Crash Bandicoot – Retro Review #2

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Crash Bandicoot is one of the most iconic PlayStation series, and the titular character has grown into the console’s de facto mascot. The game’s success has led to a myriad of sequels and re-releases, and the ever-popular Crash Team Racing series too.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time was released earlier this month, so I figured it was no better time to check out the game that started it all. 

Crash Bandicoot

Platform: Sony Playstation
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Platformer
Release: September 1996

Crash Bandicoot Front Cover

Crash Bandicoot: What’s it all about?

Warning: spoilers below… unless you’re like most people and have already played this game, in which case you should be alright.

There is not a lot to Crash Bandicoot. The game starts with the titular hero in an airborne lab, held against his will by the evil Dr Neo Cortex. He is experimenting on our hero to create a super bandicoot because let’s be honest, we have all wanted one of those.

Crash escapes the lab after the experiment fails. However he decides to rescue Tawna, the sexy female bandicoot being used as his replacement. A series of well-placed and frustrating challenges await Crash as he works his way through three islands to save Tawna and defeat Dr Cortex once and for all.

A Step Through Time: A Quick Recap

Naughty Dog developed Crash Bandicoot as a way of transitioning arcade platformers into the new 3D world of the mid-1990s. Conceived on a cross-country road trip by co-creators Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin, the game took the popular side-scroller arcade games of the 1980s and changed the perspective to sit behind the game’s hero to transport them into a 3D world.

The game was developed throughout 1995 and 1996, and was released on the Sony PlayStation in September 1996. They chose the PlayStation over other consoles due to the sleek ‘sexy’ nature of the console, and the potential for Crash himself to become one of the console’s first real iconic characters. The release eventually came after some passive-aggressive wrestling between Naughty Dog and publisher Universal Interactive Studios, who tried to strong-arm Naughty Dog and claim the title as theirs.

Crash Bandicoot
It’s Crash and Tawna and all the other lovable characters ©Naughty Dog

The reviews were extremely positive on release day, and it immediately became a best-seller. Crash Bandicoot eventually became the eighth best-selling Sony PlayStation game of all time, amassing worldwide sales of almost seven million. Critics praised the animation and graphics, as well as the concept of Mr Crash Bandicoot himself. 

How Does Crash Bandicoot Look Through Fresh Eyes?

Everyone at some point in their lives seems to have at least dabbled in Crash Bandicoot, no matter what their relationship to gaming is (except, of course, yours truly). I didn’t really know what to expect, having only done a few laps of Crash Team Racing (more of a Mario Kart man myself) and never having completed a level of Crash Bandicoot.

The first thing that struck me about the game was how it – well, how it just starts. No tutorial level, a minimal introductory cutscene, and not even a context-setting slide you would see in a silent movie.  With Crash Bandicoot you are getting none of that. Instead, the game throws you straight into the aptly-named N. Sanity Beach, where you must sink or swim (or should that be sink or spin…. Don’t worry, I’ll show myself out).

Crash Bandicoot Level one
No time to hang around – let’s get straight into it
©Naughty Dog

The game is truly the definition of learning on the job. Thankfully, the small variation in controls plays to its advantage here. There are only two controls to learn – jump and spin – as you work your way through various island-based levels.

The game is fun to play. The game’s difficulty is both frustrating and warranted, but overall it works perfectly for the game’s size. Crash Bandicoot is a game you can jump into if you have five minutes spare, while at the same time it’s one you could easily lose a whole afternoon to.

Rising to the Top – Top 3 Highlights

Crash Bandicoot was innovative, and it changed the gaming industry in ways still seen today. A game doesn’t sell almost seven million copies without having some pretty impressive highlights.

1. The Replay Value

So it’s clear that this game is not a title that will help cross the divide between video game and immersive cinematic experience. Each level stands alone and has little plot context or development within. However, in this case, that plays to its advantage.

