Crash Bandicoot: A Retrospective Part 1

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Gather around Children, and let me tell you a story. A story of the underdogs from down under, and their legacy of overlooked brilliance.

Long ago in a console war far far away, the dynasties of Nintendo and Sega were at a stale mate. Leading SNES was legendary jump man Super Mario, while the flag of Genesis was single handedly kept up by the demon of speed Sonic the Hedgehog. In their never ending battle for dominance, they monopolized the entire interactive entertainment industry with no sign of slowing down (and for Sonic, that was quite literally). As the VG Universe nears toward the verge of a whole new generation (the 5th one to be exact), Nintendo sought out the allegiance of Sony for the construction of a whole new disc-powered gaming device to combat Sega’s new machine, the Saturn. Sony agreed, and began the blue prints of what would become the Nintendo Play Station. But just as the technology was within their grasp and all their hard work was about to pay off, Nintendo pulled the plug. They had been secretly giving their money and characters to Phillips behind their backs to work on the same thing. With no one to turn to, would Sony let everything they worked for die in vain?

It was the dawn of a new generation. If there was ever a time to make a move to shift the course of the war, now was the time to do it. With all the odds against them, Sony went along with the construction of their Play Station on their own. But who would lead them? Who would be the face of Sony Computer Entertainment, and go head to head with the Italian Stallion and the Blue Blur?

Here’s a hint: He’s orange, has a Mohawk, and would pilot a whole new dimension in platforming.

Even to this day, the story of the high spinning marsupial known as Crash Bandicoot still amazes me. Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin were your two every day team of programmer and artist just making games for the fun of it in their home town of Boston. In an industry that was, until then, completely dominant in Japan, their creation became the very first video game console mascot made in the U.S. Now they are famously recognized as the founders of Naughtydog, the company that brought us 2009’s Game of the Year, Uncharted 2 Among Thieves. This is how it all began.

Crash Bandicoot (1996):

"I am fully aware Nintendidn’t invite me to this party. So I Crashed!!!”

Very immediately when I turned on this game, one of the first things I noticed was the music. The xylophone jingles were unlike any theme music I have ever heard. They were so catchy, and immediately made me want to dance in place. Then I noticed the character animation. Unlike his Japanese counterparts, Crash was full of vibrant emotions, conveyed with unique gestures like the subtle shifts in his eyebrows. The humor of the game was reminiscent of classic Warner Brothers cartoons. I also loved the setting. It reminded me of Donkey Kong Coutnry’s jungles and Aztec ruins, but instead of the African Safari, we were now in the Australian Outback, home of the Aborigines, and some of the strangest most vibrant creatures in the world. Trust me when I say they took full advantage of that setting.

As much as I would like to say this game is just Mario 64 supplement for the PS1, The games actually play very different. While Crash Bandicoot did pilot the 3D platforming genre (Mario 64 releasing the following month), the level design was still very linear. The gameplay had the classic feel of moving through a hub map, selecting a level, then racing from the beginning of the level to the end. Some may say that sounds primitive compared to Mario 64’s exploration and open world innovations. I see it as a bigger focus on quick pacing and reflexes. The linearity of the levels also meant that we never had to worry about wonky camera angles that people familiar with the 3D Mario brand frequently had to put up with. (Don’t get me wrong Mario 64 was an iconic game. If you really want to hear about how good that game is, I’m sure Mr. Pranger would be more than happy to oblige.)

And don’t think that because this game was linear meant it was without its fare share of creative level design, like where you pitch a ride on a wild hog and steer it across the deadly terrain. Or the fact that this game practically invented Front-view Chase Sequences, in which the camera is aimed behind at the giant bolder rolling after you, and you only have an instant to react appropriately to the obstacles in front of you.

Let's talk plot.

Dr. Neo Cortex (criminal mastermind # Alpha-Nine-Delta) is experimenting with a device he calls the Evolvo-Ray, for the purpose of genetically mutating animals off the coast of N. Sanity Island, giving them primitive human intelligence and super human strength. Crash, an Eastern Barred Bandicoot, was meant to be the leader of his army for world domination, but ended up rejected by Cortex as being inferior and cast aside in favor of his other mutants. However while in custody, Crash had grown fond of his lady bandicoot cellmate Tawna. He goes on a quest to free her from the clutches of Cortex, and while he’s at it, he might as well stop this whole taking-over-the-world business. It’s not healthy. So… yeah, when you break it down, this is another simple case of Race to the end. Beat the bad guys. Save the girl. The End. But the stories of Crash games have always been more about the characters than the plot. All the bosses had such fun archetypal personalities. There was the fat tribe leader Papu Papu, the first three of Cortex’s other experiments: Ripper Roo a deranged Kangaroo in a strait jacket, Koala Kong the brute, Pinstripe Potoroo a trigger happy god-father weasel, and let’s not forget Cortex’s assistant, Potions Master Dr. Nitrus Brio (N. Brio for short).

In what was considered the Golden Age of platformers, while it may not be as lengthy, complex, or well known as other games of the same genre (particularly ones made by Rare), Crash Bandicoot was full of exciting moments, stark seamless animation, catchy and innovative music, and very colorful characters. Not a bad start for a couple of guys from the U.S. Needless to say, you should check it out as soon as possible.

To be continued...

Gus Townson also writes for his  Avatar the Last Airbender fanfic site at: http://avatarleo.wordpress.com/

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2 Comments

  1. New copies, Gus, not used. New copies are always super expensive, especially for older games, but the used copies listed on Amazon are still under $10.

    Also, you can’t go to Game Crazy stores anymore. The retailer sadly just went out of business.

  2. I just realized copies of this game at Amazon are going for 60-90 dollars. Sheesh! I’d say your better off just stopping buy the nearest Game Traider or Game Crazy, or downloading it off PSN if you have a PS3.

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