Crash Bandicoot; a Playstation One exclusive from 1996 by developer Naughty Dog, Crash holds a special place in my heart, being the first game I ever played.
What’s the story of the game? Save your girlfriend from a mad doctor. And that’s it (mad doctors and saving girlfriends; two of gamings biggest clichés together at last). The plot isn’t exactly Memento, so the game has to be held up by its gameplay, which thankfully it is.
As far as early 3D games go, Crash is fairly unique. Most games at the time like Banjo Kazooie and Spyro were based around exploring a free roaming 3D environment, in search of treasure by solving puzzles and the like. This type of gameplay was all about adventure. Crash however is more of a straightforward platformer, relying more on skill than exploration. It’s a lot like an old school platformer like Mario of Sonic, but using new 3D graphics.
The gameplay itself is pretty varied too. The style of play usually associated with Crash is the behind the back platforming. It’s a lot like other 3D games at the time, except the straight forward path makes camera control a non-issue; something that plagued a lot of 3D games on the PS1 before the invention of the Analog sticks. It’s an adaptive camera too! It actually switches the focus of Crash in the frame depending on which way you run, which is an attention to detail that I can admire. The game also uses old school side scrolling for some levels, which fits in well with the games style and adds a little variety. There’s also this semi-top down view that has more of a focus on platforming and jumping precision, levels where your ride a pig and charge along the level in a fast paced style of gameplay, and a back view level where you’re chased by a giant boulder, Indiana Jones style.
The basic gameplay comes down to two moves; jumping and spinning. Both are used to take out different enemies, whether horizontally of vertically. You can even spin some enemies into a line of targets in a satisfying crescendo of destruction. Crash handles pretty well too; you have a good degree of control in the air and it’s well paced, so the deaths don’t feel too cheap when you mess up. Your health is non-existent; one hit death. That is unless you collect the floating mask, Aku-Aku. One mask protects you from one hit, while another mask turns your little buddy gold and gives you an extra hit before death. So it’s a lot like Mario; mushroom gives you an extra hit of damage, flower gives you two. Collect a third however and you gain temporary invincibility. What’s cool about this is that rather than tracking down a hidden item, its based on your skill and requires you avoid taking damage.
For the most part your goal is to simply make it too the end of the level, but there’s also keys and gems for 100% completion. Clear gems are earned by breaking all the boxes in a level, while the coloured ones are hidden away and require a little more skill to get, though they will usually allow you to access a certain area to get a clear gem in another level. So there is a little bit of exploration to get everything.
I also like the variety of death animations this time around; like a ghost of Crash floating up to the sky, or being deflated like a balloon, or being blown up, to be replaced by a scorch mark, ripped trunks and pair of blinking eyes, Loony Tunes style.
The only real issue I have with this game is the save system. You get to save after beating a bonus stage, which isn’t in every level. So you can get to a particularly difficult level (like slippery climb), fail and have to go back quite a way to get back to where you were.
Normally I would have a separate review for a games sequels, but since the sequels don’t really change much, lets cover them here.
Crash Bandicoot 2 didn’t have much to change in terms of gameplay; especially since the game was damn near perfect as it was.
The story this time? The evil Dr Cortex has returned, seeking Crash’s help to find crystals to power his doom laser, I mean save the world. Yeah, this plot twist that Cortex is still the villain isn’t much of a twist, especially when the subtitle of your game is “Cortex Strikes back”. It’s like calling Empire Strikes Back “Star Wars: Vader is Luke’s dad”, or “Grown Ups 2: this one sucks too”. You’re ruining the surprise. What was a surprise was the way the game reveals that you have to collect gems for 100% completion. Cortex’s assistant from the first game pops up and rambles about how Cortex is evil. As a kid this shit me up, especially in the dark when you’re not expecting it. You also have a new sidekick, Coco, Crash’s sister. Yeah she’s little more than a supporting character, but hey, at least she doesn’t get captured. So it’s a step in the right direction.