The beauty of this game is that you can simply jump back through levels you have already played through without anything being taken away from the experience. No need to worry about the storyline, no dull drudgery you faced the first time around.  

Crash Bandicoot
If you ever want to take a break from life, why not go ride a pig? (Source)

Each level’s frenetic pacing and simple structure means you can jump straight in and have a whirl, whether it be to blow off steam before you try to take on Koala Kong for the umpteenth time or just because you really enjoyed it. If you’re a completionist, once you finish the game, going back through to find every last apple isn’t a chore like it would be in other games.

2. The Bosses

Picture this. You’re in a hut. A morbidly obese yet well-built tribal chief is swinging a staff around in circles as you desperately try to avoid him. Before you know it, you leap onto the nape of his neck and his health bar depletes. A couple more rounds of this and you defeat him, and continue on your journey.

Papu Papu is by no means the hardest video game boss you’ll ever come across – in fact he is probably one of the easiest. But there are two positive things about him – he is both fun (but slightly frustrating) to face, and he is different from every other boss in the game. This, people, is the same for every boss in this game.

Crash Bandicoot
I’ve seen harder bosses on Undercover Boss (Source)

Whether it be trying to bomb Ripper Roo or facing Dr Neo Cortex himself, the bosses in this game are all greatly varied. They are also not ridiculously difficult (well, in the context of Crash Bandicoot at least), a trap many games fall into. While frustrating at first, I could defeat most bosses after putting in a reasonable amount of effort – enough to leave me with a sense of accomplishment EA could only dream of.

3. The Graphics

By choosing PlayStation as their console of choice, Naughty Dog needed to think differently when it came to the graphics. By focusing on polygons rather than textures for their visual elements, Naughty Dog were able to create a colourful collection of characters and conditions.

The PlayStation wasn’t built to handle the quality at which the developers wanted to create their scenery. So they worked with what they had. They used the ‘rail camera’ that followed and focused on the title character, and features such as trees, cliffs, and other obstacles to hide the background that was just around the bend. The developers lowered the number of polygons the machinery needed to render, which meant they could have more detail on the screen where they wanted. Basically, they utilised a ‘less is more’ approach.

Crash Bandicoot
You can hide a lot of things with trees… (Source)

Naughty Dog made the best of what they had, and the result was a beautiful visual experience that adds to both the characters and the setting. The presentation is striking enough compared to today’s games, and far better than what was available in 1996. Not only can it handle the game’s rapid pace, but it gives the player an immersive environment to lose themselves within.

The Dregs at the End – Bottom 3 Lowlights

While it is certainly a fun game, Crash Bandicoot is by no means perfect. There were certainly some disappointments in this game that took away from the overall experience.

1. The Lack of Variation in Levels

When you start playing Crash Bandicoot, you’re straight into it. Running through the trees on N. Sanity Island, crushing boxes and collecting Aku Aku masks on your way to the end of the first level. The game is new, it’s exciting.

Crash Bandicoot
It’s like a recurring nightmare… (Source)

For the first few levels, this is how the game feels. Before long you start to notice something – a sense of deja vu, as it were. Then you realise it. You’ve been here before. You’ve traversed this temple before, and you’ve certainly been chased by this giant boulder before. While the game claims to have 33 levels, this is not quite true. In reality, there are only about eight levels that repeat over and over again. Sure, you can’t have too much of a good thing. But for a game without much else, this can make things rather tedious.

2. Lack of DualShock Functionality

This may seem like a minor gripe, but hear me out. There is rapid pacing, and minimal margin for error. So that means even the most minor mistake can leave you starting over again. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to ignore the nimble DualShock controls in favour of the clunky D-Pad instead, doesn’t it?

This game is difficult enough as it is, but I would wager it no underestimation to say that millions of bandicoot deaths worldwide can be attributed solely to frustrating D-Pad controls leading to missed jumps or getting caught up in obstacles. For a game that was trying to push the boundaries, they really missed a simple opportunity here.

