If you’re unfamiliar with Crash Bandicoot, he immediately makes an impression on screen with his red-orange fur, his goofy mannerisms, and his clumsy tendencies where he rightfully earns his name. While controlling Crash, he runs with a laid back posture and bears his teeth from physical exertion. He seems to be putting in maximum effort while reaping minimal progress. How appropriate, because this is exactly what playing the game feels like.
Design and Enemies
The goal of the game is essentially to stop Crash’s creator, Neo Cortex, from world domination and to rescue Crash’s love interest, Tawna. The basic level design of Crash Bandicoot is good. The variation of gameplay scenarios and graphical presentation in this 3D platformer show originality even though the levels are linear. Levels are mostly horizontal with instances of vertical situations that contain levitating platforms and bouncy arrows for ascending. Environments include jungles, ancient ruins, bridges, temples, factories, and more. The perspectives change as well so you could be viewing the screen from behind Crash, or he could be running toward you while something chases you in the background. In certain levels, Crash can ride animals, giving the game additional physics for players to master. Boss battles occur after each group of levels to mix things up.
Enemies include but are not limited to carnivorous plants, cute skunks, turtles, lizards, snakes, bats, totem poles, eerily proportioned humans, perpetually rolling ancient wheels that defy the laws of physics, and arrow-shooting pillars. Sometimes, you need to utilize turtle shells for bouncing on to progress in certain areas of the game. This is a clever addition so you aren’t in the habit of simply killing enemies.
Sometimes trap situations are set up. There may be a spiky object rhythmically descending from the ceiling, an enemy pacing on the other side of it to welcome your landing, bats flying by periodically, topped off with a flamethrower totem pole bursting out fire from behind you in case you’re thinking of backing up. Having absolutely no room to gather momentum as you jump from platform to platform is a common theme. If you’re lucky, the platform you’re standing on while carefully planning your approach through this obstacle course won’t collapse beneath you. Sequences like this challenge the player and also break up sections where you’re just running and jumping. Getting past them comes down to pattern recognition and intricate timing which are legitimate challenges to put into a game, but the controls don’t exactly lend themselves to success here when accuracy to the nearest pixel is required.
Controls and Cameras
The controls in the game can feel stiff like many early Playstation games. There are two basic moves; spinning and jumping. The directional buttons feel overly sensitive but jumping feels like it lacks enough sensitivity. It’s a strange combination to get used to but you end up using a mixture of lightly tapping or jamming the buttons as hard as you can. Many times having quick reactions won’t cut it. You need to already be holding a directional button down before an obstacle is even visibly onscreen. Your only choice is to memorize entire levels.
Crash can get caught in the vegetation boundaries that border the levels; a huge problem if you’re trying to cross a pit or avoid an enemy. There are also situations where you can’t judge the the spacing between platforms because of visual perspective issues, causing you to easily over-jump or under-jump by a landslide when you were sure the platform was right there.
Cameras also pose a slight problem. Crash is often times positioned directly in front of you, blocking your visibility. During levels where you’re riding an animal, the camera seems to randomly speed up and slow down, forcing you to react even more quickly to maliciously placed obstacles. This constant fight against the game itself can either stir feelings of determination within the player or put them off from playing completely.
Gems and Keys
When you complete a level the next level opens up for the most part, however your stats will remain as they are and you will be unable to save unless you obtain gems and bonuses. For non-completionists, you are given the option of getting through the game using passwords provided to you after each level.
The only time you receive statistical recognition for completing a level is if you complete the level perfectly. Perfectly in the Crash universe means not only beating an entire level without dying, but breaking every single box on top of not dying.
When getting a perfect at the end of a level, you’re rewarded with a clear gem. Sometimes coloured gems are necessary for completion because they lead to secret areas within a level where there might be boxes. This is a nice way to break the linearity between levels since you have to revisit previous levels instead of just moving on for good. You get to witness your own improvement or reminisce about your first experiences. To acquire coloured gems, you must get a perfect on specific levels. Then, you’re awarded a coloured gem instead of a clear one.