They did change the save feature however, now it’s done manually from the hub world whenever you want. Speaking of which, that’s gotten an upgrade. Now each world is composed of five levels and a boss level once that’s been completed. So if a level is starting to get on your nerves, you can always come back to it later.
Crash has a few new moves too; he can slide like an aggressive football player (that’s soccer if you’re American and wrong) and body slam armored creates. Little changes, but they do fit in well with the control scheme.
I feel like there’s a little less variety in the gameplay however; side scrolling is now restricted to bonus levels. The hog levels return, except now with a polar bear, and the boulders return as both a boulder, and a pissed off mama bear. There’s also a few flying sections later on with a jet pack. The style of the level is also different; in the first Crash you were traveling between three islands, navigating from Jungle levels to Industrial levels to the castle levels near the end. In Crash 2 however the game takes place all over the world; ice, sewers, rainforests and space themed levels. Some levels do feel like reskins however, except with different music, like the hang ten level, which feels a little lazy to me. They change too, with different level types occurring in one hub, rather than the first world being all forest and another all sewer etc. Which is a neat approach that gives the game a bit more variety in its design.
Overall Crash 2 is a much better game than it’s predecessor; it added some new features and fixed the only issue I had with the game; the saving. This is what I call a quint essential second installment; it takes the established game and focuses on fixing what didn’t work. Since the game didn’t have much to fix however, they could add some fun new features and gameplay.
Crash 3 is the final Crash Bandicoot game Naughty Dog released (not counting Crash Team Racing, which obviously wasn’t a platformer), and is the best one of the series in my opinion.
This time Cortex’s boss has raised his evil head (literally, he’s just a head), Uka-Uka, the twin brother of Aku-Aku. Their plan is to travel through time and collect crystals, leading to Crash and Coco springing into action. That’s right, Coco is a playable character this time around! She’s relegated to vehicle missions, but at least they don’t feel like reskins of Crash levels and have their own feel to them. There’s a lot more variety this time around; motor cycle races, jet ski levels, the hog/polar bear levels are now a tiny tiger (not to be confused with the boss Tiny Tiger) charging across the great wall of China, and WW2 dogfights. The variety extends to the environments too. Now it’s based on time periods; like ancient Egyptian tombs, Arabian villages (Aladdin style baby!), Medieval countryside and future metropolis themed levels. There’ s a few new moves too that you unlock by beating bosses, like double jumping, sprinting and a bazooka! This weapon however comes in late in the game, so it doesn’t ruin the challenge completely. Besides it requires standing still to use it, so you tend feel like keeping that flow going is more fun. Plus it won’t save you from a pit death and it is fun to blow away those troublesome hard to reach targets.
There are also time trials now once you’ve beaten a level, adding a little extra challenge, encouraging you to take less time to beat the level record and adding a bit more gameplay.
What I don’t like about this game are the bosses. Not that they’re bad, just recycled. Tiny and N’Gin from the second game return, as does Cortex (obviously), so we only have two new bosses; Dingodile and N’Trophy. Compare that to the previous game, where only Ripper Roo returns from the first game, while the remaining bosses are new. Cortex is the exception however, but even then his boss battle is different from last time so it doesn’t feel recycled. It seems lazy, especially using Tiny again. I mean N’Gin I understand, he is Cortex’s Igor-esc sidekick (or Fritz if you want to be technical; Igor didn’t come in until the third film Son of Frankenstein and even then it was a different role. Sorry, lost my train of thought).
On the whole Crash 3 is technically superior, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have more of an affinity for the first game; more nostalgia than anything. On the whole Crash is a fantastic series, and a must own for any fan of the PS1! It’s cartoony style mixed with challenging gameplay made it not only kid friendly, but also challenging, which I feel like a lot of games moved away from in recent years. It has a special place in my childhood, and you can think of it as my Super Mario Bros, but I can also appreciate it for the excellence that it is……And if you think I’m just being nice to a game from my past for the sake of nostalgia, check out Battle Misfit next week for my review of another PS1 favorite, Spyro the Dragon.