The 90’s were a special time, especially if you were there. Many may look back on it fondly but a lot of us grew up in this magical and weird time and were able to experience a lot of it first hand. When Jurassic World, Peanuts, and Goosebumps were all announced I almost lost my mind. The 90’s were back. The 90’s were cool. They were hip and it was time for them to jump back into the spotlight seeing as enough time had passed and companies were finally done trying to sell crap to my parents. The 80’s were cool I guess but enough is enough. Let the reign of the 90’s finally begin! The announcement that finally caused my mind to explode in a blaze of glory was the announcement of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, which is my most anticipated game of the year by the way. These games were absolutely incredible and despite what may just look like nostalgia building up over my eyes and across my mind, it’s anything but; I replay these three games (and Crash Team Racing, too!) at least once a year. I love these games and hold them near and dear to my heart. I have been wanting to do retro reviews on them since I started working on articles in the retro reviews department but kept putting them off so they could ferment longer like some kind of expensive and delicious fine wine. The closely approaching release of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy has finally driven me to write up these reviews. I’ve put it off because I know I can only review these games once and I will of course be reviewing the remastered collection for BagoGames once it releases this June (there are no words to describe the excitement I have!) but that doesn’t mean these three games are perfect. They’re far from it at times but the attitude and tenacity of these games should never be forgotten. After all, Crash himself went to Nintendo headquarters with a megaphone in hand to yell and challenge Mario. Yeah, I grew up in a strange time. It’s been a long time brewing in my mind. Let’s start things off with my retro review of the original Crash Bandicoot. It may not be perfect. It may have flaws but it was a damn good game that helped create a strange but wild mascot that would help Sony throw systems off shelves and into consumer hands. No more delays. Let’s do this.
Naughty Dog is a critically acclaimed developer loved by fans everywhere today but it wasn’t always the case. Sure, they have created Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter, Uncharted, and The Last of Us but there was a time where success didn’t follow them at each and every turn with every single release they created. Way of the Warrior was released on the 3DO in 1994 in North America to almost abysmal reception but Mark Cerny (who worked at Universal Interactive Studios at the time) agreed to have it published. I personally think he knew that Way of the Warrior wouldn’t be received well by critics or sell well. I think he saw something different. He has the mindset of both an artist and a programmer. I think he looked at the game and saw what it took to create and the potential that was ahead for Naughty Dog. Way of the Warrior was made at a time when Naughty Dog barely had any money. In fact the budget for the game was only $100,000, which isn’t much money at all for a game, even back in the 90’s. No, I think Mark Cerny knew that if given a chance and with a budget, Naughty Dog could create incredible and engrossing games that would not only pull in gobs of money but also critical reviews with each and every analysis of their games. This decision would give Naughty Dog the ability to create a wildly successful franchise that would benefit both Universal Interactive Studios and Sony as Crash would go head to head against the other platformer mascots and not only help sell units but also help attach a unique face to the PlayStation.
Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin decided to create a 3D action platforming game when they were making their transition from Massachusetts to Los Angeles to start in their new work environment at Universal Interactive Studios. Once they decided on the camera angle they jokingly called it a “Sonic’s Ass” game because of the camera following Crash Bandicoot but they made sure we’d see enough of his face as well. They decided to have a few levels where Crash Bandicoot ran towards the camera, not only to mix up the gameplay but also to give us a good view of Crash’s face. They also made the smart decision to have the main menu and first level start off with Crash facing the player. These decisions help increase the bond that players would have with the character and reduced the risk of him not being recognized. Turmoil between Universal Interactive Studios and Naughty Dog, including Universal attempting to take credit for the game and trying to prevent Naughty Dog from attending E3 the year Crash Bandicoot was set to release, caused issues between the two companies but Sony was very impressed with what they saw and the game still saw release. It was held back until being released until March 1996 by Sony but once it was finally released, nothing could hold it back any further from stretching and showing Crash’s ass to the world.
