Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time Review

Crash Bandicoot’s recent resurgence has to be the best reboot in video game history (one could argue that title belongs to Sonic Mania, but that wonderful game was followed-up by the dreadful Sonic Forces mere months later, somewhat negating the goodwill Mania created). There have been a few great video game franchise revivals over the years – such as when Retro Studios picked up the Donkey Kong Country mantle – but they were revived continuations. As far as hitting a complete reset button goes, Crash Bandicoot went from a washed-up mascot to once again becoming a viable franchise as if we were back in its heyday.

The original “unofficial” mascot of the Playstation brand has had a slow burn of a build-up to his first brand-new game in over a decade. Back in his absent years, Playstation 4 commercials featured background cameos and references to the face of Sony’s early days in the gaming market. In 2016, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End featured a segment where series’ hero Nathan Drake played a stage from the very first Crash Bandicoot on his Sony Playstation in a fun meta moment (the Uncharted series being created by Naughty Dog, the original creators of Crash Bandicoot…back when they actually made video games). This lead into 2017’s release of Crash Bandicoot: The N. Sane Trilogy, a compilation of Naughty Dog’s original trio of Crash Bandicoot titles recreated from the ground-up for the PS4. Though the games showed some aging in certain areas (namely some tricky perspectives, these were released in 3D gaming’s infancy after all), the N. Sane Trilogy proved that fun itself never ages, and showed that there was still an audience for the franchise. Then in 2019, Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled (a remake of Naughty Dog’s final Crash game, one of the few kart racers that is held in a similar regard to Mario’s) was released, and pushed the boundaries for what to expect in a video game remake.

Now seemed like the appropriate time to finally pull the trigger on a brand-new Crash Bandicoot game. And that’s exactly what happened when Toys For Bob announced they were making Crash Bandicoot 4, fittingly subtitled It’s About Time, which released at the beginning of October 2020.

That “4” in the title is important, as it’s the game’s way of telling players outright that this is a continuation of the original trilogy, ignoring the games that were released post-PSOne/pre-N. Sane Trilogy.

I remember way back when I played Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex (the “first fourth” Crash Bandicoot title) it was obvious that the magic just wasn’t there. It certainly wasn’t the worst platformer you could find at the time, but it was uneventful enough that from that point on, I had kind of forgotten how much I enjoyed Crash Bandicoot back in its heyday. Unlike something like Super Mario, which has proven timeless, it seemed Crash had his time in the sun, and it was over. The series was destined to be a fond memory of the past.

The N. Sane Trilogy was more than just a nostalgia-fueled remake (though it was that too), but a launching pad to start the series over, which continued with the Crash Team Racing remake. Now, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time successfully follows-up this relaunch in such a way that it makes you forget everything that happened to the series after the PSOne era. And in the end, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time proves to be the best game in the series.

Ignoring the gimmicks of later entries, Crash Bandicoot 4 utilizes the same kind of platforming mechanics and stage design of the original trilogy (though the game was built from the ground-up, and doesn’t utilize any assets from the N. Sane Trilogy). It’s a 3D platformer, but it plays more like a 2D one. Crash Bandicoot (or his sister Coco, who is playable in any of Crash’s stages from the get-go) run, jump and spin across linear levels, with the camera usually following behind them (though there are also sections with a straight-up 2D perspective, as well as the series’ “chase” levels, which sees the player character running towards the screen). Along the way, they break crates (think Donkey Kong’s barrels) and collect Wumpa Fruits (akin to Mario’s coins or DK’s bananas).

While I have to admit there are times when the perspective can be a bit tricky, leading to some unfair deaths, for the most part, Crash Bandicoot 4 is an utter delight to play. Yes, those occasional trickier perspectives prove that Crash’s formula isn’t as timeless as that of Mario, but Crash Bandicoot 4 is proof that fun gameplay and strong level design make up for any shortcomings.

That isn’t to say that this is merely the same old Crash Bandicoot with new levels, as Crash Bandicoot 4 makes quite a few meaningful additions and adjustments to the proceedings. The most immediate during gameplay being that Crash/Coco’s shadow is made more prominent, with a targeting reticle around it, which may sound like a small detail, but it greatly benefits Crash Bandicoot’s unique perspectives of 3D platforming.

Another change occurs before you even start the game, with players able to choose between “Retro” and “Modern” play styles. Retro plays things true to Crash’s history, utilizing extra lives and game overs (which will send the player back to the beginning of the current level, no matter their progress), and also means collecting one-hundred Wumpa Fruits results in an additional life. Modern mode does away with lives, meaning you’ll always be revived at the most recent checkpoint no matter how many times you die. Wumpa Fruits still have a purpose however, as collecting 40, 60 and 80 percent of a stage’s Wumpa will reward the player with gems (more on that in a minute). If you select one play style but find yourself wishing you’d picked the other, you can switch between Retro and Modern mode at any time in between stages, so thankfully your file isn’t locked onto a set play style.

Between the two, I recommend starting out with the Modern mode, because Crash Bandicoot 4 certainly lives up to the series’ infamous difficulty. In fact, I dare say it’s the most difficult Crash Bandicoot title since the original (though thankfully, it’s much better designed than the first game). But if you just need that classic Crash challenge, the Retro mode is always there. It’s actually a very nice addition to have an option like this.

Another new element comes in the form of N. Verted mode, which is essentially mirror mode – with the stages flipped in reverse – with the fun added bonus of each world’s N. Verted levels boasting a different art style: One world is in black and white, with Crash and Coco’s spins adding color to the world, while another takes on the aesthetics of a comic book, to the point that sound effects appear as on-screen words like “Pow!” and “Bam!” in the tradition of 1960’s Batman. Sadly, because each art style is confined to their respective world, the N. Verted mode doesn’t quite match up to the similar “Tonic” features from 2019’s Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, but it’s still a fun twist that makes the traditional mirror mode a lot more worthwhile.

 

A more gameplay-focused addition comes in the form of the Quantum Masks, four spiritual voodoo masks who represent time and space, who serve as new power-ups during certain points in the game. One mask allows the player to phase certain objects in and out of existence (you could say these objects can be placed in categories A and B, with the B objects being ethereal when A is active, and vice versa). This alone feels like a wonderful addition to a platformer, and makes for some of the game’s most creative challenges. A second mask utilizes dark matter to give Crash and Coco a superpowered perpetual spin attack. This is admittedly a bit hard to learn, as it makes the controls feel oddly floaty and restrained at the same time, but it also adds some extra variety to the game. The third mask allows the player to slow down time for a few seconds, with Crash/Coco being the only thing that still moves at normal speed. This power leads to some especially interesting obstacles (and even allows Crash to touch the series’ dreaded Nitro crates without instantly exploding). Finally, the last mask changes gravity, allowing Crash and Coco to flip upside-down and walk on ceilings, for a little Super Mario Galaxy-esque level design.

