(First published on Gamepad Magazine, 7th November 2010)
CRASH BANDICOOT (1996) – NAUGHTY DOG STUDIOS
I should make it aware at this point that Crash Bandicoot was the first video game I ever played. Therefore it seems only fitting that 13 years later, the adventures of the spinning orange marsupial forms the basis of my first review.
Crash Bandicoot was released at a strange time for platformers. The king of the hill at the time was undoubtedly Super Mario 64 on the N64 which had revolutionised platforming in 3D, and Crash was Sony’s attempt to at least emulate the success of the Italian plumber’s adventures. It was also unique because the only competition it had on its own console was Bubsy 3D, meaning that it was almost guaranteed sales.
Cue the mayhem…
As plots go, Crash Bandicoot is fairly simply. You play as Crash, a genetically engineered product of the evil Dr Cortex (BOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!) thrown out of his castle onto one of three islands in Australia. You must then trek through near 30 levels and 6 bosses to fight Cortex and claim a ride away with the love of your life, Tawna the female Bandicoot. Hey, it ain’t exactly War And Peace but it does a good job of setting up a funny adventure
For a platformer, the gameplay can make or break the game, and with Crash it seems that the motto was ‘keep it simple’. You only have to use two buttons, one to jump and one to spin, to make it through the various baddies Cortex has to throw at you. Collect 100 Wumpa Fruits for an extra life, collect tribal masks for safety (three masks for INVINCIBILITY!!!!), make it to the end of the level, and break every box in a level for a gem. Its not rocket science, but the point is though, it works. The levels (although mainly linear) shift accordingly from the downright easy at the start to surprisingly challenging towards the end, and all along the way there are secret tokens to be collected for bonus rounds and boxes that the casual eye will not see. It even throws in some breakneck hog riding action for good measure. If you manage to die in a level, there are checkpoints dotted around to ensure that you are never too far away from where you died (and also save you from looking a complete n00b for mistiming a jump). The bosses are a memorable bunch of characters as well, from the insanity of Ripper Roo to the gangster parody that is Pinstripe, the game always ensures that you have a challenge in the zany Aussie atmosphere
It’s a testament to the game that 13 years on the cartoony graphics of Crash Bandicoot still hold some sway. The environment changes are varied, one minute you are jumping your way up a beach, the next you are avoiding flames in some ancient ruins, then evading toxic waste in a factory; all in all its good to see the attention that Naughty Dog put into their game. Admittedly, looking at the game now it is very jagged (especially with the character models) and some of the backgrounds look a little off, but overall its kept its grace with age much better than other games from the time.
I can still remember the theme tune to Crash note by note even to this day. The music is, for use of a better term, very Australian, and rather charming (the music when you fight Koala Kong still makes me laugh), and the sound effects as you spin enemies to their doom and explode TNT boxes is still crisp. Again, the sound of Crash Bandicoot has remained solid despite the years
I still look at Crash Bandicoot fondly, but even so I have to admit there are faults with it. The annoying death sequence which takes far too long. The frustration of working to get the tokens for a bonus level and then f***ing up the first jump straight away. The master cheat code which unlocks everything straight away, which completely ruins the game if you haven’t toiled through it. And finally, it is short. If you do not care for the bonus ending with the gems its quite possible to finish this game in less than 2 to 3 hours (not a patch on the 8 minutes it takes to finish the original Super Mario Brothers but still).
I was fortunate that I played Crash as my first game, as I really did enjoy it and it got me hooked on gaming. I think that it is a testament that going back to play it nowadays doesn’t feel like a chore, but it is still an enjoyable game to play. Time has passed on and given us superior platformers (Crash Bandicoot 2 and 3 to name a few), but it is nice to know that Crash’s first outing is still a laugh to play.