Crash Bandicoot was a very different platformer and with good reason. Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin studied the market before they began developing Crash Bandicoot and noticed many genres making the jump to 3D. It was with this trend in mind that they decided to turn their favorite genre into a 3D title. The platfomer genre was one of their favorites and they sought to take the difficulty and variety of Donkey Kong Country and combine it with the fluidity of Sonic the Hedgehog to create a new kind of platformer. Crash Bandicoot had beautiful and sharp colors at every twist and turn in levels that would have Crash running straight into danger while he destroyed enemies, crates, and everything else in his path. Super Mario 64 may have gone on to do a full 3D but Naughty Dog did arguably translate the 2D platforming of Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario World, and Donkey Kong Country into 3D while still containing the feel and difficulty of the earlier era. In Crash Bandicoot, Crash would travel across the Wumpa Islands to stop the evil Dr. Neo Cortex and save his girlfriend Tawna from being imprisoned and experimented on. The story may have been simple but with Naughty Dog seeking to emulate the look, feel, and success of the 2D platforming era while also tossing another dimension on it, it worked very well.
The gameplay was as solid as it was addicting. Players would control Crash to run through levels to destroy crates and enemies while he collected the wumpa fruit inside the crates and got one step closer to rescuing his girlfriend with each and every location behind him. There are a good variety of enemies in levels but either way it’s pretty simple to destroy them. Players either have Crash jump on them or spin them to eliminate them while they also avoid the many other obstacles in levels. The obstacles and enemies Crash face may start off pretty simple towards the beginning of the game but as he gets closer and closer to the evil Dr. Neo Cortex, the levels take on a more sinister and industrial feel. Levels will feature more twisted technologies and enemies the closer Crash gets because of Cortex’s meddling within the world. Cortex may be evil but he’s also a scientific genius that does more than experiment on animals and make them his henchman, he also uses animals and the environment to aide him on his evil conquests in ways that would make even Dr. Robotnik jealous. It’s an interesting design choice and helps remind the player that they’re moving farther from not only Crash’s comfort zone but also their own as they move closer to Dr. Neo Cortex’s lair. It’s comforting that Crash is getting closer to the end of the game and saving his girlfriend but it’s also uncomfortable seeing some of the results of Cortex’s creations on display. The backgrounds of levels will also remind players they’re getting closer to the end with the next island being visible in some of the levels towards the end of previous islands. The best example of this design choice is Dr. Neo Cortex’s blimp being visible in some of the later levels as the player gets closer to this final boss battle.
The graphics of Crash Bandicoot still look beautiful even twenty-one years later. Sure, there’s some better looking games out there today but when you compare it to his contemporaries it’s no contest. Look, I love the graphics of Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario 64 but when we’re talking visuals it’s really no contest. The programming expertise of Andy Gavin is almost unrivaled. He was able to employ many tricks and even hack into the PlayStation’s hardware and use more RAM than they were technically even provided. I’m sure Sony wasn’t complaining as they enjoyed the sales boost with the four games released exclusively on their original console. Andy Gavin knew that only a certain number of polygons could be displayed at once and so Crash would move through levels and objects with lower polygon counts would cover up other objects as new objects needed to be displayed. This allowed Crash Bandicoot to constantly have new objects appear as Crash moved through levels while also loading them as he moved. It helped create the flow not only for the gameplay but also for the graphics. Players could only move so fast and the PlayStation was always just one step ahead, which was just enough time for the stunning visuals of this game to be fully realized.
Lush greens and other comforting environments surround Crash towards to the beginning of the game but metallic silvers and radioactive greens aren’t far behind, and they all look great in this game. The remaster will help modernize everything and so far it seems to look great but the early and yet still sharp polygons of the original release look great. They have a retro charm that’s reminiscent of the 8-bit and 16-bit era with games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Donkey Kong Country and I think it’ll forever cause a warm and fuzzy feeling in 90’s kids while stirring a curiosity and appreciation for gamers born in later years.
