Crash Bandicoot’s Retrospective continues after a very long wait! And what better way to bring back discussion on Crash’s history than talking about Vicarious Visions, the team making both Crash’s Skylanders appearance & bringing the original three PS1 Classics to the PS4 through remakes/remasters next year, first take on the IP.
Say hello to the Game Boy Advance adventure, Crash Bandicoot: The Huge Adventure or otherwise known in European markets, Crash Bandicoot: XL. Does this portable adventure match to the Bandicoot’s console romps?
History – One Vicarious Vision Indeed
The origins of Crash’s portable adventures date back to Universal wanting to bring Crash onto other platforms after releasing Crash: Wrath of Cortex. With that game out and a partnership for publishing the games with Konami formed, interest in portable Crash was sparked.
It was announced that plans for Crash games on the Game Boy Color & Game Boy Advance were considered but plans fully shifted to the GBA after being presented with a pitch from Vicarious Visions.
That December, Vicarious Visions approached Universal and showed off some of their technology on the Game Boy Advance. Fairly impressed with their work, Universal asked Vicarious Visions to submit a concept. Liking the submitted concept, Universal commissioned a prototype; the prototype resembled a handheld version of the PlayStation Crash Bandicoot games. Vicarious Visions was then given developmental duties for the Game Boy Advance Crash Bandicoot game.
The game was tentatively titled Crash Bandicoot Advance and went through the titles Crash Bandicoot X/S and Crash Bandicoot: The Big Adventure before arriving at its final name. The game was developed over the course of nine months from conception to completion. The team working on the game expanded to as much as seven programmers at the height of the game’s development. The graphics and animation for the game were created in Maya. Some of the original animation and textures from Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped were re-purposed and used as a basis for the Game Boy Advance game. The sprite for the Crash Bandicoot character features between 1000 and 1500 frames of animation.
So after making a very faithful demo build of a Crash game on portable consoles, Universal were impressed and signed the studio on to make a series of Crash titles for the Game Boy Advance.
The presentation, music and even animations are pulled from the PS1 games but recreated on Game Boy Advance technology. This even extends to the other ‘gimmick’ levels that we saw from Crash 3 but we will discuss that more in the gameplay portion. Overall, it seemed that Crash’s portable adventure was a success, getting a lot of sales and many media outlets giving the game high review scores.
Story – Shrinking the Many Worlds
The story for a portable adventure, still has the charm from the PS1 games. The summary of the story can be found from here.
In a space station orbiting the Earth, Uka Uka is upset with Doctor Neo Cortex for failing him once again, but Cortex promises a plan that will bring the Earth’s inhabitants down to size. Cortex then introduces his Planetary Minimizer, which he immediately uses to shrink the Earth down to the size of a grapefruit. The situation is brought to Aku Aku‘s attention when Cortex taunts the now-microscopic people of Earth. When Aku Aku informs Crash of the Earth’s predicament, Coco assumes that Cortex is using the Crystals to power his shrinking machine, and requests that Crash find the same kind of Crystals in various locations around the world, which she will use to build a device that will reverse the effects of Cortex’s Minimizer.
With the planet tiny now, its up to Crash to spin his way through familiar locations and collect all the crystals & gems, again. It is a set-up that works, as it gives us an excuse to fight familiar faces like N. Gin or Tiny Tiger again. The final boss encounter is very fun, with a plot twist that makes this final encounter very funny. Story has great presentation, with detailed stills showing the plot nicely and the writing is solid like the PS1 games and Wrath of Cortex.
Gameplay & Design – Bringing the 3D Bandicoot to the Second Dimension
The gameplay of Crash: The Huge Adventure is……the 2D Crash segments from the console games, but that being the whole game. Okay, it isn’t the complete case but that description is a very simple way to describe the game.
Crash has all his core moves from past adventures; belly flop, slide & slide jump, jumping & spinning with power-ups you get from beating bosses like the double jump and the super belly flop coming back too. But what makes the game work is that it takes the 2D gameplay style from the console Crash games but focuses on just that.
The game is has the main platforming levels, where Crash goes from left to right to break all the boxes, get gems and the crystal for each level. Of course, you have the special bonus rooms and they are a lot harder then the console games. Due to the focus on 2D platforming now, this makes sense but I was stumped on getting through a lot of these compared to how mostly solid the difficulty was in the console games for these portions of the Crash gameplay.
But it wouldn’t be Crash without chase sections and you get to ride on the Polar from Crash 2 running into the camera. These portions of the snow levels are a lot of fun and control very well (with holding down B making you run faster). Other gimmicks from past Crash titles return, with the Jet Pack from Crash 2 being blended with the flying levels from Crash 3 & underwater levels from Crash 3 coming back as well. The former is a bit tricky due to the lack of an aiming icon but its otherwise a nice way to make the flying levels work on the GBA. The later works very well and has great control regarding Crash’s movement underwater.
After Crash 3, the time trails became an important part of Crash gameplay for the next wave of tiles for the series and it would makes sense for those to come back in this portable romp. They work 1-to-1 like the console games and with the 2D nature for many of the levels, you get an almost Sonic-like rush getting through the levels and I had fun getting a few time relics.
Bosses in the game are enjoyable, with an underwater boss with Dingodile being the most memorable to me. You swimming around underwater while Dingodile shoots missiles into the sky, causing spikes on the cave walls to fall down. You avoid them until he stops moving and he then gets hit by the spikes. A boss with N. Gin is very fun too, with it having you don the Jet Pack and trying to shoot him down. It feels like his boss fight from Crash 3 but with how the Jet Pack works here, it feels different enough to feel fresh.
Overall, the gameplay in Crash: The Huge Adventure/Crash: XL is really solid and they captured the ‘feel’ of the console games to a tee. My only issue is that the bonus rooms a bit too hard sometimes but otherwise, this is a great portable Crash adventure.
Presentation – Converting the PS1 to the GBA
Vicarious Visions had the tough task of bring the console-like presentation of the PS1 Crash games too the portable screen and….they did a fantastic job. The character models look very close to the PS1 originals, the game runs remarkably well and the controls feel very on point. A lot of the little details like the death animations carry over and various sound effects from past games sound great here.
I really enjoyed the soundtrack here as it was great to hear iconic Crash themes across Crash 2 & 3 and will be linking them below. Its very impressive to hear Crash music sound well on the GBA sound chip, showing how well Vicarious Visions understood GBA technology.
Crash Bandicoot: The Huge Adventure is a great first shot at making a portable Crash Bandicoot game, as it carries over the best elements from the console games while at the same time, pushing the GBA’s technology quite far.
From the impressive presentation, the tight controls and level design on display, and the game feeling like Crash, I highly recommend people looking for some portable Crash action give this game a look.
Next up for the Crash Retrospective, we will be seeing Vicarious Vision’s second platforming adventure on the GBA; Crash Bandicoot: N-Traced.