Ahh hello and welcome to a very special edition of “GenreQuest”. Today we will be covering some of my favourite video games and in fact the first gaming icon that I was very aware of as a child, the legend that is Crash Bandicoot. For this week and the week following it we will be taking a look at all of the Crash Bandicoot games that can be counted as 3D platformers, which still leaves a surprising amount of untouched ground to cover, but that’s for another series (GenreQuest: Kart Racers maybe?) For now, dive into the orange tangled fur of one of gaming’s most forgotten legends.
Ahh the game that started it all, truly a classic of the PSOne era. Crash Bandicoot tells the classic story of an evil scientist and one of his animal experiments gone horribly awry. Crash Bandicoot is…well a bandicoot who has been experimented on by Dr. Neo Cortex and his assistant Dr. N. Brio to try and improve his intelligence, however, this goes horribly wrong, making Crash highly stupid, but very brave. After he escapes, Crash must go on an adventure to destroy Cortex and save his girlfriend before she can be turned into something hideous and evil.
The gameplay of Crash is fun and easy to understand for a first instalment, but still pretty challenging, especially at the later levels. You start out the game on a simple single lane beach level and learn that your main abilities involve jumping on/over things or pressing a different button to spin around violently (not unlike a certain Tasmanian Devil) to send boxes or enemies flying.
As the game was quite early in the PSOne’s life cycle, you can’t use the analogue sticks, however, this isn’t really much in the way of a hindrance. Most of the levels are either a ‘lane’ style level where you move away or towards the camera until you reach the goal or they’re a side-scroller style where you simply move along or up with the camera facing the level straight on. Because of this the grid style of control using the D-pad makes it less likely that you’ll mis-steer and end up falling off a ledge or running into an enemy.
As previously mentioned, the levels fall into two distinct categories, but even within those boundaries there are many variations to keep the gameplay fresh. There are several levels in which you must jump on the back of a wild hog and go shooting through the levels at a constant speed while avoiding spikes, pits, and tribal enemies with shields. There are some levels where you have to run towards the camera avoiding a giant boulder that is just inches behind you and trying to crush you flat, and some levels have you climbing through an abandoned lab in total darkness.
Along the way you can collect masks to help you avoid dying, Wumpa fruits (yes that’s its real name) to add lives to your total, and gems/keys for completing special conditions in certain missions. A nice added bonus is that the brightly coloured gems add bonus paths through levels that you wouldn’t normally be able to access, in one case opening a path that has 50 lives for you to collect all in one go.
Another important note is the bosses, while one or two of them (I’m looking at you Koala Kong) are a bit of a bust, they’re mostly very fun and challenging. Sometimes you have to avoid bullets or huge crates of TNT, and sometimes you have to jump over their attacks or onto their heads, but the variety is pretty nice and keeps you guessing as you make your way through the various levels.
An interesting thing is the inclusion of multiple endings. If you get to the last level having collected all of the white gems throughout the game, you can use them as stepping stones to follow a secret path that leads you to your girlfriend without having to even meet up with the final boss. It’s not something that you’d really expect from a PSOne platformer to have more than one ending, but it’s a nice twist to throw in right at the end of the game.
The final note to make here is the look and sound of the game. While there are some issues here and there, and the visuals have not aged super well, the game still looks quite good considering its age. The music on the other hand is still excellent and makes me want to join in every single time I hear it, it genuinely suits the jungle island aesthetic that the game presents you with.
Overall: Truly one of the great games of the PSOne library, and if you haven’t played it then you need to go and do it, right now. A true classic of the genre and the beginning of Crash’s golden age.
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back
Moving straight onto the next game in the series we can see that the game does the same thing. As soon as you start up the story mode of the game you see that it starts where the last game left off with Cortex being flung from the top of his tower onto some unknown island miles below. After crashing into a hidden chamber, he discovers crystals that have powerful energy producing capabilities, and so he sets out to collect as many as he can or at least to get you to do it. Yeah, in this game you actually work with Cortex (mostly), although it is clear from the beginning that he is using Crash’s stupidity to trick him into helping.
The levels in this game follow a bit of a different system. Instead of being laid out in a straight line across three separate islands, you are actually in some sort of hub system that teleports you out into the appropriate areas. Each area has 5 levels and then you use the lift in the middle of the hub to go on to the boss and eventually the next area of levels.
The levels follow a pretty familiar formulae, being mainly single lane or side-scroller levels, but there are some additions here that work very well. Instead of the old water levels for instance, this time you spend at least part of your time on a motorised water-board…thing. There are also more levels where you must run away from something trying to chase you down to kill you, and god knows how many levels that include secrets and hidden pathways.
As you can probably tell, this game builds very much on the original, in fact it is widely considered to be one of best Crash games in existence. The inclusion of levels that have completely invisible hidden portals also adds a very mysterious element to the exploration of the levels, something that the original game has as well, but no where near as much.
The bosses are an interestingly mixed bag, we see a re-appearance of Ripper Roo, the second boss of the first game, now as a hilarious Einstein parody for some reason. There are also a couple of new characters in the form of the Komodo Bros., two lizards who like to throw swords around the place, and we even get introduced to Tiny Tiger, a character who becomes a staple of the series.
Gameplay-wise it’s very similar to the first game, except that there are more challenges, bonuses, and obstacles to contend with. A nice addition, however, is the fact that you can now save at literally any point between levels, where as in the first game you could only save at the end of a bonus level or if you managed to destroy every box in a level.
The music is pretty much the same as the first game, although maybe a tad less iconic, being the second in the series. The visuals, however, are much improved and the game manages to update things while still feeling like a Crash Bandicoot game.