“Slowing down time to jump across falling platforms of ice is the best kind of stressful.”

Each mask feels like a welcome addition (even if the second mask’s spinning ability feels like the developers ran out of time/space-themed ideas), and they really change up the gameplay in some truly inventive ways. Some might be disappointed at how situational the masks are (as soon as their section is done, the masks are removed automatically), but honestly, with the way the level structure works in Crash Bandicoot, I don’t really think they could have been implemented any other way.

My favorite new addition, however, are the stages that center around different characters. While Crash and Coco are the default playable characters in the main stages, three additional characters become playable in the forms of Crash’s archenemy Dr. Neo Cortex, Dingodile, the half-dingo half-crocodile mutant who served as a boss in Crash Bandicoot Warped, and an alternate universe version of Tawna, Crash’s girlfriend from he first game.

“I admit I’m not a fan of Tawna’s new hairstyle. The whole “bright colored hair spiked to one side” has been done to death in video games.”

Tawna plays closest to Crash and Coco, albeit with an additional “hook shot” weapon that allows her to grab and latch onto things at a distance. Cortex is fittingly the most different, coming equipped with a blaster that can transform enemies into platforms (one blast for a solid platform, two blasts for a bouncy, gelatinous platform, with a third blast reverting the enemy to its standard self, if things need readjusting). Though Cortex lacks the double jump of the bandicoots, he instead has rocket boots that allow him to dash forward in a short burst which, when combined with the enemies-to-platforms mechanic, really gives Cortex’s stages a strong puzzle element. My favorite has to be Dingodile, however. Already the series’ most outrageous character just by being what he is, Dingodile not only attacks with his tail, but also has a vacuum gun that sucks up crates by the dozens, can throw TNT crates at enemies and objects, and gives him a little hover/double jump combo (akin to Dixie Kong in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze).

There is an unfortunate caveat to these characters’ stages though. While their introductory stages are entirely their own, all of their subsequent levels are only theirs up until a point, at which case it switches over to Crash/Coco, turning into one of their prior stages with small tweaks.

You see, during the main stages, you’ll occasional come across an event that leaves Crash or Coco scratching their head (like an explosion taking out a group of enemies before you can even approach them). The Tawna, Cortex and Dingodile stages present the story from their point of view, and how their actions lead into the aforementioned “head-scratching” moments, which then segue into that previous stage from that moment, with a few changes to crate and enemy placement to mix things up.

While this is a fun twist at first, and equally fun to see how the other characters’ actions play into things, after a while you begin to really want the other characters to just have levels of their own. It’s a bit disappointing when a Dingodile level really starts to get going, only to abruptly end and switch over to something you already played as Crash. Maybe the game will get some DLC that can expand on the other characters, or perhaps we’ll eventually get a Crash Bandicoot 5 to do just that. But as of now, playing as the side characters in Crash Bandicoot 4 feels like a great new addition that’s only partly realized.

If, by now, you’re curious how all of this comes together – what with the bandicoots, alternate universe characters, evil scientists and dingo-crocodile hybrids – there actually is a story here. In fact, though it may not be a particularly story-heavy game, Crash Bandicoot 4 probably has the most elaborate plot in the series.

Though this is a direct sequel to Crash Bandicoot Warped, Crash Bandicoot 4 is appropriately set twenty-two years after its predecessor (if you’re wondering why none of the characters are older, it’s because it’s Crash Bandicoot – a series largely inspired by Loony Tunes and Animaniacs – I don’t think they’re aiming for realism here). Dr. Cortex, along with the evil voodoo spirit Uka-Uka and the time traveling villain Dr. Nefarious Tropy (N. Tropy), have been trapped in a pocket dimension between time and space for all these years. After countless attempts to escape (on Uka-Uka and N. Tropy’s part, they remark that Cortex has done nothing but whine for the entirety of their banishment), Uka-Uka finally manages to tear a hole in space and time. Though the effort costs Uka-Uka all his energy, sending him into a deep slumber (and writing him out of the picture rather unceremoniously, I have to admit), it allows Dr. Cortex and Dr. N. Tropy to escape, with the latter building a space station that can replicate the tear in space and time created by Uka-Uka to reach other dimensions in a plot to conquer the multiverse. Dr. Cortex, becoming something of N. Tropy’s assistant, in turn recruits his own former assistants Dr. N. Brio and Dr. N. Gin to build an army to help out with their plot.

N. Tropy’s tampering with time and space results in the Quantum Masks reappearing, an event which catches the attention of Aku-Aku (Uka-Uka’s benevolent older brother, and something like Crash’s Obi-Wan Kenobi). So Aku-Aku sets Crash out on an adventure to awaken and unite the Quantum Masks in order to put an end to N. Tropy’s plot and bring balance back to the multiverse.

It’s a simple plot, but one that I appreciate for changing up the series’ formula in a few ways, most notably by promoting N. Tropy to the role of primary antagonist. He was always my favorite Crash Bandicoot villain, and I always found it weird how he was introduced in Warped as one third of the main villain trifecta (along with Uka-Uka and the returning Cortex), but then was taken out midway through the game. And then when The Wrath of Cortex reduced his role to a stage obstacle, suffice to say it seemed like the character had missed potential. So it’s pretty cool to see the series continue after all these years and not simply bring back the Crash vs. Cortex formula (though that’s still here too), but effectively redeem N. Tropy and make him a better villain than ever.

Sure, the plot is nothing too fancy, and there’s a couple of elements that could use more fleshing out (particularly when it comes to N. Brio, who – given the rebooted nature of the game – was last seen turning over a new leaf in Crash Bandicoot 2. He even addresses Crash and Coco as his friends in this game, but is still working for Cortex, so I don’t know what that’s about). But it’s a fun little story that manages to find a way to hit a reset button on everything post-Warped while also paying tribute to the series’ entire history, even the less savory years.

On the downside, despite the inter dimensional nature of the plot, the actual levels seem more focused on the time travel aspect (a concept which Warped already tackled). There is a Mad Max-style world early on, and then a later world which I won’t spoil also plays off the different dimension theme, but most seem built around different places in different time periods. There’s a pirate world, ancient China world, and a dinosaur world. All cool themes, sure, but they don’t really come across as different dimensions. Hell, even the snow world (one of my favorites in the game) is referred to as “The 11th Dimension.” Again, snow and ice are always a great theme, but what’s “11th Dimension” about it?

