I figured while I’m on the subject, I might as well continue with my Crash Bandicoot Retrospectives. Last week in Part 3, we covered Crash’s critically acclaimed kart racer, CTR, and boy did that become more confrontational than I intended it to be. I apologize, and promise from now on to judge Crash games by their own merits and not how they stack up to the competition. [Pranger’s Note: Apology accepted. :)]
That said, I have brought myself to a hurdle. While CTR can be said to be the PSOne’s attempt at their own personal Mario Kart (and succeeded by my book), the next game on the list is Crash Bash from the year 2000, and its goal was to be the Crash equivalent of Mario Party. Seeing as this is the very first Crash Bandicoot game not to be made by Naughtydog, with Universal Studios passing the development baton to Eurocom Entertainment, jumping into this universe of vast creative characters and trying to wrap a large scale party game with enough inventive mini-games that would appeal to a larger group of players must have been a tall order.
Let’s see how Eurocom faired.
Plot wise, this game is set up to be the end all be all of the Crash Bandicoot story arc, and in some ways it kind of is, seeing as this will be the last Crash game made for the PS1 before the PS2 takes the gaming world by storm in the following year. We begin with our two spiritual masks, Aku Aku and Uka Uka, yet again ready to butt heads (literally) to prove whether Good or Evil is superior. Yet because the ancient order from where they hail from forbids the brothers from fighting each other (which already doesn’t makes sense, seeing as we saw them fight in the final battle of the third game), they decide upon the most proactively game-like resolution to settle the issue. A contest. A series of challenges that will pit the Aku-Uka brothers’ disciples against one another, with the winner deciding in whose hands the fate of the world will fall.
You know, I get that stories in video games were still pretty simplistic and retro at the time, but I honestly felt that the first four games of the Crash series had a pretty solid narrative to go along with their very intriguing universe, and they definitely evolved and got stronger over time. It just seems a bit odd to me that the supposed final battle between the forces of good and evil is ultimately decided by the winner[s]of a handful of carnival games.
Though I may be getting a little ahead of myself. Before we get to critical, perhaps I should actually look into a bit of these said “carnival games,” to see what this game really has in store.
This is the most standard of all the games, and it’s pretty simple to comprehend: Four players compete in a battle arena littered with crates, TNT, item boxes, and Wampa Fruit. Your object is to use any means provided to deplete your opponent’s health meter and knock them out. Each character class has their own individual running speed, attack power, and throwing distance. Go nuts.
Four players each take a pod attached to one side of a square field. Every pod moves back and forward attached to the goal, and is equipped with a shockwave ability. As metallic balls are dispersed onto the field, your goal is to knock the balls into your opponent’s goal while also protecting your own. There are no unique traits in this game among separate character classes. Each players starts with a set number of points and loses one each time a ball passes into their goal. Your points deplete entirely, and you’re out. Last man standing wins.
Four players are placed on a round block of ice while riding on baby Polars. Objective is to wrestle your opponents off the iceberg. Each player class has a different type of tackle attack that uses up a separate amount of your adrenaline meter with every move. Last player and their bear standing wins.
Four players start on each corner of a grid and pogo from one space to another to paint the squares their color. Stepping on Purple Point Boxes will give you a point for each of the spaces your color, then reset them back to grey. Stepping on an arrow will turn all spaces the arrow was pointing into your color. Yet again no difference among separate Character classes in this one. Player who culminates the most points before the timer runs out wins.
And those are the first four game types that are provided for you. Keep in mind as I describe them to you, they play a lot differently from minigames you might be used to from other party games. To start, they are a bit lengthier, averaging at about 2-3 minutes per round, with challenges having multiple rounds, usually best of three. All challenges can also be played either Free-For-All or 2-on-2.
While there are technically 16 games to choose from at the very beginning, all of them are different variations of these first four I’ve shown you above. Each challenge has four different maps that slightly alter the game in various ways. For example, in one of the Bash maps, it is played on a metal grid where TNT and Nitro crates can blow through the floor leaving holes that players can fall into if they’re not careful. Or one of the Ball maps, the pods are equipped with a magnet that allows players to grab and hold onto multiple balls, then launch them all together at high speeds.
