Being a kid born in the mid-90s and growing up in a cold, small British seaside resort, there wasn’t much to do except play football and play on Sony’s then brand spanking new Playstation. As I found myself pretty uninterested in football (I still don’t know what the offside rule is, the shame weighs on my shoulders every day) I found myself more drawn to Sony’s little grey box of joy. Super Mario 64 graced us with its presence in 1996, and suddenly everyone wanted to make a 3D platformer in the mid-to-late 90s, following in the literal footsteps of the heroic plumber of dubious qualifications into this brave new three-dimensional world.
Another symptom of the rampant ninties-ness was an influx of cutesy mascot characters. Mascot characters gave your console a face, and let you draw your line in the sand. Nintendo had Mario, Sega had Sonic. Sony, the then new upstart to the console industry, wanted a fresh face to go toe-to-toe with the two titans of gaming. What followed was an influx of different platforming games with cutesy characters all looking to be Sony’s face. There were many worthy contenders (Spyro the Dragon, Rayman kind of, the criminally underrated Klonoa and even more ‘mature’ characters like Lara Croft of Tomb Raider fame), but the one that would ultimately win out was Crash Bandicoot, a bright orange, mostly crazy mammal thing wearing denim shorts, off-brand Converse who collects apples; developed by the then-mostly-unknown Naughty Dog, later of Uncharted and The Last of Us fame.
Naughty Dog’s Crash trilogy (and one kart-racing game) were a huge part of my time with the Playstation. I loved the bright colours, the goofiness of it all. It was like playing a cartoon in a way. The series left a huge impression on little me, helping shape my sense of humour and my love of platformers. For a while, Crash’s star was very bright indeed. All three of the main games reviewed well and were massively successful. For a while it looked like Sony had found its mammal, its own Titan to go face-to-face with Sega and Nintendo, but it was sadly not to be. In 1999, after the release of Crash Team Racing, Naughty Dog would part ways with the bandicoot that helped build their house (although don’t feel sorry for them, I have a feeling they’ll do alright) and, after going multiplatform and having a few decent releases that never quite reached the heights of his PS1 heyday (and one weird point where Crash had tribal tattoos and dabbled in mind control. I won’t go into that), Crash was seemingly shelved by now-owners Activision in 2008, seemingly living on only as a happy footnote in gaming history, one who’s star sadly faded just when it was at its brightest.
That was the case until E3 2016. There had been rampant speculation about the return of Crash Bandicoot for a while, and the rumours bore fruit when Sony announced what would later be called the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy; fully remastered versions of all three Naughty Dog Crash Bandicoot games. To say I was excited was an understatement. My mind immediately flooded with memories of my childhood. A thought then occurred to me. It had been a good few years since I had last played any of the original Crash games, and I began to question whether they were as good as I remember them, or whether they were just yet another case of rose-tinted nostalgia goggles that plague a lot of the 90s media I watched when growing up. I decided to go on a journey of remembrance. Before the release of N. Sane Trilogy, I decided to go back and replay the original three Crash games to see how well they hold up and to see just how much change the remasters bring. With that, please join me as I take the original Crash Bandicoot for a spin.
Crash Bandicoot, a bright orange, mostly crazy mammal thing wearing denim shorts, off-brand Converse who collects apples; developed by the then-mostly-unknown Naughty Dog, later of Uncharted and The Last of Us fame.
A few things hit me when I replayed the first game in the series. The first was just how much you can see of Uncharted’s DNA in the first Crash game. Both feature heroic protagonists that throw themselves headlong into harsh, remote environments like jungles, volcanoes and frigid mountain peaks. Both run through elaborate linear obstacle courses filled with deadly falls and traps, with only their dexterity and agility separating them from doom. Occasionally, the camera will pan around to give you a more cinematic view. It can sweep to the side for more traditional 2D platforming faire or swing in front of Crash for those iconic chase sequences. There are even fast-paced twitchy vehicle sections, even if that vehicle is a warthog. The only thing that separates them is that, instead of gun-toting goons of this week’s comical Indiana Jones-style villain, it’s more skunks and tortoises that block Crash’s path (and even then, Pinstripe and his gang give Crash a dash of the gun-toting gang flavour of Uncharted). It was really heartwarming to see that, despite all the time, Naughty Dog still seem very in touch with their roots. Crash really is just a furrier, more orange version of one of gaming’s most prolific treasure hunters. Not bad for a game which is really just Sonic the Hedgehog, but you usually run forward instead of right.
