Crash Bandicoot – Looking Back on a Classic


This retrospective starts with the iconic original PlayStation 1 classic, and it was a lot of fun going back to this one. Crash Bandicoot is a great series that spans across a lot of games, but the original stands tall.

Taking the 2D Action Platformer and literally bringing that into 3D was unheard of before this game came out, so lets spin into action and see the humble origins of our Orange friend. Granted, Mario 64 came out two months in Japan before Crash’s launch but still, Crash was a very impressive early 3D Action Platformer.


Naughty Dog was founded by two talented programmers; Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin. They worked with Apple II computers to make a number of products like a skiing game and a graphical adventure called ‘Dream Zone’. They even got EA to publish two titles for them; Keef the Thief and Rings of Power.

They moved on from EA and worked with Universal Interactive to make a game called ‘Way of the Warrior’ for the 3DO, with it catching the eye of Mark Cerny. You know, the lead designer behind the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.

After picking them up and working with them on the tile, Andy and Jason thought it would be a good idea making a 3D Action platformer. Mark gave them the greenlight they needed and development started and what was originally called ‘Sonic’s Ass Game’.

Why this? Well, you would only see Crash’s back for the entire time, so this code named worked on that level. It also works because Naughty Dog was inspired by Sonic because he was the most popular mascot platforming icon of the 90’s.

Various prototypes were being created and Naughty Dog were thinking about which platform holder they would go to for this new IP they were making with Universal Interactive. SEGA was out of the question due to them competing with Sonic and Nintendo was not worth pursing due to limited space on the N64 carts. They then turned their heads toward Sony and it was a perfect fit.

They did not have a mascot platformer of their own yet and they loved the prototypes being shipped to them. Sony even got their Japan Divisions to localize the game with its own ad-campaign! This lead to one of the biggest parts of Crash’s history; Sony being involved with the IP.

It was a deal between Sony Computer Entertainment, Naughty Dog, and Universal Interactive. Sony would publish the game and market it, Naughty Dog would develop the title and Universal would fund the project and provide office space for Naughty Dog staff.

Throw in the addition of more developers like art designer Bob Rafei & Taylor Kurosaki and Charles Zembillas for character designer…..and we got all the pieces needed for a successful launch of a new mascot IP.

The marketing director of Universal Interactive Studios insisted that the character be named “Wez”, “Wuzzles” or “Wizzy the Wombat”. On creating the levels for the game, Zembillas and Pearson first sketched each environment, designing and creating additional individual elements later. They aimed for an organic, overgrown look to the game and worked to completely avoid straight lines and 90-degree corners. A Naughty Dog artist sketched every single background object in the game before it was modeled. The artists were tasked with making the best use of textures and reducing the amount of geometry. Dark and light elements were juxtaposed to create visual interest and separate geometry. The Naughty Dog artists would squint when sketching, texturing and playing the levels to make sure they could be played by light value alone. Correct use of color was an important goal for Naughty Dog’s artists; for example, mutually accentuating colors were chosen as the theme for the “Lost City” and “Sunset Vista” levels. The interior of Doctor Neo Cortex’s castle was designed to reflect Cortex’s twisted mind.

Some final information about the games development was the core staff that worked on the title:
Director – Jason Rubin
Producer – David Siller
Designer – David Siller
Programmers – Andy Gavin & Dave Baggett
Artists – Charles Zembillas, Joe Pearson, Bob Rafei
Composer – Josh Mancell

Crash Bandicoot released in September 9th, 1996 to critical success and became the defining mascot for Sony’s PlayStation brand for a number of years during the PlayStation 1’s run. We got four more games released on the PS1 and I will be covering them soon enough.

The game also got a lot of changes in Japan. They are listed below:

  • All the voices were replaced, but Crash himself is given unique lines and is much more expressive in his speech.
  • The password system was removed, so the only option is to save.
  • TNT Crates have been changed to have bomb icons on them.
  • Aku Aku provides hints upon collecting certain masks (both of which extend to subsequent Japanese localizations).
  • Crash automatically begins the first level with an Aku Aku mask, so the box was removed.
  • Tawna vanishes whenever Crash approaches her in bonus rounds, and only one crate will smack Crash if he missed any in the level rather than all the ones he missed.
  • Papu Papu (the first boss) swings his club faster and takes five hits to defeat as opposed to three.
  • Some of the level order and colored gems were changed around. Most famously, Sunset Vista was swapped with Slippery Climb, likely due to the former’s high difficulty (ironically, some consider Slippery Climb to be on par with or harder than Sunset Vista, making this intent backfire).
  • Rotating the level map uses L1/R1 instead of Square/Circle.
  • Crash has an extra idle animations that involves him spinning in victory (much like after being rewarded a gem), turning his head around a couple times and getting back up while embarassed.