There is another aspect to the game that sees things continue even after the main plot is resolved which I have mixed feelings about. This “epilogue” section can feel like an alternate idea Toys for Bob had pitched for the story of the game, and ended up tacking it on in addition to the main story just because they still wanted to use it in some capacity. On the other hand, it’s not like this is a serious game where such a story addition would come across as pointless bloat. When your franchise is as innately silly as Crash Bandicoot, you can kind of get away with these things.

I suppose these are all quibbles. I can’t imagine the story and themes are the main reasons someone would play a Crash Bandicoot game. The game succeeds where it really counts, gameplay. Crash Bandicoot 4 really does feel like the true continuation to Crash Bandicoot Warped I had nearly forgotten I’d waited twenty-two years for. It’s the classic Crash Bandicoot gameplay made fresh and new.

If you’re a completionist, Crash Bandicoot 4 also happened to be one of the deepest games I’ve played in that regard in quite some time. If you just want to complete the story, you can do that, but if you really want to get everything out of the game, you’ll stick with it long, long after the story is done.

The time trials from Warped reappear. After completing a stage, you can replay it and grab a clock at the start to begin that stage’s time trial. Breaking certain crates will award you precious seconds of time, and you can earn different relics (sapphire, gold and platinum) depending on how fast you complete a level.

In addition, every stage houses six gems. Three of which, as mentioned earlier, are earned by the amount of Wumpa Fruit you collect. A fourth gem is earned in the series’ traditional way of breaking every single crate in the level, while another is simply found hidden somewhere within the stage. The final gem is the hardest, and requires the player to only die three or less times on a stage to claim it (don’t worry, you can always start a stage over if need be). And yes, the N. Verted versions of the stages have six gems of their own (including the hidden gem in the level being in a different spot than its standard version).

The gems are used to unlock new character skins for Crash and Coco, which are a fun cosmetic change, but admittedly they may not be the strongest incentive for those who aren’t already completionists to replay the stages. And like the N. Verted visual styles, each character skin is locked onto a specific stage (get X amount of that level’s gem to unlock that skin) which can make collecting some of the skins a bit tedious. Unlocking the costumes by using the gems as currency may have been a more desirable way to go for some players.

If this weren’t enough already, some stages even house an item called a Flashback Tape, a floating VHS that you can only collect if you haven’t died up to that point. Each Flashback Tape unlocks its own bonus stage (accessible on the world map), which takes the player back to the days when Cortex was experimenting on Crash. The Flashback levels are particularly tough gauntlets that task the player with breaking every crate, which becomes much trickier than it sounds.

We’re still not done, believe it or not. Because if you’re a really hardcore Crash Bandicoot fan, there’s one last challenge the game has in store: N. Sanely Perfect Relics. As you may have guessed from their name, these are awarded for performing a perfect run on a level, meaning performing everything required to claim all of a level’s gems without dying. In a game that’s already pretty darned difficult, this is quite the steep challenge.

Of course, all these things are only there if you want to tackle them. They give Crash Bandicoot 4 a stronger sense of replay value than I’ve seen in some years. I often find myself dedicating an entire play session just to claiming a new gem or two.

“The game even includes a polar bear-riding stage a la Crash Bandicoot 2. This makes me so happy.”

This is all on top of an already great platformer filled with variety in gameplay, complemented by catchy music and the series’ oddly-satisfying sound effects. The occasional cheap death due to difficult perspectives and the unrealized potential of the additional playable characters are the game’s bigger drawbacks (because more Dingodile can only ever be a good thing), but they still don’t prevent Crash Bandicoot 4 from being one of the best platformers of recent years.

The N. Sane Trilogy may have brought Crash Bandicoot back. But Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time makes it feel like the series never left.

Crash’s comeback has certainly been the best in gaming I can remember. Now if only something similar could happen to Halo, Final Fantasy, Paper Mario and Sonic… again.

 

8

Giving Crash His Due

With the release of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time now less than a month away, I’ve been thinking about the series a fair bit. Among my thinkings about of the series, I realized I could have done it some better justice in recent years.

You see, in my annual video game awards, one of my awards is for the “Best Remake or Remaster.” For 2017 I went with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for said award, with Crash Bandicoot: The N. Sane Trilogy being the runner-up. And for 2019, I gave the award to Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered, and I failed to even mention Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled in the category!

But the more I think about it, the more I think I could have done better for Crash. I mean, I don’t regret picking the winners I did. But when you consider the sheer effort that went into Crash Bandicoot’s recent remakes, I definitely could have done them better.

Considering Crash Bandicoot: The N. Sane Trilogy rebuilt the series’ beloved first three entries from the ground up, and Nitro-Fueled not only did the same for Crash Team Racing, but also remade Crash Nitro Kart within it and added a slew of new content and characters to boot, they definitely deserved more credit than I gave them.

Again, I don’t regret selecting Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Ni no Kuni Remastered for my Best Remake/Remaster award, since those are incredible games. But maybe I should have split the category in two? One for Remasters, and another for full-on remakes. Because while Mario Kart 8 saw some improvements with its Switch release, it was a more polished version of an already great game that had come out only three years prior. And Ni no Kuni was a remaster of my Game of the Year for 2013, so definitely a re-release worth visiting, but it didn’t really add anything substantially new to the game.

The fact that the Crash Bandicoot games were rebuilt from the ground-up is actually very impressive the more I think about it. And while, sure, the Crash trilogy may not be flawless platformers a la Mario, the second and third entries are still great games made even better with their remake, While the first Crash may not have aged particularly well, the N. Sane Trilogy version brings it a little closer to its superior sequels. And the more I think about it, the more I think Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled may be the most robust video game remake ever made. Sure, it’s a Mario Kart clone, but it’s one of the few Mario Kart clones that’s actually comparable to its inspiration, and the remake may just be the best kart racer that isn’t Mario Kart 8 (and yeah, I still hope to review Nitro-Fueled soon). I repeat, it remade a whole additional game within the remade game, and added new features. That’s impressive.

Perhaps going forward I’ll make two separate awards, one of remasters and one for full-blown remakes. So while I think Mario Kart 8 may be a better game than any one entry of the Crash trilogy, and I like Ni no Kuni more than Crash Team Racing, I may retroactively place Mario Kart 8 and Ni no Kuni in the Best Remaster category, and give Best Remake to The N. Sane Trilogy and Nitro-Fueled. In all honesty, if Crash Bandicoot 4 lives up to the hype, then the recent resurgence of Crash Bandicoot is probably the best reboot in video game history. And that’s largely because the remakes of the franchise’s early years were so darn impressive (and because they’re ignoring what came after and going straight for a new game now, effectively rebuilding the series itself in a way most reboots could only dream of).

So congratulations, Crash Bandicoot! Enjoy my retroactive appraisals!

