“Well, well, well. If it isn’t Crash Bandicoot. Welcome. I apologize for the crude means used to bring you here, but I’d rather expect a written invitation would have been turned down…”
Arriving exactly one year, to the day, after the launch of PlayStation in North America, Crash Bandicoot was warmly received and lauded for its colourful worlds and characters and its use of the PS1’s hardware to produce cutting-edge 3D graphics. It seems strange to think, but despite the capabilities of the new system, 2D games were still the standard. No matter how fantastic they may have been (Rayman, Castlevania), the new 3D designs had the edge for consumer’s attention, purely by their novelty factor.
Crash Bandicoot was a fresh and unique character too, with his bright orange fur and jean shorts. Until now, Super Mario had run relatively unopposed as gaming’s most recognisable and most popular mascot, with SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog his only real rival. Sony quickly realised the potential of its badass bandicoot and put Crash to work in those infamous ‘90s live-action commercials, where a guy in a terrible Crash suit berated the Nintendo offices with a megaphone.
Speaking of Sonic, it’s not only their spin attacks they have in common. So clear was the intention for Crash to compete in the big-leagues of platforming, that the game was colloquially referred to as ‘Sonic’s Ass Game’ during its development. The reasoning? Well, this phrase instantly gave an idea of what to expect: a Sonic-style game from an all-new perspective. I’ll throw in the ‘Crash was originally to be called “Willie the Wombat”‘ fact now and get that out of the way, too.
Crash Bandicoot showed gamers from the outset that 3D platformers were fun for all. It had the cutesy and colourful graphics to draw in younger players, but presented enough of a challenge to appeal to teens and adults. Each level also kept score of how many crates you’d smashed and had secret keys and gems to collect and whole hidden areas, giving masses of replayability and competition between friends and siblings.
Once his debut title had established its own fanbase, developer Naughty Dog immediately got to work on a sequel, spawning Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back within a little over a year. Crash Bandicoot 2 was a fantastic sequel, refining everything that made the first game so well-liked and adding new elements to keep it feeling fresh. Also added was the Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment system (DDA); this meant players who the game detected were struggling would be assisted, whether by an added “continue” marker, Aku-Aku mask or even slowing down some of the environmental elements, but players who were fairly adept would still find it a challenge. This was a novelty at the time, but has become common-place in today’s games.
Once again, a spectacular sequel was only a year away and Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped provided more of Crash 2’s brand of fun, with warp-rooms clearly a mainstay. This time, there was the addition of vehicular combat and gameplay, along with Crash’s sister, Coco, now a fully-playable character, much to the excitement of little sisters everywhere. The new level types and locales meant the series kept its sense of adventure, and Warped rounded out one of the finest trilogies in gaming, especially at that early stage.
Crash Team Racing and Crash Bash then punctuated the next two years, as the PlayStation neared the end of its lifecycle, in time for the PlayStation 2’s arrival.
Crash Team Racing served as a competitor to Mario Kart on Nintendo platforms, with PlayStation owners now having a legitimate claim to the kart-racing crown. Its collection of levels based on environments seen throughout the preceding trilogy with fan-favourite characters represented alongside new face and areas.
Crash Bash also provided competition to a Nintendo property: Mario Party. Once again, familiar faces and places were represented but with new game modes like Pogo Pandemonium and Tank Wars, where players seek to paint the most squares in the arena or destroy their opponents, respectively. Although less well-received than Crash Team Racing, Crash Bash still had its fans and is fondly remember by at least one person (me) today.
PlayStation 2 launched in the year 2000 and Crash fans had to wait until late 2001 for his first outing on improved hardware. Unfortunately, PS2’s The Wrath of Cortex was to be the first of many missteps for the Crash series, as a change in developer to Traveller’s Tales meant Crash was no longer being cared for by those who knew him best. This newest iteration didn’t add anything new to the series beyond shinier graphics.
As the years went on, Crash Bandicoot starred in no fewer than twelve titles across a variety of platforms and console generations. This was testament to his popularity, potential and staying-power; that he would continue to be green-lit for games despite poor reviews and middling sales. Among these were occasional brighter spots, like Crash Nitro Kart, but the majority of widely-accepted-as-good games were now Gameboy Advance titles like N-Tranced and A Huge Adventure, marking a true departure of PlayStation exclusivity for the small, orange wonder.
This could be considered Crash’s ‘difficult teenage years’, where he struggled to find his own identity after several re-brands – in one case quite literally, with Crash of the Titans seeing branded with a tribal-style tattoo, signifying his connection to the titular Titans. During these 12 years, Crash appeared in another party game (Crash Boom Bang!) and a handful of racing games, none of which lived up to Crash Team Racing. His other 3D adventures were all imbued with their own gimmicks, trying to capture something unique about Crash which wasn’t needed.
After this tumultuous period of almost two decades, Crash found himself back on top with the launch of the much-anticipated N. Sane Trilogy in 2017, bundling remakes of all three original Crash Bandicoot games into a single, well-presented package.
Rounding out the more modern era, we then saw a remake of CTR in Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled which was as warmly received as the N. Sane Trilogy before it and then, finally, a true, honest-to-goodness and perfectly-titled sequel: Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time.
Crash Bandicoot 4 did what the original games had done so well and that which his middling adventures had missed so badly, it took those bright environments and memorable characters and it distilled them back to the core gameplay from the original games, seeing the “old-fashioned” gameplay given a spectacular graphical overhaul and small quality of life tweaks to deliver a fresh but familiar experience. This was received tremendously well by fans and saw a true return to form for the series, fully deserving of its titular numbering.
The Crash Bandicoot series has been through so much in the past 25 years since its inception. In fact, the only other character to survive so many ups, downs and utterly bizarre series entries over such a long time is Sonic the Hedgehog. So with goodwill for Crash remaining steadfastly high for so long, a sequel to the most recent game feels inevitable and in their desperation for content, fans have even clamoured for a remake of Crash Bash. Whether this comes to fruition remains to be seen but I’m confident of one thing: our Bandicooting days are not over.