3. The Saving Mechanics

Scene: The depths of the Naughty Dog Studios. It’s late at night. Ties are loosened, and hazy smoke fills the air. Naughty Dog Employees (NDE) 1-3 have heads in hands as they desperately try to come up with ideas.

NDE1: Guys. Guys. Guys. I’ve got it.

NDE2: Got what?

NDE1: I know how we can make the game interesting and break new ground in the rapidly-growing video game industry of the 1990s!

NDE3: Go on…

NDE1: You know how most games save your progress?

NDE2: You mean by regularly placed checkpoints that allow you to save your progress at appropriate intervals to provide you with the perfect balance between a proper safety net and suitable difficulty?

NDE1: Well, what if we took that and changed it to a system where players were required to collect specific tokens on sparsely-separated levels, and if they do manage to collect all tokens in that level they are taken to a bonus level where they must make it to the end in one piece in order to save their game?

NDE3: And what would happen if they weren’t successful?

NDE1: That’s the best part – they’d have to wait until the next opportunity!

NDE2 & 3: Genius!

Crash Bandicoot Saves
They make you work hard for your game saves at Naughty Dog (Source)

Saving is an artificially needless nightmare, as outlined this conversation that presumably happened when this idea was created. Making players work hard to save the game in what is already a fairly difficult game is an appalling idea.

Biggest Surprise in Crash Bandicoot

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times already – there is pretty much no plot in Crash Bandicoot. In fact, you only get to watch the opening cutscene if you hang around in the main menu long enough. Starting to play immediately like any normal person will skip the cutscene and take you straight to the first level.

Now it’s clear that the plot is not what drives this game. But after a while the lack of story to drive the game starts to take away from it. How did I find myself at this level? Why am I in Papu Papu’s house and why is he attacking me? How am I travelling between these islands?

You can watch the entire opening cutscene here… don’t worry, it won’t take long.

I’m not saying Martin Scorcese needs to be writing these cutscenes. And I realise that the title character was intended to be mute. However, the fact you are thrown immediately into the game took me by surprise. Each game feels like its own separate minigame and it left me wondering if the game was missing something by prioritising gameplay this much over plot. 

Tier Listing: How Does it Stack Up?

As each retro game is reviewed, they will be placed on The Game Crater Retro Review Tier List. This tier list will determine where they ultimately stack up with one another.

Yes, Crash Bandicoot is a Good game. It has its high points, but also its flaws. It’s a game that rightly took the world by storm, but certainly wasn’t a Masterpiece that would cause all who play it to bow before it.

Final Thoughts: Are We Looking at Crash Bandicoot Through Rose-Tinted Glasses?

It’s clear why people from all gaming backgrounds have dipped their toes into the Crash series. It is a game that is simple enough to pick up but nearly impossible to master. Some would say that is what defines the perfect game.

Crash Bandicoot
Now that looks like a bandicoot that’s ready to party (Source)

It has good moments and bad, but overall most of it holds up reasonably well. Crash Bandicoot took the side-scrolling genre and transformed it successfully into the 3D world that gaming has become. It’s still just as visually striking as it was two-and-a-half decades ago, and its replay value is just as good.

While they didn’t do it perfectly, no one can knock Naughty dog for the effort they put in, the final product, and the legacy they created.

Crater Rating

What are your memories of this game? What game should be reviewed next? Whatever your thoughts are – don’t keep them to yourself: sound off in the comments below.

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Ben McBride
Ben McBride
Just a man with too many video games to play and not enough time to play them.

2 comments

  1. Crash 1 definitely has rough edges, which you’ve definitely noticed. Crash 2 winds up feeling much more polished (and is my favorite entry in the series).

    • Rough round the edges is a fair assessment – it definitely feels like they spent a lot of time on gameplay and not so much anywhere else. Still, not bad for a first effort.

      I’ll definitely look at giving Crash 2 a go at some point, thanks for the recommendation.

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