Some Video Game Stuff I’m Excited About

Lots of big video game announcements recently. Along with all that recent Pokemon news (highlighted by the Pokemon Snap sequel we’ve waited over two decades for), yesterday brought some cool gaming news.

First off, we had the announcement of the first new Super Smash Bros. Ultimate character from the six-character “Fighter Pass 2.” It’s Min Min from Nintendo’s ARMs!

Some people were disappointed when Nintendo announced early that the first character of the new batch would be from ARMs, but personally, I think it’s overdue! Why wasn’t an ARMs character added into the game to begin with? It seems like an obvious way to promote ARMs, and it would bring something new to Super Smash Bros. It’s like how Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS decided not to make the Inklings a DLC character. It seems like adding characters from newer Nintendo IPs into Super Smash Bros. would be an easy way to help build prestige for them, so it’s weird how Nintendo is repeatedly late in pulling the trigger on them. And yet, they add new Fire Emblem characters before the game said character appears in has even been released. I don’t get it.

At the very least, I suppose some good came from the delay. Had they added an ARMs character from the get-go, they probably would have gone with Spring Man, since he’s – by default of being the most basic representation of the game’s concept – the de facto “main character” in most peoples’ eyes. But since he was made into an Assist Trophy, we ended up getting Min Min instead, and she’s a far more fun character.

Not only does Min Min look like a fun and unique addition to Super Smash Bros., and represents a game that really should have been represented when Ultimate launched, but also puts an end to the whole “Spirits deconfirm characters” nonsense the internet loved to spew out. Min Min, you see, was one of the countless “spirits” in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which basically means she was a power-up you could use in certain modes represented by a stock promotional image of the character.

For too long, people have been deadset on the idea that a character appearing as a spirit in Ultimate means they have no chance of being made into a playable character. Well, now that nonsense can stop. Now the possibilities for future characters are nearly limitless. There’s hope for Geno and Dixie Kong yet.

Another source of gaming news that broke yesterday was the official announcement and reveal trailer of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Although the game’s title and box art leaked a couple of days ahead of time, it’s cool to have the official announcement. And the trailer’s pretty cool (despite the questionable song choice). See?

The character redesigns naturally have some gamers complaining, but I don’t mind them for the most part (Dr. Cortex looks a little odd). But the game looks like a lot of fun. Also, I love how they’re making the game Crash Bandicoot 4, following up the 2017 remake compilation Crash Bandicoot: The N. Sane Trilogy. I appreciate that they’re ignoring everything from the series post-PSOne era.

Of course, the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy was created by Naughty Dog, back in the 90s, and I hold the unpopular opinion that the studio was at their best when they were making the series. The more “serious” the studio has become, the more they just feel like they’re giving themselves a pat on the back. Crash Bandicoot 4 is being developed by Toys 4 Bob, but it actually looks like a more worthwhile continuation to something Naughty Dog started than a certain other recently released Naughty Dog sequel made by Naughty Dog themselves…

Interestingly, Crash Bandicoot 4 is planned for release this year on October 2nd. So it looks like I’ll be getting at least one more PS4 game by the year’s end.

Yeah, this isn’t much of a post. Just some recent video game announcements I’m excited for. Been slow at updating this site lately, so, this is something I guess… More “real” content soon. Sorry.

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Multiplayer

Multiplayer has never been more important nor prominent in video games than it is today. With the internet connecting players from around the world, more and more developers are putting an emphasis on multiplayer.

Sometimes, we wish to play video games to take us on epic adventures, but other times, we only want to connect with friends (or random strangers) and have some fun.

2019 may not have been the strongest year for multiplayer titles, but it still provided some good ones. Strangely, my favorite of the lot wasn’t originally from 2019 at all…

 

Winner: Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

Back in its day, Crash Team Racing was – along with Diddy Kong Racing – hailed as one of the only Mario Kart clones to actually be as good as Mario Kart (considering the most recent Mario Kart at the time was Mario Kart 64, there’s an argument to be made that, in that era, CTR was actually the better racer). Though Mario has since unquestionably wrested that crown – due in no small part to the exceptional Mario Kart 8 – the remake of Crash Team Racing still proves to be one of the best mascot racers not called Mario.

Though its single player modes can leave a lot to be desired (there is seriously no reason for the time trials in a game like this to be that precise!),  Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is all too easy to get sucked into when it comes to its multiplayer. With great track designs, a constantly expanding roster of characters, character skins, and karts, and a bevy of different modes of play, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is like a gift that keeps on giving.

Not bad for a remake of a game from the PS1 era.

 

Runner-up: Luigi’s Mansion 3

 

Past Winners

2014: Mario Kart 8 (Online) and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (local)

2015: Splatoon

2016: Overwatch

2017: For Honor* (Online) and ARMS (Local)

2018: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

 

*Retroactively awarded

Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy Review

These days, first-person shooters and other, more “mature” genres are the most prominent games. But back in the 1990s, it was all about cartoony platformers. Mario was the long-standing gaming icon, and Sonic the Hedgehog had risen to prominence in the early years of the decade. Sonic’s popularity lead to countless imitators, with many an “animal with attitude” failing to replicate what made the hedgehog Mario’s one-time rival. There was, however, one such would-be mascot who actually succeeded in being the third-party in this platforming mascot equation: Crash Bandicoot.

Crash Bandicoot was created by Naughty Dog, the developer who is now most famous for creating the Uncharted series and The Last of Us. Crash’s first three outings on the Sony Playstation proved to be so popular, that the anthropomorphized marsupial became the face of Sony’s initial gaming platform.

Crash’s popularity can mostly be attributed to the quality of his games, though it probably helped things a bit that the orange bandicoot had a tone of his own. While Mario was whimsical and Sonic was “cool,” Crash Bandicoot was downright silly. Taking as much inspiration from Loony Tunes as from the likes of Sonic and Mario, Naughty Dog created a worthy addition to the platforming family with an identity of its own. But one who sadly fell out of prominence after Naughty Dog surrendered the character to other developers after the PSOne era. From the PS2 era (which saw Sony’s former mascot become a multi-platform franchise) and the subsequent console generation, the once-mighty Crash Bandicoot fell from grace, with developers never quite knowing how to recreate the series’ magic. After an off-putting quasi-reboot which saw a complete overhaul in art direction (something that never serves as a good sign for long-standing series), Crash laid dormant for nine years.

Thanks to developer Vicarious Visions, Crash Bandicoot is back with his first (and most famous) three adventures being rebuilt from the ground up for the Playstation 4. Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy faithfully re-creates the beloved original trilogy of platformers for a new generation. Though this faithfulness means there’s a little bit of a “warts and all” quality about the N. Sane Trilogy, it also proves to be something of a labor of love and a beautiful re-introduction to the series.