In a dark stormy lab, we have two scientist named Dr. Nitrus Brio and Dr. Neo Cortex, using their newly created Evolvo-Ray to mutate various creatures and animals on the three local islands. They experiment on two Bandicoot’s, one called Crash and another called Tawna. Crash gets hit with the ray but escapes, with Tawna still in the scientists hands. Its ironic that he attempts to save her though, considering she dumps him after the games ending for Pinstripe.

Its up to Crash to save his girlfriend! ……That is it. Really, nothing more is here and that is more then enough. Crash is goofy and a bit dumb but he his heroic, making us as the gamer connect with him. Kinda like the 2D Sonic’s, Mario and Mega Man; the simpler things get, the more we can connect with our hero sometimes.

An interesting thing is that you don’t know the story until you let the title screen run for a few seconds, otherwise you completely ignore it. You don’t need context to play a non-story heavy game but if you wanted to know the plot, you would have to wait a bit before playing the game.

Crash’s personality is shown with his animations; wide eyes, funny death animations and lots of animation on his face. This allows him to have a lot of personality despite having no dialog. Otherwise, nothing else to talk about until we get to later games where things go into more detail about the spiritual masks and the foes we fight getting more personality.

One more thing though, the game was supposed to have an animated intro/ending.

 


Did you ever play an old 2D action platformer? And remember how simple but challenging that was? Now take that, and put the camera behind your character instead of on the side.

That is Crash Bandicoot in a nut-shell; a literal 2D game thrown in to the 3rd Dimension, and it works out very, very well. Firstly, Crash is simple to control; D-Pad to move around, X to jump and []/O to spin attack. This simple set up allows anyone to pick up the controller and play the game, and that is was a very smart move on Naughty Dog’s part.

Levels are either hallways that have us running toward the screen/away from the screen, ridding on a bore or being in a literal 2D platformer. These are all spread evenly, so not one style gets too stale or boring.

How Crash feels is responsive but he has momentum and it can mess you up sometimes. Hold up too long and you can slip of a platform or something. Thankfully, the game is kind with its life system with them being all over the place.

Crash also can, well, Crash into creates…… Lets just have this little gif here for a moment.

Ah, the sound of smashing a crate…..good times, good times. It is one of the most rewarding sounds in gaming, next to getting bolts in Ratchet & Clank or collecting Rings in Sonic to me. The game also has a save system but you can only get it if you collect three Tawna icons (which warps you to a special stage to get some items).

Crash also collects Wampa Fruit and can pick up Aku Aku masks that are more or less his hit points. Collect three you have a funky beat play as you have a short period of invincibility.

The game also pushes you to spin into as many creates as you can, and…..its one of the weakest parts of the game. I say that, as 100% Crash 1 turns what is a fun action platformer into one of the hardest games out there. I would comment more on this, but 100% the game doesn’t really give you any major rewards. The worst part is that if you go after the 100%, you cannot die…..at. all. That is a big issue because if you die once, you have to start ALL OVER again for the level and that alone is enough to stop bothering 100%.

Another factor is how to unlock two extra levels you have to play special stages for Cortex and Breo; once you complete them you get keys that unlock extra levels. Considering 100%ing the game is more trouble then its worth, not bothering with this would be recommended. The game does not tell you this either.

Level design is very challenging though, with places like Slipperly Climb or any of darkness levels really testing your platforming skills. But getting through them is so rewarding and makes you feel accomplished as a gamer.

Overall, I really like the gameplay and level design a lot.

Considering this came out in 1996, its impressive it still looks great. The models are sharp, crisp and detailed. Some things look off, like some of the foes you meet in the final lab stages but overall, the game looks fantastic and the later games only look better and better.

Musically, it has a few really great tracks and the sound effects are fantastic.

Jungle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e68I…48D8C8E0F4857E
Tawna Bonus Round Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTgs…F4857E&index=3
Boulders, Boulder Dash Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqOY…48D8C8E0F4857E
Hog Wild, Whole Hog Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpev…F4857E&index=9
The Lost City, Sunset Vista Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2oM…4857E&index=11
Slippery Climb Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pLR…4857E&index=21
Aku Aku: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdjnUEJ42aI
Crate Smashing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmyhaD8uVn8


This is a classic that has aged greatly over time. One of the best PS1 games out there…..and this is just the first game. This series gets better and better as time goes on.

And I can’t wait to cover Crash 2 and 3, as those are my favorite in the PS1 Series! Happy 20th Birthday you naughty dog.

I’m also covering the series on NeoGAF in a Retrospective series and on the site Press Start AU: [LINK to Press Start AU Article]

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