Sony's got cooties.
Back in the days of relative console infancy, there was an unwritten rule when it came to launching a brand new console. The rule was relatively simple on paper, though quite difficult to execute effectively. Essentially, if you were planning on launching a new console, then an appealing, lovable mascot should be designed; one who could globally promote the brand and the console itself.
Prior to the age of information overload, media assets such as press releases, video game trailers and news were reserved for monthly magazine publications or specific developer conferences. Consequently, promoting a new console launch or a particular game required far more guile than a couple of pages in a popular magazine or a TV advert. No, unless you had a cuddly companion to stir up interest in the youth of yesterday, then a console’s sales could be impacted significantly.
Wisely, Naughty Dog were all too aware of this fact as the PlayStation was noticeably lacking a recognisable mascot that could be associated with the brand. Released in 1996, Naughty Dog delivered a grinning bandicoot called Crash; Sony’s answer to Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog and Nintendo’s Mario.
Ya Old Coot
Crash Bandicoot epitomised everything that was good about Sony’s debut console. Cool, hip and unique, Crash was the cheeky, fresh-faced impetus Sony needed to disrupt the waters of content between the two previous market leaders, Sega and Nintendo. Capitalising on the then popular platformer genre, Crash Bandicoot built upon the successful foundations seen in the Sonic and Mario games, providing little innovation but a brilliant third-person platformer nonetheless for the PlayStation console – which arguably surpassed its platforming peers in some aspects.
Crash Bandicoot told a genuinely interesting and appealing story, with a creative cast of enemies strengthening the game’s identity. Discarded as a failed experiment at the hands of the game’s main antagonist, Dr. Neo Cortex, Crash was a peaceful bandicoot, abducted and transformed by Cortex’s – presumably patented – Evolvo-ray. Unfit to guide Cortex’s army of mutated animals after being rejected by the Cortex Vortex, Crash is tossed aside; a move which Cortex would later regret.
Whilst in captivity, Crash developed a love interest in the form of the strangely attractive bandicoot, Tawna. Subject to be next in line for Dr. Neo Cortex’s experiments, Crash is determined to rid the island of Cortex’s reign and save Tawna from the dastardly doctor.
Benefiting from the third person perspective camera, Crash’s world was vibrant and lush with detail. The almost cartoony, comic book feel suited the slapstick, cheeky persona and ridiculousness of Crash’s enemies such as the insane Ripper Roo, a Kangaroo in a straight jacket, with severely untrimmed toe nails.
You Spin Me Right Round
Crash Bandicoot’s gameplay formula was relatively simple, injected with enough character and elements of individuality to help separate it from the doldrums of similarity. The player was tasked with guiding Crash through three islands which were broken down into a number of levels (think Mario’s home world screen). Like the popular blue hedgehog and dungaree wearing Italian, Crash has a number of lives which are lost if he comes into contact with an enemy or falls down a pitfall or into water. More lives can be earned by collecting 100 wumpa fruit – Crash’s collectable of choice in contrast to Mario’s coins and Sonic’s rings. Naturally, if all of Crash’s lives were lost, the traditional, and now slowly disappearing, ‘Game Over’ screen would appear, forcing the player to retry the stage in its entirety.
Similar to the Taz Mania devil, Crash can perform a spin attack, sending his enemies flying into either near by foes or crates which house delicious wumpa fruit. Crash can also dispose of his adversaries through the classic ‘jump and squish’ mechanic, giving Crash an extra aerial boost but at the expense of the enemy flinging like a projectile.
A platformer wouldn’t be the same without the option of temporary invulnerability, and thankfully, Crash Bandicoot delivered. Crash could obtain the Witch Doctor’s mask. usually hidden in the many crates that scattered the levels. Collecting one mask would protect Crash from one enemy attack, whilst three masks granted Crash the power of temporary invulnerability. Greeted by a satisfying ‘WOODAGA!, Crash would don the Witch Doctor’s mask, safe from any minor hazards such as explosions or contact from enemies.
Surprisingly, Crash Bandicoot offered a great deal of replay value. Special tokens could be found inside particular crates, representing the likeness of either Crash’s sweetheart Tawna, the evil Dr. Neo Cortex, or his henchman Dr. Nitrus Brio. If the player collected three of these tokens, Crash was transported to a bonus round full of wumpa fruit, extra lives and keys to hidden areas. Dedicated players could also attempt to clear each stage without losing a life and attempt to destroy all the crates (not as easy as it sounds) which would award them a gem. The gems opened up previously unaccessible areas in completed levels.
Personally, one of the most memorable levels of Crash Bandicoot was the warthog ride level. Crash would straddle an unruly hog as it pelted down through the stage past various, perilous obstacles. As a child, a couple of friends and I used to sit on a foot stool and mimic the on-screen action, a notion which may sound completely insane as I reminisce now, but believe me, it was bloody hilarious at the time. We’d jump, lean and eventually crash to ground in a fit of laughter as our hog drove us directly into a spiked pillar.
Crash And Burn
Unlike Crash’s competitors Mario and Sonic, Crash was eventually relieved of duty by Sony, succumbing to a gradual fall from grace. Crash starred in a number of great games before Naughty Dog moved on to the Jakk and Daxter series, resulting in a mediocre, forgettable existence for the orange bandicoot – once a jewel in Sony’s crown. Sadly, the name Crash Bandicoot is almost irrelevant in the gaming world today. And that’s a damn shame as Crash was equal to his evergreen rivals in almost every way.
Fortunately, Crash Bandicoot lives on through the medium of digital distribution. Gamers can rekindle their love of Crash by downloading Crash Bandicoot from the PlayStation Network Store or through the mobile PlayStation suite. It’s still a classic to this day and worth a fiver of anyone’s money.