Though Crash Bandicoot was one of the early 3D platformers, it plays a lot more like a 2D one than something like Super Mario 64 (released in 1996, the same year as the first Crash Bandicoot title). The camera is usually fixed behind Crash, with the bandicoot traveling forward through stages that felt like those of a 2D platformer, but with a 3D perspective.

Crash Bandicoot can jump on enemies, but also comes with a spin attack. He collects Wumpa Fruits which, like Mario’s coins or Sonic’s rings, grant an extra life for every one-hundred gained. In the game’s own unique twist on the genre, the stages are also littered with boxes. Once every box in a level is destroyed, Crash is rewarded with a magical gem, which are needed if the player wishes to obtain one-hundred percent completion, with special colored gems found in certain stages which create new paths in certain levels.

Crash seemed to have learned a thing or two from Donkey Kong Country, as the boxes are reminiscent of DK’s barrels, and come in different varieties: Some contain a single fruit, others contain multiples, Crash can bounce on some, while others contain TNT, and will explode within a few seconds after jumped on (or instantly if Crash spins them). The sequels also added Nitro boxes, which will explode instantaneously upon contact, and can only properly be destroyed by hitting a switch at the level’s end. Finally, there are boxes adorned with a tiki mask named Aku Aku. Grabbing one and two masks will give Crash that many more hits, while obtaining a third mask will grant temporary invincibility.

The core gameplay of Crash Bandicoot is a lot of fun. Most of the levels are well designed, and trying to obtain every gem adds a level of complexity to the equation. On the downside of things, the perspective can often be misleading, with the fixed camera leading to some tricky platforming. This is especially true in the first game of the trilogy (simply titled Crash Bandicoot), which can, at times, feel a bit trollish with the tricks it plays with perspective. Still, the core mechanics are so fun that they mostly overshadow the sometimes cumbersome perspectives.

Though the second and third titles of the series, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and Crash Bandicoot: Warped still suffer from some of these troublesome camera issues, they remain two of the few 3D titles on the original Playstation that hold up pretty well in terms of gameplay. The original Crash Bandicoot, however, wasn’t quite so lucky. Despite the fun mechanics, some of the later levels feel almost unfairly difficult, which were made all the worse by a convoluted saving system (in the PSOne version, you could only save after acquiring a gem or completing a bonus stage).

Thankfully, part of that problem has been rectified here, as the N. Sane Trilogy features a streamlined saving feature throughout all three games. For the first Crash Bandicoot, this is something of a godsend with how difficult it could get at times. Those difficult levels still remain – sometimes with unfair traps that require trial-and-error – but at least now you don’t have to worry about replaying them if you missed out on a chance to save before getting a game over.

Cortex Strikes Back and Warped remain two of the best of the early 3D platformers, however, with even the original PSOne versions being enjoyable today.  Crash 2 introduced a sliding move, a crouch that (like Mario) could result in a high jump, as well as overall better level design; and Warped added a wider variety of gameplay styles (jet ski levels, airplane levels, motorcycle levels, etc.) as well as Time Trials, which would award players with saphire, gold or platinum relics if you could finish a stage fast enough.

However, all three games are better than ever as part of the N. Sane Trilogy. The original Crash – though still flawed – is a much better game with the additional features (such as the aforementioned saving), while the sequels are a case of two great games being made all the better.

The obvious changes are the visuals and music. Though the level design is the same, everything has been rebuilt from the ground up. This isn’t simply the old Crash Bandicoot games in HD, but games that don’t look like remakes at all. If you didn’t have the knowledge of Crash’s past, you might be forgiven for thinking these are original PS4 games. And the cartoony aesthetics – whether it be the Australian inspired setting of the first game, the arctic or sewer-themed stages of the second, or the various time periods Crash visits in his time-traveling third outing – stand out all the more on current hardware. Video games look better than ever these days, yet most developers feel the need to make games look more “gritty” or “realistic” because of the technological power at play. But Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy serves as a good example of why such colorful and vibrant games should be explored more often on HD hardware.

Though Crash Bandicoot’s musical scores may not be among the most iconic in video game history, the tunes are infectiously catchy and – taking another cue from DK – can be incredibly atmospheric. Every track has been faithfully recreated, and these already great soundtracks sound better than ever.

Not every change in the N. Sane Trilogy is cosmetic, however, as there have been a few tweaks made to the games themselves. Most notably, Warped’s Time Trials have been inserted into the two earlier games, giving them even more challenge and replay value. Additionally, Crash’s sister Coco Bandicoot, who was originally only playable in select levels of Warped (and even then only in levels that saw her riding a vehicle or tiger) can be played in any platforming level of all three games. She plays identically to Crash, and playing as her is optional, so she doesn’t exactly change the game, but she keeps things faithful for purists while also making up for her somewhat disappointing playability in Warped’s original release.

Crash Bandicoot has had a long, shaky history, but I feel like the N. Sane Trilogy serves as something of a refreshing reboot for the series. The perspectives can still get tricky at times, and the first game can still feel cheap, but the N. Sane Trilogy resurrects the series in a gorgeous recreation of the beloved Naughty Dog games. Hopefully this leads to publisher Activision green-lighting a brand new Crash Bandicoot 4 (ignoring the post-Naughty Dog games and using these remakes as a blueprint would be the best course for the series’ future).

When most people think of Naughty Dog, they probably think of Uncharted, The Last of Us, or even Jak and Daxter. But for me, Crash Bandicoot has always been the synonymous name with the developer, and Vicarious Visions has done a wonderful job at turning these nostalgic favorites into worthwhile contemporary titles.

The bandicoot is back, and I hope he’s here to stay.

 

8

Top 5 Games of E3 2016

So another E3 has come and gone, and overall the show was…okay. There were some games that looked great, other games that everyone but me thought looked great (isn’t that right, Days Gone?), and the heart-crushing disappointment of Paper Mario: Color Splash being revealed to be everything we feared it would be.

Anyway, it was a so-so show, made a bit more lively by the few games that really stood out. As far as I’m concerned, the following are the five games I’m most looking forward to after this year’s event.

Oh, but I’m doing things just a little differently this year. Since my overall reaction to E3 this year was just lukewarm, I’m comprising my top 5 games from the event whether they were present at the show floor or not. Just what ever tickled my fancy this year, as long as it was featured or announced at the event.

I may do a few additional E3 awards later, but it all depends on how many Pixar-related posts I get around to (my “Pixar Month” has been surprisingly only slightly Pixar-y thus far).

So anyway, here are my top five most anticipated games coming out of E3 2016.