Unfortunately, you have no way of knowing if a level requires the possession of a coloured gem in order to complete it perfectly until you actually get to the spot in the level where you see that a coloured gem is necessary. So, if you wasted your time exiting and entering the level after each death, going out of your way to stockpile lives, and made sure you got every box up to that point with zero mistakes, I’m sorry, you couldn’t have gotten a perfect anyway. The logical thing to do is to just aim for beating a level once with the intention of returning to it after scoping out whether or not it requires a coloured gem for completion, but that just makes that first playthrough of each level feel like you’re rehearsing for the real performance.
There are only two keys in the game and acquiring these will unlock two levels. Keys are found after collecting three of Neo Cortex’s heads and completing the associated bonuses. If you want to complete the game with 100% and view the alternate ending, you’ll need these on top of all of the gems.
Boxes and fruit
Collecting one hundred Wumpas, a fictional fruit resembling the child of a peach and an apple, adds up to one life. You get these by collecting them throughout the level or breaking open wooden boxes/crates along your path. The boxes have different symbols associated with each type so you learn to interpret what’s inside of them through time and experimentation. Some boxes contain a series of Wumpas where you have to jump on the box continuously until it runs out of fruit and breaks, but most of the time you can use a spin attack to simply break them. Some boxes contain only one wumpa, some are TNT that violently explodes upon detonation. Exclamation point boxes activate other boxes within the level that aren’t filled in. It sounds straightforward enough to collect all of the boxes, right?
Well, it’s not. You don’t have the opportunity to backtrack and collect boxes that you’re potentially missing, because the game doesn’t tell you how many total boxes there are or how many you currently have. You only find out how many boxes you’re short when you get to the end and you’re already being transported back to the map screen. Maybe this element of mystery would appeal to some people who like to take notes during their games and track their own completion, but for me it was just another frustrating design choice. Providing an internal counter for boxes seems like it would have been simple implementation that could have saved players the grief of guessing.
If you die mid-level after opening a checkpoint box and want that clear gem of perfection, you have to start fresh by exiting to the map screen and re-entering the level or else it counts as a death while attempting to get all of the boxes in one try. Why would there be checkpoints in a game where starting from where you left off is less helpful than making you start from scratch? If the checkpoints didn’t count as boxes this would not be a problem because you could simply avoid them when pursuing gems, but they do count as boxes, so you have to get them. It’s not uncommon to blow through 20-40 lives in a single level. That means exiting the level and re-entering it 20-40 times, or even more on the really tough ones. You can see how tedious this gets.
Some levels have upwards of 10 checkpoints. I feel like if your game has more than a handful per level, then maybe that’s a hint that your levels are too long, too taxing, or both. After each checkpoint you might pray that it’s the last, but sometimes the level keeps going and going. When does the pain end?
Throughout the game there are decorative masks either in boxes or floating in the air. Collecting a mask gives Crash an extra hit so you won’t die after taking damage once. If Crash collects three of these masks he is granted the ability to run through enemies temporarily where an awesome, driving percussive beat drives you forward. Unfortunately, the percussion is the best part of this ability since the game can’t give you anything for free. It has a serious drawbacks. If you hit a threatening object that can’t be killed because it’s considered to be an obstacle rather an enemy, Crash involuntarily hops in reaction to hitting it as if you’re taking damage, so the player has to redirect the spastic hop and make sure it doesn’t land Crash into a pit.
Since many obstacles in the game are in an animated blockade form, the invincibility is made again to be unhelpful. You can still get pushed off of a cliff or stuck, you just won’t immediately get hurt upon touch. Your greatest enemy in this game is falling due to the required accuracy, weird perspectives, and the bad controls. A temporary pair of wings would have been more useful.
You know how in Mario games you can take advantage of the last few extra seconds provided to you when your star runs out and cheat the system a little? You’re gently eased back into your vulnerable reality. Well, that doesn’t happen in Crash. As soon as your mask invincibility runs out, it’s gone abruptly without warning, sometimes leaving you in the worst possible situation when it dies out. Temporary invincibility is usually a safe opportunity to be reckless. In Crash, it’s a temptation that needs to be carefully considered with a pros and cons list. Sometimes intentionally bypassing a third mask is a wiser choice as it can do more harm than good.
Strategy and Saving
Because the game is difficult, naturally you end up losing a lot of lives. A player must develop a strategy simply to stay afloat, like returning to the first couple of levels to collect wumpas. Lives, of course, do not save between different play sessions so stocking up more than you could possibly use in a sitting won’t be helpful.
