(First published on Gamepad Magazine, 5th March 2011)
CRASH BANDICOOT 3: WARPED – Naughty Dog – 1998
Back In 1997, if you wanted a platform game for the Playstation, the choice was simple; you bought the Crash Bandicoot series. It was the best of the genre on the console, and nothing surpassed it. Come into 1998 however, and we find that Crash’s reign at the top was not as solid as it may have seemed. The Playstation’s great nemesis, the Nintendo 64, had been pumping out quality such as Banjo Kazooie, and Crash now had a rival on his own console, in the form of the massively popular Spyro The Dragon. Naughty Dog had to take action, and in the space of just 10 ½ months they managed to produce the third game in the series just in time for Christmas. Did the rush affect the quality? Happily, it didn’t. It raised the bar again.
Like its predecessor, the plot of Crash Bandicoot 3 is a natural continuation from the last game; Dr Cortex’s space station has been blown to smithereens, and everything is good in the world…except when a giant chunk of debris hurtles towards the Earth and destroys the tomb that had been keeping the evil Uka Uka (Aku Aku’s twin brother) in captivation. It sucks when something like that happens doesn’t it. Anyway, Uka Uka forms a new alliance with Cortex, and with the help of the Master Of Time, Dr N Tropy, they plan to steal the Crystals hidden throughout time. Aku Aku becomes wise to this plan and sends Crash and Coco out to save the universe for the third time. While it is perhaps not quite as funny as the plot from Crash 2, it is nevertheless very solid stuff and provides a good excuse for Crash to wreak havoc in the past, present and future.
Naughty Dog have a knack for knowing when something works, and so the core gameplay has remained largely unchanged from Crash 2; you have to collect the Crystals from a number of Warp Rooms (this time all located within one handy hub) each containing five levels each, and once you have collected five then you face a boss before you can enter the next warp room. Simple and effective. Apart from the Crystals, there are boxes to be smashed in every level to collect gems, extra bonus levels situated in every level, Wumpa Fruit to be collected for lives, and enemies that need to be defeated by either spinning, jumping, or belly flopping on them. But while the main dynamics have remained unchanged, everywhere else change has been made for the better. Crash now has access to even more moves than before; defeat a boss and you unlock new powers, including a double jump, a tornado spin attack, and best of all, a Wumpa Fruit launcher (which must be a consideration for one of the best weapons…ever). The biggest changes however come in mission structure; so while you have the traditional run into the screen missions and the escape sequences (now you run from a MASSIVE DINOSAUR), now you have the chance to race on motorcycles, go scuba diving, and engage in dogfights in fighter planes. Coco even gets in on the action, racing a tiger over the Great Wall Of China and hitting the waves on a Jet-Ski. These new missions (which are all terrifically implemented and great fun) add a real sense of adventure to the game, expanding on the ideas that had been introduced with the jet packs in Crash 2. Its also good to see that the levels now have their own sense of character, thanks to the time travelling aspect of the game. One minute you will be taking down double headed club wielding trolls in the Middle Ages, then scuttling across rooftops in Arabia, before finishing off with some robot destruction in the future. Each level feels unique (and there’s some great puns thrown in for good measure – ‘Tomb Wader’ for example sends up the adventures of Lara Croft, the Playstation’s other mascot), and for me this greatly improves the fun of the game.
And there is still one more great addition to mention: the introduction of Time Trials and Relics. The basic idea is that once you have collected the Crystal from a level, you can re-enter and there will be a golden clock at the start of the level. Touch it, and the level will turn into a timed mad dash for the end, with regular boxes turning into time-saving crates. Reach the end of the course and you will be awarded different coloured Relics (blue, silver, gold and platinum) depending on what time you got. These relics then contribute to unlocking five bonus levels, which are required for full completion. I loved the introduction of time trials in this game; it gives it a much greater replayabilty factor, and it is always fun seeing where you can cut off time to get a better relic. A tip to the wise though, don’t even think about going for gold without the Crash Dash ability.
Finding fault with the gameplay of Crash 3 is very difficult indeed; the new abilities and levels allow for a much greater scope in the game and lead to some genuinely entertaining platforming moments. The easy bosses of Crash 2 have been removed and the new baddies (including the fantastic Dingodile) are much greater challenges to overcome. I suppose the only negative thing to say is that the 2.5D style of platforming prevented Crash 3 from becoming as expansive as it could have been, and playing this alongside Spyro The Dragon (which had some very big levels – Treetops remains amongst my favourite platform levels of all time) can make it feel perhaps a bit underwhelming at times. Otherwise, it demonstrates Crash at the peak of his powers.
The graphics were again another sign that Naughty Dog had not cut any corners in development; it’s a great game to look at, and the varied environments helped to promote this even more, with the future being filled with the obligatory neon lights, the sea that Coco glides across is suitably choppy, while the Tombs are claustrophobic and filled with all sorts of sharp utensils. They even added in a new range of death animations, making the unfortunate episodes that Crash may endure all the funnier (seeing Crash die due to a giant frog kissing him and turn back into a human had me rolling on the floor laughing the first time I saw it). Throughout the trilogy the graphics were clearly improving, and so once again Crash 3 stands as the peak of its development.
The same story applies with the music. I know I’ve mentioned it several times before in my other reviews, but Naughty Dog are the masters of…Australian sounding music. This time they managed to capture the warpy-ness of it all as well, leading to quite the catchy soundtrack. I love the warp room theme, as well as the tune that plays with Coco’s breakneck run’s through China. Credit is also due to the voice acting, again another step-up from the second game; and here Dingodile (‘Rake out the butter, I’M GONNA MAKE TOAST!!!’) and N Tropy take the plaudits.
Finally, there are a few bonuses in the game that not everyone was aware of when first playing the game. For example, hit a specific road sign on Level 14, and you will be warped to a level of jumping with a small dinosaur. The other secret lies in getting yourself carried away by a giant bird to a Jet-Ski level set on lava. I love little suprises like this, and it’s one of the reasons why I like the Ratchet And Clank series. Finally, you can access a full demo of Spyro The Dragon on the main menu if you so wish. Insomniac kindly paid the favour back in Spyro, giving their player’s access to Crash 3. A nice touch between two rivals methinks.
So then, where does Crash Bandicoot 3 rank in the annals of Playstation history? Well, for one thing, it’s the best of Crash’s platforming series on the console (before he took his turn at go-karting), and it was rewarded with sales worthy of this status, 5.7 million to be exact. It also happened to be better than Spyro The Dragon, making it the King Of Christmas 1998. The real clincher though is, it’s still a riot to play today. I recently replayed it over the summer, and could not believe how well the game has stood up to the test of time. It stands as the last great Crash platformer (before Naughty Dog left it, and it has now become a shadow of its former self) at a time when the genre was hitting its peak. It may not have remained the king (I feel that Spyro 2 and 3 are better), but if you haven’t played it, I cannot recommended it strongly enough. Take a bow Crash.