 

5: Crash Bandicoot Remastered

"If I saw that thing in my yard, I'd break out the compact bow..."
“If I saw that thing in my yard, I’d break out the compound bow…”

I was so excited when I heard the Crash Bandicoot theme on-stage during Sony’s conference. After years and years of rumors that Crash was coming back (some said under developer Naughty Dog), I thought all my wishes would come true.

And then they casually announced that they were simply remaking the first three Crash games on PS4 and that Crash Bandicoot is in the new Skylanders game, and I was a bit less excited.

After having some time to let it soak in though, I’m really excited for these Crash remakes. For one thing, the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy by Naughty Dog is still the series’ highpoint, and while the second and third entries have aged pretty darn well, these remakes have the chance to iron out the kinks they do have and bring them a more modern fluidity, while also having the chance to fix the largely outdated elements of the first Crash Bandicoot (seriously, fix the save feature!).

Not only that, but this might be the best way to reintroduce Crash to the world, after being passed around to developers like a game of hot potato, with none of the subsequent studios really getting the Naughty Dog’s formula right, and then having the IP go dark for eight years.

Who knows, maybe if the Crash remakes go well enough, it will sway Naughty Dog to get back into the platforming game.

 

4: Insomniac’s Spider-Man

"Hey everyone!"
“Hey everyone!”

Insomniac tends to make good games. Spider-Man is in serious need of a good game. Let’s hope Insomniac gets their peanut butter in Spider-Man’s chocolate…or something. It sounded better before I typed it. I don’t know why I’m not going back and changing my analogy.

Anyway, this new Spider-Man looks promising, and it could be the first great super hero game in years not to have the word “Arkham” in the title. Just please, somehow get J.K. Simmons to reprise his role of J. Jonah Jameson. Please! This goes for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well!

 

3: The Last Guardian

"A boy and his dog...thing..."
“A boy and his dog…thing…”

HOLY CRAP IT HAS A RELEASE DATE! And it’s only months away! Dreams do come true! We will get a new Crash Bandicoot from Naughty Dog! Paper Mario will go back to its RPG roots! Capcom will start making Mega Man games again!

Okay, I might be getting ahead of myself. For now, I’ll just be happy that the almost mythical The Last Guardian is actually happening. After years and years of delays, disappearances, and vague re-appearances, the follow-up to Shadow of the Colossus is finally happening. Here’s hoping it lives up to both its predecessor’s, and its own, reputation.

 

2: Yooka-Laylee

"Yooka and Laylee arrive in Arendelle."
“Yooka and Laylee arrive in Arendelle.”

Yooka-Laylee’s slight delay may be a little bit of a bummer, but my oh my, is this game shaping up to be something beautiful. It really does look like it’s going to be what Playtonic Games promised, and more.

From it’s likable cast of characters, colorful visuals and stunning locales, Yooka-Laylee is already looking like the true successor to Rare’s N64 heyday.

It’s been too long since collectathon platformers were a thing, but Yooka-Laylee looks to carry the torch so well that it’s like they never left. It’s shaping up to be the follow-up to Banjo-Tooie that we’ve waiting over sixteen years for (Gah! I’m old!), and a proper modernization and evolution of the genre. I simply can’t wait to see everything Yooka and Laylee’s world has in store (I’m guessing googly eyes are involved).

Hats off to Playtonic. Hats off.

 

1: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

"Goodbye, Pumbaa."
“Goodbye, Pumbaa.”

Sony may have had the best presence at E3, but Nintendo had the best game. After years and years of Zelda trying to tweak its established formula, we finally have a Zelda that seeks to reinvent it.

From what I’ve heard so far, Breath of the Wild looks to be one of the most open-ended games I’ve ever seen (you can fight the final boss right off the bat!), and Link’s abilities and items look unlike they have before. And finally, FINALLY, Link can jump. Yes, Link finally joins the likes of Mario as one of Nintendo’s jumpers.

I’ve seen many people already claim that Breath of the Wild is basically Nintendo’s equivalent to Skyrim (though I would argue that Breath of the Wild actually looks fun. Oooooh!), and that’s not too far off, as far as its open-endedness is concerned. But it also looks to draw inspiration from Zelda’s very first entry, Team Ico games, and even the films of Hayao Miyazaki (oh come on, the Guardians are totally inspired by Castle in the Sky’s robots).

Breath of the Wild really looks like its going all-out with its “breaking of series conventions,” and it only has me more and more interested to see what else Nintendo ends up doing with the game. Breath of the Wild is shaping up to be a beautiful swansong for the Wii U, and a fantastic introduction to the NX.

The only real question now is, what will Nintendo do with the next Mario?

Crash Bandicoot: Warped Review

Crash Bandicoot: Warped

When it comes to discussing the best entry of any beloved video game series, you’ll usually find a range of answers. Very rarely does a series have an entry that’s almost unanimously hailed as the best. Crash Bandicoot: Warped is one of those few, as it is consistently cited as the best Crash Bandicoot game. It’s with good reason. Crash Bandicoot: Warped is the best Crash Bandicoot game.

Threequels can go either way in the video game world. They’re either the point in a series where the ideas have seemingly wrung dry, and the game just seems to go through the motions, or they’re the point where creators really prove their mettle by continuously improving their craft.

Crash Bandicoot: Warped falls under the latter category of course. Taking most of its immediate predecessor’s best assets, Warped added a number of fun ideas of its own into the mix, producing the culmination of Naughty Dog’s vision for the Crash Bandicoot series.

The game uses a similar setup to Cortex Strikes Back, with the “Warp Room” concept now being expanded to one larger room leading to five smaller chambers, with each housing five levels and a boss.

Crash Bandicoot: WarpedCrash retains all of his moves from Cortex Strikes Back, but this time around he also gains new abilities after defeating the game’s bosses. The new moves include a double jump, a super spin (which also allows Crash to glide), and even a bazooka!

Levels are still played in a 2.5D perspective, with the quality of level design equalling and surpassing that of Crash 2. But Warped doesn’t just settle for matching its predecessor, and new types of stages are also introduced in addition to the platforming stages. Crash Bandicoot, as well as his sister Coco, now partake in motorcycle races, jetski obstacles courses, and aerial dogfights, among other new concepts. Admittedly, the number of these vehicle stages comes at the price of less platforming stages than its predecessor, but Warped’s variety is consistently impressive.

As was the case with the second game, a crystal must be collected on every level to progress further, with each stage also housing one or two secret gems (one gem for breaking every crate in a level, with the potential second gem usually being tucked away in a secret area).

Warped ups the ante for completionists however. In addition to the returning crystals and gems, Crash and Coco now have the option to collect relics. Players can return to any completed stages to partake in that level’s time trial mode. Complete a level fast enough, and Crash is rewarded with a relic. Only the third-tier “sapphire” relics are needed to unlock secret stages, but for those seeking the game’s greatest challenge, you can always go for the gold and platinum relics.