Crash controls well enough but it can still be difficult controlling a 3D character with a D-Pad at times, and his heavy weight doesn’t help too much. The feel and control of a character is extremely important in a platformer and it’s usually something that is done very well in the genre, but this isn’t as true for Crash Bandicoot. His Naughty Dog produced sequels definitely solve the issues but the original release definitely has a rough feel. Crash feels heavy and just don’t flow as well in the air as he should. This isn’t helped much by the difficulty which will require extremely precise maneuvering in later levels, especially if you’re going after gems for 100% completion of the game. See, gems are earned by destroying every single crate and not dying in a level. And if you’re feeling any sort of comfort and trying to convince yourself it isn’t that bad, let me dash those hopes with another detail: if you destroy a checkpoint and die, every single box you already destroyed is reborn. This means that you need to destroy every single crate and not die at all. If you die after a checkpoint you’ll just need to quit back to the map and start all over. This may seem pretty easy early on but as you get to some of the later levels, it gets very hard to achieve this goal. I’m phenomenal at platformers but Crash feels as heavy and features such odd and strange weight that he might as well be a microwave wearing a bandicoot costume.
The level variety is one of biggest saving graces in Crash Bandicoot. I’d say there are three major components that keep this game’s nostalgia burning bright despite its control and difficulty flaws. There are a lot of great levels to enjoy in this game and it helps prevent this game from getting as stale as it easily could have been. The thirty three levels include plenty of forward facing levels, sidescroller levels, boss fights, and even some levels where you’re running towards the camera or riding an animal that cannot stop or slow down away from the camera. The difficulty helps keep things interesting as well (despite the awful feel and control of Crash) but the constantly changing locations that take Crash through some neat areas are what really keep things looking up as you play through the game. I’d even say that there’s more variety here than Crash’s superior sequel Cortex Strikes Back but it’s not really that close. Crash Bandicoot may have some interesting twists but it’s still on the familiar flavors and locations that are primarily based on the island locations and off the laboratory aesthetic. Still, there’s some cool stuff in the mix that’ll certainly dig up some joy even when the difficulty pushes you into the dumps.
The graphics are obviously a huge saving grace of Crash Bandicoot with how sharp and colorful they look while still featuring some high polygon counts but the other major push in the quality and how well Crash Bandicoot has aged is absolutely in the soundtrack. Thank God that the producer of Universal Interactive Studios at the time didn’t get their way as they wanted random bird and vehicle noises to be joined by flatulence for the soundtrack. That’s not an attempt at humor. Look at it up and rejoice with me because what we got instead is one of the highlights of the decade and it only got better with Crash’s other two outings on the PlayStation, which were still created by the same composer. Josh Mancell created atmosphere while also stirring up emotion in a game that easily could have had a forgettable soundtrack. To hear more about how he made the soundtrack I’d highly recommend this in-depth interview on a great YouTube channel that deserves your attention called Good Blood. These delightful tracks are incredible and help add so much emotion to this almost timeless classic.
Crash Bandicoot is a good game. Don’t get me wrong but it feels strange when you get into more precise platforming environments and situations which can’t be completely forgiven in the genre Crash sought to infiltrate. He did infiltrate it successfully all things considered but it was his sequels that guaranteed his legacy and give him a spot in the hearts of the millions of gamers that enjoyed his PlayStation trilogy at a young age. Crash Bandicoot may be a good game but it’s absolutely flawed in some pretty big ways. The variety in some levels and sharp graphics along with the absolutely incredible soundtrack help keep him burning bright in our hearts but its biggest achievement was introducing the world to a character that Naughty Dog would go on to do even bigger and more incredible things with in his two sequels on the PlayStation. His first outing on the system may have been great but its biggest boast was being the crash heard around the world that would allow much bigger smash hit just one year later.
- Lush greens and cryptic metallic levels help level variety
- Sharp visuals and high polygon counts give Crash an edge even over a decade after its release
- Josh Mancell's soundtrack adds atmosphere and stirs up emotion even all these years after Crash Bandicoot's original release
- A good framework that would later allow the greatness only Naughty Dog could bring us
- Controlling a 3D character a mostly 3D environment with a D-Pad is as comfortable as you'd imagine
- Crash has the grace and feeling of a lopsided microwave as you attempt to maneuver around enemies and obstacles
- Gem system relies on completing levels without dying at all, even after you hit a checkpoint