Depending on what decade you were born in the Activision company is one of many things; they're the “first third-party video game developer in the history of gaming” (the 1980′s), the “hardened team of veterans who knew how to keep their old classics alive” (the 1990′s), the “old school company who liked to cash in on their old titles but also created Guitar Hero so that’s okay I guess” (the 2000′s), or now most recently “that worthless shovelware publisher who very rarely puts out anything marginally worthwhile and just crapped all over Spyro the Dragon” (the 2010′s).
That sound you just heard is your inner child dying.
Activision, like the more infamous Electronic Arts, isn’t so much a developer anymore as they are more or less now portals for third-parties to pipe their awful games directly onto store shelves through. Rather than actually having to posses some amount of technical finesse and knowledge to create a game these “developers” can just copy tech demos from back issues of PC Gamer magazine and release them as games so long as they fork over a handsome amount of publishing money to Activision. Where would we be without such memorable titles?
In a less crap-saturated market. That’s where.
There's a new Spyro the Dragon game coming out soon, maybe you've heard of it. It's called Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures and it has been met with nothing but contempt and unrefined hatred from Spyro fans. In a daring demonstration of poor judgment, a white knight has appeared defending the game from naysayers and has issued a challenge for a coherent counter-argument against the release of the game. You know what I'm about to do.
Part of me hates myself for hating on Activision and EA because while they’ll go on a binge of releasing nothing but absolute trash they will once in a while put out something good like Blur or Dragon Age: Origins and suddenly I find myself questioning my hatred, but that usually ends around the time the next Madden is released. My loathsome attitude toward Activision is fleeting at best but I caught wind that Activision is planning on releasing the eleventh installment to the Spyro the Dragon franchise.
Now, I didn’t say that they were creating it, no, they are just responsible for letting this get published, and that’s where I draw the line. After Vivendi Universal thoroughly gutted and castrated Spyro into an absolutely worthless franchise I was suddenly thrown into hating a dragon I once loved as a child but I realized “at least it can’t get any worse”. Oh my, how I was so wrong. I don’t quite understand how you can possibly get any worse than The Legend of Spyro, because there isn’t a term or some kind of qualitative value that exists at this time to explain just how terrible of a series that was, but this new title, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures, is in such a whole new dimension of time and space of awfulness that Stephen Hawking popped a science boner in an alternate universe when the game was announced. And Activision gave it the green light.
How in the world do you even pronounce that name? What the hell is “Skylanders”? Is it a person named Skylander? If so, is this plural or possessive? Is it some kind of world named Skyland? If so why is it Skylanders? It makes zero sense. I can understand “Spyro’s Adventures” on its own but when you pair it with an ambiguous noun like Skylanders it sounds so phonetically bad that simply trying to say it aloud causes the same reaction with speech therapists and English teachers that blowing dog whistles has on canines. It’s a name you can’t say properly and when you do actually say it you feel retarded for vocalizing because immediately afterward you find yourself asking “what the hell just came out of my mouth?”
Fact: 78% of the people reading this just said "Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures" out loud. The remaining 22% said it mentally and are now comatose.
Freaking Skylanders, how do they work?
“Okay,” you might be saying, “so far all you’ve complained about is the fact that it has a bad name. But names can change during development, what is the game itself like?” I’m glad you asked. When I first read about the features this game has I learned about how it features 32 little collectible figurines based upon characters in the game that you can place on a magic mousepad (called a Portal) which are then rendered into the game presumably as playable characters. Yes, it sounds like a composite fail of every single time this gimmick has ever been attempted by a game developer in the past but it’s different this time because it’s Spyro right? Part of me wanted to believe so much in this game because for that very reason because despite what his owners have done to him I still have so many fond memories of the lovable dragon on the PlayStation and it would be awesome to have a new Spyro figurine to go with my PS1-era collectibles.
And then I saw what they did to Spyro. Behold, God’s mistake:
And that's the sound of your inner child's eternal soul being tortured. Forever.
I saw this photo in a press release about the game and for the first time in all of my years as a gamer, as a writer, and as a dragon lover I was at a complete and utter loss for words. I wanted to crack a joke, but I couldn’t think of one. I wanted to shout “NO DO NOT WANT”, but I couldn’t speak. I wanted to facepalm but I couldn’t move. I had an expression on my face somewhere between just having watched a box of puppies be fed into a wood chipper and sitting on the toilet after having eaten Taco Bell for lunch and the only sound that came out of my mouth was a stiff grunt that tapered off into a puberty-broken scream.