The other thought that crossed my mind is that I really, really hate 3D platforming without analogue sticks. This isn’t a fault of the game, as the original release predates the launch of the now standard Dualshock controller, but my god did my thumbs hurt after play sessions with the first game. An embarrassing number of deaths of mine could be attributed to accidentally pressing the d-pad for too long, resulting in Crash making a beeline for the nearest bottomless pit. It made me feel spoilt, that this was how real badasses played 3D platformers and I had been pampered in my God-fearing, analogue ways. Other odd, although this time intentional, choices also rear their head in Crash 1. The game not only supports saving to an external memory card but also boasts a password system. I remember I had an off-brand PS1 memory card since the official cards were very expensive (and were about the size of a big matchbox and had a lofty capacity of 1MB. Technology marches on) so allowing less fortunate players a means of continuing where they left off was a nice gesture not often seen. The main issue I have is saving your game to a memory card is hilariously complex. To save your game, you need to collect three tokens of Crash’s weirdly sultry girlfriend hidden in a stage (and not all stages have them) and you then need to complete a small bonus stage. Then you can save your game. If you mess up the bonus stage, you don’t get to save, and some of them can be very challenging late game. It’s a decision I really can’t comprehend.
And you’ll be wanting to save your game often, as this game is hard. Crash’s quest to save the weirdly-sultry girlfriend from the clutches of the nefarious Dr Neo Cortex, and his sidekick Nitrus Brio, isn’t an easy one. After a few easy levels on N. Sanity Beach, the difficulty quickly ramps up, with certain levels reviving long-dormant memories of a very frustrated younger me (I hate those fiddly levels where you jump across the world’s ricketiest bridges, and I’m sure Slippery Climb made me cry as a kid, God knows it nearly made me do so at 22). It’s not just me either. A friend made it his new year’s resolution to 100% complete Crash Bandicoot a couple of years ago, and he still hasn’t succeeded despite numerous attempts. It was a mission I too quickly abandoned. although I had found a damn near 20-year-old completed save file on my old memory card. Obviously, young Michael thought he was being clever by typing in a password for 100% completion and saving it over to a memory card. You can just run through the entire game and beat it in a couple of hours. To complete it, you must collect gems (which you get from breaking all the boxes in a level, much harder said than done) and collect tokens of the game’s dual villains to unlock new levels and collect more gems, and these are ridiculously hard. Despite being a game which is aimed at children, it does not wear the kid gloves. A failure is absolutely an option. Despite this, the bosses, for the most part, are very easy (the tricky Ripper Roo fight aside).
And you’ll be wanting to save your game often, as this game is hard. Crash’s quest to save the weirdly-sultry girlfriend from the clutches of the nefarious Dr Neo Cortex, and his sidekick Nitrus Brio, isn’t an easy one.
So, does Crash Bandicoot hold up? The answer is yes, but with a lot of asterisks following that recommendation. Crash Bandicoot is a prime slice of 90s era platforming fun, it’s bright and imaginative setting remains vibrant to this day. Once you get past the agony of using a d-pad, there is a lot of fun to be had with the platforming on display. But the weird save system, sad lack of support for analogue controls (which couldn’t be helped) and the hidden at-times brutal difficulty underneath the goofy exterior can make it hard to play through. On top of all that, while Crash Bandicoot is an iconic game and still a load of fun, it’s more formulaic than I was expecting it to be. I mentioned it before in passing but in a lot of ways, it does feel like a slowed-down 3D iteration of the Mega Drive era Sonic games. This is by no means a bad thing, but it’s hard to shake off the feeling that little of the gameplay on offer here has been seen before in other games in its genre. Crash Bandicoot is more than the sum of its parts, and I think the game which could benefit from the N. Sane Trilogy treatment the most.