crash Bandicoot".  I remember trying to avoid getting shot in the video game "Medal of Honor".  I drove through the streets of huge cities in "Driver".  And, I even fought alongside Donald Duck and Goofy in the crazy mixed-up worlds of "Kingdom Hearts".

However, I would say that my all-time favourite games for the Sony PlayStation was the original Spyro the Dragon series.

And, when I say "original" Spyro the Dragon series, I mean the ones that were released for the original PlayStation - not the horrible PlayStation 2 games that began with the almost unplayable "Enter The Dragonfly".

Yes, "Spyro the Dragon", "Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage", and "Spyro 3:  Year of the Dragon" were always being played at my place, and I didn't quit until I found every last gem, killed every last gnorc, and rescued every last dragon, orb, or egg in the games.  And certainly gameplay was a huge part of the near-perfect Spyro formula.

However, this piece is not about the gameplay of Spyro.  Instead, we'll be talking about something that many people tend to overlook in video games, but without it would make the game seem bland.

I'm talking about the background music.

This may just be my own personal opinion here...but I think that the original Spyro trilogy had some of the best music ever recorded for a video game.  And that is largely in part to the composer who created all of the tracks in the game, Stewart Copeland.

And for those of you who may not know who he is or question his musical ability, here's a fun fact for you.  This is the same Stewart Copeland who co-founded the British based rock band "The Police" with Sting.  I'd say Copeland has more than enough clout.

So, I decided to give props to Copeland by doing a feature on the music of Spyro.  I chose ten tracks that I think are absolute standouts, and best showcase the brilliance that is Copeland's work.  And let me tell you, this was a really difficult challenge.  Every single track could be considered awesome, and I wish I could do a top 100 list instead.  But I only have room for ten.  To hear these pieces, just click on the titles of each piece.  That will take you to the link to the song.

(These selections only come from the first three Spyro games.  If you have any other musical pieces from the other games that you want to add, feel free.)

Now, in some countries, Spyro 2 is known as "Gateway to Glimmer".  Not sure why that is, but it makes sense, given that Glimmer is the first level in the game.  And I have this song as my #10 pick because I can't think of a better song to have as a first level song.  It immediately makes you jump right into action and sets the tone for the rest of the game.  The level itself is a nice introductory level, where you have to collect quite a few coloured gems while helping the Gemcutters solve problems along the way.

This song was so nice, they used it twice!  The first time is in the tropical themed "Idol Springs" level, and the second is in the Scottish paradise and much more challenging level "Fracture Hills".  Seriously, "Fracture Hills" was so difficult, the music - which sounds like it could be used on the television show "Survivor" - was the only thing that kept me calm.  It's also an appropriate song to hear during the bonus game where you feed fish to the giant idol.  Say, that could be a future immunity challenge idea!

This level is in one word...awesome!  Dangerous, but awesome.  You have to really watch the lights carefully because if they go out, cute puppy dogs and tiny tin soldiers turn into evil beasts and giant tanks!  But who cares about that when you have such awesome music as this track!  It's a track that doesn't appear until the fifth world of the game, but one that is definitely worth the wait.

This is not the only track that I will choose from the first world of the third game, but I have to admit, there's something quite mellow about this track.  Whenever I hear this track, I think about Spyro and his skateboard pulling off such tricks as the "Gnasty Gnorc" and "Orange Crush".  Come on, who didn't love skating in that Roman themed bonus round?  This was the perfect skateboarding jam, you know?

Normally, underwater levels have me screaming in pain, but there was something about Aquaria Towers that I absolutely loved.  Maybe it was the manta ray bonus game?  Maybe it was blowing up shark robots with fireballs?  Or maybe it was this suitable underwater themed music?  Actually, it could have been a combo of all three.  Again, Stewart Copeland is a genius when it comes to creating mood music.  Doesn't this track just make you feel as though you're in a giant aquarium?

This is a level that pays homage to another video game heroine, Lara Croft - only to avoid getting sued, they call her Tara instead.  And what do you have to do in this level to help Tara out?  Well, jump over pools of deadly toxic slime, dive deep into the water in an underwater mission, and avoid getting burned by flaming ladders.  Really, when you consider that this level seems more like an action film, you really have to have an action packed soundtrack.  Anything less would be unacceptable.

This is the penultimate level before you go after the big boss that is known as Gnasty Gnorc, and it takes place at a harbour at sunset.  Beautiful graphics and vivid colours only add to the joy you feel when playing this level.  You know the adventure is almost over, and the music is a bold statement that supports that.  Hold on a little longer, Spyro.  Victory will soon be yours!

I probably shouldn't be playing this track, as this is the track that accompanies the true ending of Spyro 3.  But you know what?  It also happens to be one of the better tracks of the whole game.  The music seems to be one of those pieces that can't make up its mind as to whether it wants to be a slow piece or a piece that makes you want to get up and dance.  Sort of like the level layout itself, which combines all of the skills you learned throughout the game and amps them up to the point where succeeding is hard.

(Of course, in the snowboarding section, there is a way you can...cheat...but I can't say much more than that.)

What saddens me most about this song is that it wasn't included in all versions of the game.  If you happen to live in Europe and have the PAL version of the game, this track does not appear.  Instead, another track is substituted in its place.  It's a shame, because this track alone is my favourite of the third game and second favourite overall.  Really, the whole area known as Crystal Islands is beautiful, and it deserves a piece that will make it shine even brighter.  This score is near perfection in my eyes.

And finally we come to my most favourite Stewart Copeland does Spyro composition ever.  The soundtrack to the robot inhabited, futuristic Metropolis level.  Really, this song is not only my favourite song, but I think that Metropolis could be my all-time favourite Spyro level ever.  I always get such a rush when I play this level!  Maybe it has to do with the conclusion of the level where you spend most of the time flying high in the sky to shoot down UFO's.  And I suppose the double power-up cinched it for me as well.  But seriously, this level's soundtrack is AMAZING!  It totally fits!

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