There are 12 additional games, but all of them can only be unlocked through completing the Adventure Mode. This is a bit of a drag, because while I’ll admit CTR was the kind of multiplayer game that also managed be a fun in Single Player, Crash Bash is not. Ever tried to play a whole map of Mario Party all by yourself? Yeah, all the fun seems to evaporate when there’s no one else in the room. It’s pretty much the same here. The one slight saving grace is that the Adventure mode can be played in 2 Player Co-op, which makes it a little more engaging.
Once you eventually unlock all this game’s challenges, the opportunities open up tremendously, thanks to Tank War maps, Bumper Car Dashing, Whack-A-Shroom, and probably the most fun, Dragon Drop: Players tackle each other to grab gems so they can toss them at a rolling dart board for points, all the while on the backs of flightless dragons. (Reference to another popular Sony Icon at the time perhaps?)
A party game such as this one entails that the creators must nail the multiplayer aspect, which I am please to say Eurocom did with gusto. Get four people in a room playing this game together, and I guarantee the thrills will last for hours. These challenges, while small in numbers, all have a great learning curve feel to them. It’s one of the few games of its type that truly feels like there’s a sense of skill involved, yet it’s a level of skill that even the most casual of gamers can pick up and develop in a night.
So while the multiplayer and the overall gameplay gets a definite pass with me, I still have some grating, nitpicky things about the games overall presentation. Naughtydog is known to have just about the best production values in the industry with every franchise they have released. Obviously, Eurocom doesn’t have nearly the track record they do, with their best game being Shinx and the Cursed Mummy: a unique, if slightly glitchy, B-List take on the Zelda scheme, but set in Ancient Egypt. So naturally, there are a few things I and other Crash fans are going to miss out on. So with that, here’s a list of what those nitpicks might be.
- Warped and CTR had the best graphics on the console. With Crash Bash, it appears Eurocom developed all the character models from scratch, and they just seem seriously off from their original rendition.
- The narrative isn’t nearly as diverse, with the very few cut scenes focused squarely on the Aku-Uka brothers’ squabbles amongst each other. A shame that the franchise’s wide variety of characters with their boisterous personalities are not put to use at all. Specifically Dr. Cortex, who thanks to stunning voice work by Clancy Brown, had become one of the most fleshed out and iconic video games villains of the late 90’s.
- Tiny and Dingodile are converted to the Good Guy side for no reason other than to make it a fair contest. That’s an interesting plot development that they could have worked with.
- Dr. Brio is back working alongside Dr. Cortex, even though they have been bitter rivals since the events of Crash Bandicoot 2. Yet another plot development that’s never addressed.
- Only eight playable characters, and no unlockable ones. Additional characters to the franchise only appear as either Boss Fights in the Adventure Mode, or as pop-in pop-out obstacles in specific game maps.
- One of the eight playable characters is Rilla Roo, a gorilla/kangaroo hybrid we’ve never seen before or have ever been given a proper introduction, personality, or skill set of what he does outside the party game motif where he was created for the strict purpose to share Dingodile’s character class. Needless to say, he was not very popular, and has never appeared in another Crash Game since.
- Dingodile doesn’t have either his Australian accent, or his flamethrower. That takes away two very defining traits to his character that makes him the “Most Epic Evil Minion of all video games.” Sad day.
- Crash doesn’t even do his classic victory dance anymore. You know the one:
Nope. He doesn’t do that anymore. Now he’s been reduced to doing some stereotypical chicken dance.
All in all, these discrepancies to staples of the franchise mean that the already obvious detachment from the Naughtydog games is now even more prominent. I’m even willing to say that Eurocom could have cut the narrative, taken out all the characters, replaced them with characters from another franchise (Rayman, Spyro, Gex, etc.), and gamers would have been none the wiser.
For as much grief as I am giving it’s narrative and production aspects, Crash Bash is still a fairly solid party game with dozens of minigames that, given a multiplayer crowd, are engaging, competitive, and just plain fun. This means that Eurocom was half way to a great Crash Game on their hands, which honestly, is half way further than other companies gotten with the franchise, so at least there’s that.
There are no current downloads or re-releases available, but for those of you who still own PS1’s out there, grab a used copy (along with a multitap if you don’t already have one, they should be pretty cheep now), share with your friends, and you’ll be the envy of the town.
At least for an evening anyway.