RetroGrade Review #3: Crash Bandicoot (PlayStation — 1996)

Crash Bandicoot, released in 1996 as a premier title for Sony’s first ever gaming platform, is a beyond-wacky platformer with a bizarre story. It is a game full of eccentric characters, colorful levels, tongue-in-cheek humor, and decent platforming, but also considerable drawbacks to stated objectives, save point opportunities (depending on how well you play), and, most importantly, depth perception.

The game begins with a strange cutscene featuring the main character Crash being experimented on by (and subsequently escaping from) none other than Dr. Neo Cortex, an obviously upstanding gentleman of the scientific community who, after being ridiculed by his fellow scientific-community-people, has decided to build an army of genetically- and robotically-enhanced animals for the simple purpose of proving his fellow scientific-community-people wrong. And if he happens to conquer the world along the way? Eh, might as well. Whatevs, y’all. Dr. Cortex is joined in his ventures by the likes of Dr. N Brio (not sure why NaughtyDog played on the word “embryo” for that one), the large native man Papu Papu, the straitjacketed marsupial Ripper Roo, the muscle-bound Koala Kong, and the film-noir aficionado Pinstripe Poteroo. This eccentric and alliteration-heavy band of ne’er-do-wells will do everything they can to stop the hero, Crash Bandicoot, on his mission to … save his girlfriend. And, y’know, if he happens to save the world along the way? Eh, might as well. Whatevs, y’all. Crash, in turn, is joined by a floating Tiki mask named Aku Aku. So, with all these interesting and creatively-named characters both good and bad, who is the object of our quest? Who is the proverbial princess in the castle? None other than … Tawna. NaughtyDog gives us a handful of incredibly-imagined characters and then gives us Tawna, whose only character traits are her buxomness and the fact that she is Crash’s girlfriend. In spite of this letdown, the cast of characters remains as fun and wacky as the rest of the game.

After escaping from Dr. Cortex’s laboratory, Crash inexplicably finds himself three islands away at N. Sanity Beach (get it?) and gameplay begins. N. Sanity Beach is a vibrant level that welcomes you into the game with warm colors, easy platforming, and catchy island-themed music. While this is amazing as a new experience, it unfortunately describes the majority of the levels in the game. Aside from the occasional jaunt through a temple, cave, or mountain range, until the final island (Cortex’s island) almost every level is warm-colored and island-themed. Luckily, the simple-although-fun gameplay of jumping and spin-kicking your way through levels is more than enough to make up for the lack of level variety.

The gameplay is not without its drawbacks, however, with one glaring one in particular. Small issues include the fact that Crash only moves at one speed, leading to many rapid direction-taps if you want to do anything other than book it full-speed ahead, and the fact that Crash seems to have an abhorrently difficult time in the lateral-agility department, which in turn leads to many jumps either over- or under-shot. This is an issue that ties into the games central flaw – while it was groundbreaking for being at many times a forward-facing platforming, it is frequently near-impossible to tell by looking just exactly how far away you have to jump. Especially in later levels, where platforms that rise and fall are frequent, judging jumps can become a daunting and painstakingly difficult task. In a game where the entire point is to jump from one place to another, it is crucial that the jumping systems work smoothly and, sadly, they just don’t in Crash Bandicoot.

The last major issue with Crash Bandicoot is that, unlike in its contemporaries, there are not really any regular places to save. If you complete a level without dying and managed to break every box, the game will reward you with a gem and with the option to save your game (the problem with this is that until you earn certain gems, it is impossible to collect all the boxes in certain levels. If you collect all the Tawna emblems in a level (and not all levels have them), the game will reward you with a bonus level that, if you make it all the way to the end, will reward you with a save point. Other than that, there are no save points. Beat a boss? Nope, no save point for you. Complete an island and move onto the next one? Nope, no save point for you. Complete a Cortex bonus level? No save point for you. Make it all the way to the end credits? Save-point Nazi all up in this piece. With the way save points work in this game, it would not be inconceivable for someone to play through the entire game, miss all the opportunities for save points, fail at the final boss, and have to start all over again.

Crash Bandicoot is a fun game and is a PlayStation legacy for a reason. Its wacky worlds and bizarre premise allow the game to overcome its flaws, and it has definitely aged well. If you played Crash Bandicoot when you were younger, go play it again. If you’re too young to have done that, go check it out in any way you can even if that way is a PlayStation emulator. Crash will actually be a good fit with fast-twitch keyboard gameplay.

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