At least they have the generosity to let you save your game, but even saving the game is made into an ordeal. You can save upon receiving a gem, which remember, means perfection. You’re probably not in the mood to play a brand new level flawlessly in the exact moment that you decided you were ready to quit. Especially when its completion requires a period of intense study and muscle memorization. Another saving option is available upon completing a new bonus level, which you enter by collecting three tokens of Tawna’s head. These too must be completed on your first attempt and many of them are purposefully set up to be tricky.
So in short, saving is a luxury, and in order to earn your right to save your hard-earned progress, your only choice is to enter a new experience blindly and execute it perfectly. Or, if you can’t perform perfectly under new circumstances on your first try, you can repeatedly try over and over while exiting the level each time you fail and maintaining your lives indefinitely.
Audio and Visuals
Judging on appearance and sound alone, the game has an inviting, primitive atmosphere. Its jungle-funk music helps to stylize the game alongside prevalent architectural ruins, making it stand apart from other more generic platformers. Even though the graphics are obviously outdated at this point, concentrated effort was put into creating detailed environments and can still be appreciated today. There are cracks in the pillars, spiderwebs, and textures everywhere. The backgrounds in some levels are beautiful, though ironically it’s hard to be able to appreciate them as you play because playing demands your undivided attention. This game can feel like running a marathon under the scalding sun, and with serendipity, you might get a sip of water at the end. Still, there are optimistic implications with the game’s upbeat, percussive music and aboriginal visuals. These elements casualize the experience, diffusing the intimidation of its intense difficulty, which helps the game maintain the capacity to draw players in through its frustrating moments.
Every gift you receive turns out to be a monkey’s paw; each seemingly good thing has even bigger repercussions. Crash Bandicoot is a dark comedy and the joke’s on you. Upon reaching the end of a level without having done it perfectly, the game shames Crash by smashing every single crate that he missed into jagged pieces on top of his head. Particular care was taken in the animation of his death sequences; further rubbing salt in the wound while a booming didgeridoo laughs at your misfortune in the background. I admit that these in-your-face death scenes make for a fun break in between your inevitable countless attempts. Often times levels contain snarky titles, puns, or pop culture references. For example, there’s a level called “Boulder Dash,” which features a giant boulder tumbling toward the screen for the duration of the level while Crash narrowly escapes. At least the developers had a sense of humour about their masochistic creation. The playfulness is much needed to offset the constant struggle. It’s a reminder to not take yourself or the game so seriously. The Crash Bandicoot series continues to incorporate dark undertones throughout its games.
Despite its incredible difficulty, the stylization and the basic concept are incredibly successful in this game. Sparkling gems, fire breathing totem poles, and primal music are all cheering you on despite the heavy pressure of not being allowed to make a single mistake. The compelling aesthetics and taunting humour keep stubborn players coming back for more. It’s addictive because you won’t want to let it win. It’s a test of mental endurance, leaving a residual impression that if you can beat Crash Bandicoot to 100% completion, you can do anything.
The game is too unjustifiably hard in the wrong ways. It has high expectations of the player which is great, but the game itself gets in your way with its design flaws. There is too much reliance placed on making the player memorize entire levels in order to beat them instead of requiring improvable skills. It doesn’t make sense to have a game that involves checkpoints and lives that you aren’t allowed to use and to make saving the game such an obstacle. Its artistic components, level designs, and overall concept are very successful elements but the actual execution could have been better. I can appreciate that it was navigating some experimental territories at the time so unlike the game, I won’t demand perfection. Also, it paved the way for the rest of what is overall, a fantastic series. Another redeeming quality may be that it improves your muscle memory exponentially upon completion. I recommend playing it after its sequels just for the experience, and making sure you have emotional support nearby.
-Stiff controls and inconsistent perspectives
-Tools meant to be helpful inhibit player
+Totem poles and groovy jungle music
+Detailed backgrounds and architecture
+Interesting level designs
+Comedic morbidity and puns
What is a hindsight review? It’s an article in which a Geekiverse writer reviews a game that they have never played before and is outside its launch window. It offers a fresh perspective and shows which games in your backlog are worth playing through.