Look at him. Don’t even say a damn word just look at him. Look at that face.
Spyro wants to die. He wants you to kill him. That expression is him begging you to pick up the nearest object and beat him to death with it no matter how much it will kill you on the inside. He is standing there begging you to put him out of his misery and if he could speak he would tell you exactly what terrible experiments “They” have done to him and are probably doing to Crash Bandicoot too, but Spyro can’t tell you who “They” are; he can only show you the results of their actions. He is dead on the inside, destroyed and hollow, and he yearns for the day when his soul can finally be liberated from its fleshy prison.
I looked at that picture and a very specific and frightening urge was injected directly into the reptilian part of my brain: I suddenly wanted to find the CEO of Activision and strangle the life out of him with my bare hands. I felt like a Manchurian Candidate and Mutilated Spyro was my activation key. I can understand the idea of pure profits fueling a large sector of the mass-market gaming industry today, but at a certain point there has to be a limit where things aren’t profitable anymore. I stare in amazement as I see the sheer number of shovelware titles clogging stores today and I cannot help but wonder as to why the market hasn’t crashed again like it did in the 1980′s, and this time I’m hoping Activision doesn’t survive the crash.
Who in their right mind thought this was a good idea? A follow-up question to that: Who the hell is “Toys For Bob” and why are they producing this game? The last title they created was the video game adaptation of the latest Madagascar movie, and while I haven’t played it I’m sure it won Game of the Year from every publication and convention when it was released and is a game that will live on in the annals of history right next to Tetris and Metroid.
Quality assurance is a fallacy.
The game honestly is intended for kids, and by the time Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures is released I will be 23 years old so perhaps it’s wrong of me to stand here and beat a children’s game into the ground, but in that respect what does it matter? Why does it matter that this is a kid’s game? The bigger question is why destroy the integrity of a franchise (more than it already has been) and kill the lovable charm its main proponent once had regardless of who its intended audience is? I have yet to discover what was so bad about the original Spyro character design and world, probably because there was nothing wrong with it at all.
Characters change and evolve, yes, but they don’t have to turn into Toothless the Dragon’s “after” picture from a Faces of Meth poster. Mario has lasted decades with only so much as a change of clothes and he’s still sitting pretty as a mostly unscathed franchise character. Why Spyro? Was How To Train Your Dragon really that great of a movie? (Hint: No it wasn't.) I don’t think it’s a matter of basing a character design off of another one, I think Spyro’s new design is more or less irrefutable proof that originality in the mass-market industry is a rare sight these days.
But how can I scream “unoriginal” when this is the “first game” to feature this Portal technology to change characters? Because it's not actually the first game to use such a feature, and the developers basically took the purpose of a Character Select screen and came up with a half-assed way to make a profit on it. Their “creative” twist on the game is not unlike playing Mortal Kombat and then realizing all of the locked characters are unlocked by paying actual real life Kredits for them. It’s stupid, not to mention ridiculous. The character figurines themselves also contain a little memory storage unit to save your progress, effectively undermining the point of your console having a hard drive, and also as a means of having some underhanded digital-rights management thrown in for added flair and controversy. Perhaps the best part is that the game comes with three random figurines meaning that there’s a pretty decent chance you won’t even get Spyro, the “star” of the game, with your copy.
The cast of characters, if you can even call these third-trimester abortions that, aren’t original either. Each and every one of them look like uninspired and generic characters from every single design convention in video game history. A fire-element character made of magma and rock is such an unoriginal cop-out that I’m quite sure the first time such a character was ever conceived regardless of when it happened that the creation was met with sighs, rolling eyes, and affirmations of “gee, you couldn’t think of anything less obvious?”
Looking at this screenshot will reduce your faith in God by 83%.
But perhaps best of all Activision’s CEO Eric Hirshberg (whose hobbies include seeing how many Guitar Hero games he can release in the span of one weekend) had this to say about the new “game”:
“These are more than action figures. They are inter-action figures … pairing world class character design, world class video game design and world class story telling into one…”
Screw you, Eric Hirshberg. There’s a “world class reaming” waiting for you. In Hell.
André Bardin has been an avid Spyro the Dragon fan since the debut of the character and franchise in 1998. When he isn't nerdraging over seeing his childhood memories trampled on he's a freelance writer who maintains a column at the website GatorAIDS in addition to producing browser-based games with TrackMill. He is also a former employee of Miniclip SA and can be reached via email (andre [at] trackmill [dot] com) for any and all inquiries.