Crash Bandicoot: Warped’s levels aren’t quite as difficult as those in Cortex Strikes Back on their own, but getting every gem is as challenging as anything in its predecessor, and completing the time trials is a whole other beast entirely. This makes Warped the most “all audiences” Crash title, as less experienced players will have a decent challenge just getting through the game, while diehards have a hefty task waiting for them with the gems and relics.

The story this time around is that, after his defeat in Crash Bandicoot 2, Dr. Cortex and his space station crash down to Earth, accidentally freeing an evil voodoo mask named Uka Uka in the process. Two notable retcons take place here: The first is that Uka Uka was apparently the mastermind behind Cortex’s previous evil schemes, and the second is that Uka Uka is the evil brother of Aku Aku, the voodoo mask who was previously just a power-up in the past games, but is now a full-fledged character.

Crash Bandicoot: WarpedUka Uka is angered with Cortex’s failings in the past, and once again seeks the power of the crystals and gems to take over the world. But after the events of Crash Bandicoot 2, the crystals and gems have lost their power. So Uka Uka recruits fellow villain Dr. N. Tropy – who dabbles in time travel – to aide them in claiming the crystals and gems in the distant past, where they still have full power. Aku Aku then sends Crash and Coco through time in order to stop his brother, Cortex and N. Tropy’s plot.

While the time travel setup may sound like a gimmick, it actually helps the game stand out from its predecessors all the more. While Crash 1 and 2’s levels stuck closely with themes of water, snow, and the like, Warped instead has stages based on ancient Egypt, medieval times, an under construction Great Wall of China and, of course, dinosaurs.

In an interesting twist, none of the game’s world’s adhere to a singular theme, and the gimmicks are instead thrown about almost randomly. You’ll go from one backdrop to another and back again. In lesser hands this may just seem inconsistent, but here it works in Naughty Dog’s favor, as the sporadic nature of the level’s themes seems to reflect the game’s energy and sense of humor.

The overall sense of control feels more finely-tuned than in the past games, with Crash’s movements feeling more fluid than before. The visuals, while admittedly aged, also look more polished, with the animations being more vibrant than ever. Similarly, the music has taken another leap forward, with Warped having the best soundtrack of Naughty Dog’s trilogy of platformers. Even loading screens are made fun by the presence of various characters speaking to the player as the levels load up, giving you brief glimpses into their entertaining personalities.

As entertaining as Crash Bandicoot: Warped still is, however, the tricky perspectives of its predecessors are still present, and they have only become more noticeable with age. The game’s fixed perspectives still lead to confusion as to the placement of some objects and enemies, leading to some accidental deaths. And while the game’s bosses are a step up from the past two games, the final boss is once again a bit of a letdown (Uka Uka’s presence in the final battle is little more than an obstacle that needs to be jumped over).

Admittedly, some of Warped’s new ideas also fall short of their potential: Coco Bandicoot is introduced as a playable character, but all of her stages involve either riding in vehicles or on the back of a tiger, so she ends up feeling like a missed opportunity at some variety in the platforming gameplay. The aforementioned motorcycle stages, while a nice change of pace, are a bit basic and lack much distinction between one another.

Crash Bandicoot: WarpedWhen all is said and done though, Crash Bandicoot: Warped remains one of the original Playstation’s highlights. Crash Bandicoot started his gaming career as a bit of a manufactured gaming mascot, but with Crash Bandicoot 2 and, ultimately, this title, Crash became a genuine video game star.

It is a little bit of a bittersweet affair. Crash Bandicoot: Warped marked the last time Naughty Dog made a platformer starring the titular character before he got passed around to various other developers like a hot potato, never again reaching the heights of Warped.

Naughty Dog has gone on to make Jak & Daxter, Uncharted, and The Last of Us to immense acclaim, but many still hope that somehow the developer finds their way back to Crash Bandicoot one day. Playing Crash Bandicoot: Warped is still a blast even today, but it’s also a bittersweet reminder of the fruitful future for Crash Bandicoot that could have been.

 

8

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back Review

Crash Bandicoot 2

What a difference one sequel can make. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back was not only better than its predecessor back in its day, but the years have only magnified what an improvement it really was. The original Crash Bandicoot has its place in history, but many of its aspects now feel archaic. Crash Bandicoot 2 now feels closer to the proper realization of what Naughty Dog was trying to achieve when they created the Playstation’s original mascot.

Crash Bandicoot 2 takes the assets of the first game, and polishes them while also giving the formula more depth.

The core gameplay remains the same: Crash still jumps and spins his way through levels, which are presented in 2.5D. But Crash has some new moves this time around. He can now crouch, crawl, and slide. Jumping while crouching or sliding gives Crash a higher and longer jump, respectively. And Crash also gets his own equivalent of Mario’s stomp attack, but in keeping with the Bandicoot’s sense of humor, Crash falls flat on his face, in contrast to Mario’s fancier acrobatics.

Other then the new moves, a lot of the game is more of a refinement than a reinvention of the series. The graphics are more polished and colorful, the music is a lot more memorable and catchy, and the level design is more creative, with an added dose of story to compliment it.

Crash Bandicoot 2The plot is appropriately simple, but surprisingly thought out for a platformer that relishes in cartoonish silliness: After his defeat in the first game, the evil Dr. Neo Cortex stumbled across a magic crystal, and learned it held immense power. With his armies defeated and his former assistant Dr. N. Brio – tired of Cortex’s abuse – turning a new leaf, Cortex’s only ally is the cyborg-like Dr. N. Gin. Needing someone to help find the remaining crystals to complete a super weapon (mad scientists aren’t made for that kind of work), Cortex manipulates a gullible Crash Bandicoot into believing he’s seen the error of his ways, and convinces Crash to gather the crystals as a means to save the planet.

Meanwhile, Dr. N. Brio, trying to stop Cortex’s evil plot, also seeks Crash’s help in gathering magic gems which can help him defeat his former employer. But Cortex is a bit more convincing, so N. Brio sends his remaining forces to stop Crash, should he continue to aid Cortex (which explains the enemies and bosses standing in the player’s way).

The story continues throughout the game via holographic messages from the mad doctors (and Crash’s sister, Coco) in the game’s hub world. It’s a setup that really works in the game’s favor, and this is a good instance of the plot intertwining with gameplay, instead of being an excuse for it.

Crash Bandicoot 2’s levels all house one crystal – usually found towards the end of a stage and in the open – which are required to progress further in the game, and one or two gems, which are optional and sometimes well hidden.