Despite all my previous praise for this game, and the fact that I consider it possibly my favourite game from the PSOne, there is a blaring mistake that I must talk about lest other Crash fans attempt to jump down my throat. The last boss is…pretty damn awful. Yeah, much like the first game pretty much every single boss you fight is more enjoyable than the lacklustre final boss, something that is thankfully fixed in the third game.
Overall: A distinct improvement on the first game with more levels, new bosses, and many secrets and collectibles to keep you playing over and over again.
Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped
And so we move onto the final game in the original Naughty Dog trilogy, and the last time that Crash went on a full 3D platforming adventure that can be called anything close to good. This time the story concerns an evil mask named Uka-Uka, Aku-Aku’s brother, who is freed from his prison after a piece of Cortex’s destroyed space laser crashed into some ruins. With the help of Dr. N. Tropy (my god, the puns) and his time machine, Cortex and the evil mask journey through time to try and collect all of the gems before Crash can.
The game follows a similar hub style system to the last game with there being specific areas with 5 levels in each that lead to different styles and types of levels. There’s also the same save feature as the last game, and this time much, much more to collect in each level with the addition of a time attack mode once you’ve completed each level.
The biggest difference from a gameplay perspective is that you get new powers every single time you defeat one of the bosses, meaning that as the game goes on you get new abilities and can tackle the levels in new ways. These powers range from a simple double jump and super belly flop to a bazooka that actually fires Wumpa fruit at enemies, switches, or boxes.
Some of the bosses in this game are easily the best in the whole series. and the variety of gameplay is also truly stunning. There are levels where you must win a car race against many other opponents, there are wave-rider style levels where you play as Crash’s sister Coco, and there are levels where you don scuba gear and plunge into a deep ocean.
The bosses that truly stand out from this game are the two newer characters, Dr. N. Gin and Dr. N. Tropy (I did warn you about the puns), the first of which (Tropy) combines lasers with constantly changing jumping puzzles with some of the best background design I’ve seen on a boss. The second actually turns the game into a mech fighter where you control Coco, flying around blasting glowing weak points until the boss straight on blows up.
As mentioned before, this game even manages to break the bad run of terrible final bosses. In this game the final boss actually feels like the climax of an epic battle. In the middle of the room the two powerful masks shoot voodoo lasers at each other while you run around avoiding the crossfire and beating Cortex into oblivion.
The music and visuals are another improvement over the previous games in the series, having the most variance between environments. The music also ranges from rock style tunes in the driving levels to techno tracks on the sci-fi levels, as well as a stunning new opening theme to top it all off.
Interestingly, there is also an entire extra hub world after you finish the main game that gives you access to 5 new areas for you to explore, giving this the best replayability of the series.
Overall: Great ending to a great trilogy, and easily one of the most enjoyable games that you will ever play on the PSOne.
Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex
So, we finally move onto our final offering for the day. I feel like I’ve consumed so much Crash Bandicoot today that I’m psychologically bloated from it. The Wrath of Cortex is my final course on this meal, and I’m not looking forward to it. Let me start by saying that The Wrath of Cortex isn’t bad, not really anyway. In fact, if I’m 100% honest, I think they did a halfway decent job at translating Crash and his world from the PSOne to the PS2, not an easy task.
Having said all of that, I do not enjoy this game. It is technically competent and everything moves like it should, but it just doesn’t feel like a real Crash Bandicoot game to me, and I can’t properly begin to describe why. I think the first issue is almost certainly the visuals. Although they do an okay job at keeping everything in step with the first trilogy, everything seems very ugly and rounded compared to its PSOne counterpart. The easiest way to show this is to point out the lives in this game; instead of being pixel images of Crash’s head, they’re now 3D rendered and appear to show Crash pulling the goofiest face I have ever seen a character do in my entire life.
Despite my own personal dislike of the visuals, they are at least bright, colourful, and pleasingly cartoonish, so I suppose there’s not much against them. Musically the game is again functional but bland, everything sounds pretty accurate to the environment that it’s supposed to be accompanying, and the sound effects sound how they’re supposed to.
Something I always felt was a little odd about this game was the amount of ‘classic’ Crash levels versus the levels with some sort of gimmick or trick. For instance, of the first 3 levels only 2 of them are what I would call ‘regular’ levels with the other 3 being new styles of levels, or at least special types of levels that we have seen in previous Crash games.
That brings me to another interesting point, the game takes a lot of game modes, design tips, and even enemies directly from the first three games. There are some enemies that haven’t even been seen much since the first game that come back in numbers here, and weirdly they chose those guys from the first game’s “Slippery Climb” level that lob beakers around.
The honest truth about this game is that it’s okay, it’s fine. If this had been my first Crash Bandicoot title that I had ever played, then there’s a chance I would have loved it unconditionally. However, for me there is just something not quite right about this game, it feels like the developers were just trying to remake an older Crash game and they threw in their own last minute ideas. The inclusion of their own game modes like the giant super-monkey ball thing and the car modes just don’t feel that fun or fresh, and the other game modes are just the same things that the last 3 games did, sometimes entirely the same.
On a final note, there was really no reason to use the underwater levels from Crash 3, they were easily the worst part of the original series, and trying to copy them here just smacks of not having your own identity within the series. Then again, considering where the series was about to go, I’m shocked that this game is actually as playable as it is.
Overall: Not a terrible game really, but something that doesn’t quite fit into the classic Crash that we’d seen up until this point. Worth picking up if you want to see the halfway point between Crash being great and terrible, although why you would I have no idea.