Crash Bandicoot 2Every level has one gem that is acquired by breaking every crate found in the stage, similar to the first game. Mercifully, having to survive the entirety of a level is no longer an additional requirement. The other gems are found by other means (usually via bonus areas or performing special actions in particular levels), and sometimes involve backtracking and return visits.

The game’s later levels can get decently difficult, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble if you only wish to blast through the game and nab the crystals. But obtaining every gem is a task for those seeking a real challenge. There are a few gems where the tasks required to get them can feel convoluted or tedious, leading to some frustrating moments, but most are a fair challenge.

Another very important aspect that Crash 2 improves on its predecessor is saving. The original Crash Bandicoot’s save feature was more than a little bit of a mess, requiring players to collect tokens to play bonus stages to win the opportunity to save. Cortex Strikes Back instead includes a basic save feature in the game’s hub world, and all Crash has to do is walk up to a wall to save in between levels. Compared to its predecessor, it’s a godsend.

Crash Bandicoot 2Crash Bandicoot 2 also tweaks the level progression, with each stage accessed through the innovative “Warp Rooms.” Warp Rooms are condensed spaces that each grant Crash access to five levels apiece, which gives the game a more unique setup than the original’s more generic world map.

There are a few drawbacks to Crash’s otherwise stellar sequel, however. Along with some of the gems feeling like a chore to obtain, the game retains some of its predecessor’s tricky perspectives, with some areas becoming more difficult because you can’t make out the distance between objects. Boss fights are still nothing to boast about, with the final boss in particular being a big letdown.

All things considered, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back remains a textbook example of how to do a proper sequel. It learned from its predecessor’s mistakes and not only touched them up, but also created a heftier and more varied gaming experience of its own. Time may not have been kind to the original Crash Bandicoot, but Cortex Strikes Back remains one of the series’ finest moments. It’s still a whole lot of fun.

 

7

Crash Bandicoot Review

Crash Bandicoot

Back in the 1990s, animal mascots were all the rage in video games. Sonic the Hedgehog was a wild success, even surpassing Mario’s popularity for a time. But while Sonic may have been way past cool, he inspired just about every developer to try their hand at an “animal with attitude” character, in hopes of replicating his success, with mostly disappointing results. Most of the would-be mascots inspired in Sonic’s wake were uninspired, forced, and quickly forgotten. One exception, however, was 1996’s Crash Bandicoot, created by Naughty Dog.

Crash not only became popular, he was even seen as the unofficial face of the Sony Playstation for a time. Crash was successful enough to start a franchise and put Naughty Dog on the map. Unfortunately for Crash, his debut outing has suffered the effects of time, with many of its elements showing their age in prominent ways.

Crash Bandicoot is a 2.5D platformer, with 3D characters and environments, and a mostly 3D perspective, but Crash moves in a fixed path. It was more of an attempt at creating a 2D platformer from a 3D point of view, as opposed to a open 3D platormer like Super Mario 64, released the very same year as Crash.

Crash BandicootNor was Crash’s moveset as versatile as Mario’s. Crash can jump and perform a spin attack to wipe out enemies. A tiki mask named Aku Aku works as the game’s sole power-up (found in some of the game’s many breakable crates), and can be stacked up to three times (the first two work like shields to make Crash more durable, while a third Aku Aku grants temporary invincibility). Additionally, Wumpa Fruits work like Mario’s coins or DK’s bananas, with an extra life granted for every one-hundred you can nab.

The story served as a means to introduce Crash Bandicoot to the world. The mad scientist Dr. Neo Cortex is experimenting on animals, forcefully evolving them to create an army of animal soldiers to take over the world. Crash is an evolved bandicoot from these experiments, but ends up rebelling against the mad doctor. Crash manages to escape Cortex’s lab, but ends up on a far off island. With Crash’s girlfriend Tawna still in the hands of Cortex, Crash sets out to save her.

The plot really is inconsequential, but it does try to give the characters some fun, cartoony personalities, though those personalities didn’t truly shine through until the sequels.

Crash Bandicoot’s level design provides a handful of fun stages, but a lot of them can feel rather bland. The levels themselves can sometimes prove difficult, though you’ll probably lose more lives due to the fixed camera work, which is so focused on Crash himself that you can’t always make out the distances in jumps and the placements of objects and traps. Crash’s less-than ideal jumping physics don’t exactly help, either.

Crash BandicootThere are a few boss fights found in between some of the game’s thirty-two stages, but they end up being rather dull and easy. You may struggle to get to these boss encounters, only to feel the payoff wasn’t worth it.

The worst aspect of this original Crash Bandicoot, however, is the awkward save feature. In a baffling design decision, the primary means of saving is by completing certain bonus stages, which are unlocked in certain levels by obtaining three token’s shaped like Tawna’s mug (tokens shaped like the villain’s faces also appear in certain stages with bonuses of their own). But even if you manage to get to Tawna’s bonus round you can miss the chance to save if you die in the bonus round, and you can’t redo these bonuses again in the same playthrough. 

The only other method of saving is by collecting gems. Gems are secret items that are earned by destroying every crate in a stage without dying. That might not sound too difficult, except that some crates are hidden, and there’s no way of knowing how many you missed unless you’ve completed the level without dying. Worse still, much of the game’s difficulty stems from trial-and-error, and you often have to lose a few times in order to memorize a stage’s layout. This convoluted save feature often means you’ll go through several levels without a chance to save, making game overs feel like a crushing blow as you have to redo much of your progress.

Crash BandicootYou can always quit the stage and start over (being forced to sit through more load times) to reset any possible deaths, or come back and try a level again later, but asking players to jump through so many hoops just to get the opportunity to save the game is beyond outrageous. The ability save should just be included at all times or by reaching certain points and clearing certain levels. Saving your progress shouldn’t be an optional reward.

Still, there is some fun to be had with Crash Bandicoot, but it all only goes so far: The simple gameplay works well enough (though this too would be refined in the sequels). The graphics, while aged, at least show off the game’s sense of humor (Crash’s death animations provide Looney Tunes-style slapstick). The music is fun if maybe not entirely memorable. And every now and again you’ll come across a solidly fun stage.

The sad thing is most of the game’s best bits feel mediocre when compared to both today’s standards and the better platformers of the time (not only was Mario 64 released the same year, but Sega’s Nights Into Dreams as well). The worst aspects of Crash Bandicoot – namely the dumbfounding save feature – have only devolved all the more with time.

Crash Bandicoot may have created a star out of its titular hero, but the framework was bettered by the two succeeding games in the series by some margin. The original may have laid the groundwork for the sequels to justify Crash Bandicoot’s popularity in the 1990s, but the sad truth is the original title may be better left to memories.

 

5