Crash Bandicoot – a retrospective review (posted for GamersFTW)

Article can be found on the GamersFTW website;

Traipsing down memory lane can be a refreshing experience at times. They say that nostalgia lies, but I can’t think of a more exciting time to be a gamer than when the transition to 2-D to 3-D gaming was moving into the fore, with games like Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time seamlessly changing the format with next to no difficulty or strain.

Take for example the quality-assured seal of the original Crash Bandicoot game.  Yes, it’s dated when placed alongside the current movers and shakers in the market right now, but if you get past the graphics, the gameplay is anything but antiquated. There’s something quite quaint with the simple design of yester-year that makes no pretences of being anything more than what it is. No gilding the Lilly with fluffy cosmetic extras to purchase or exclusive in-game content only accessible from committing to pre-order. No hidden paywalls or elusive on-the-disk content deliberately held back for paid DLC. It’s just nice to go back to a time when cynical business strategies were not as blatant as what is now fairly commonplace.  Whatever was in those plastic jewel cases was pretty much what you got.

Admittedly the Crash Bandicoot series has lost out in recent years, chagrined by some fairly middle ground releases after Crash Bandicoot: Warped; releases that barely kept the franchise’s head above water. Yet Crash’s origins, once an innocuous mascot synonymous with its native console the PlayStation, still has a lasting charm; particularly as the initial outing felt like an earnest effort at creating an enjoyable game.

Taking your first steps into Crash Bandicoot, it’s clear there is a lot on display. The terrain on show is awash with very bright colour palettes, allowing the lush tropical vibe of the game to burgeon onto your screen, with flush and warmly coloured plant-life festooning the half-ruined Aztec landmarks littered across the three islands.  That coupled with Crash’s ruddy-coloured fur and chirpy expressions, as well as a vivid interface to match, and you have a game with a very rich and engaging presentation. Even the later industrialized levels are still varied with different swatches of colour as opposed to having a stodgy monochromatic grey hue, which is something quite commonplace in modern titles.

The varied spectrum of colour also serves to embolden the varied spectrum of challenges in store.   In many instances the game will see Crash weaving past clouds of bats, dodging rolling stones, outrunning boulders, scaling walls of towering  fortresses , delving into  temples long forsaken and even saddling unsuspecting warthogs  in order to charge though  hurdles and blockades.

Each level’s theme is also demonstrably tied into its difficulty gradient. With its beginnings in the mild easy-going tropical jungle, a temperate stroll at thumb-slackened pace, to the haphazard industrial grime of Cortex’s laboratory, cluttered with acme-esque devices and traps for your eyes to trip over, while mixing up other obstacles and enemies to test your wits.

The Bosses are also quite a motley crew of misfits with memorable entries such the mad as a hatter Ripper Roo; the muscle-bound Koala Kong, whose entire caricature makes 80s action heroes look reserved; and the slick Pinstripe Potoroo, lying in wait in his office with an itchy trigger finger.  Each boss has their own distinct characteristics as well as a specific method in order to dispatch them, some of which add a nice creative touch to the overall game.

In terms of setting and action available, there is a lot on show here, with the game sparing no effort in order to get as much mileage from each set piece as it can.

It has to be said, however, that the game can be a little too content to tread familiar ground, and your typical platforming staples make a bold return. To go down the roll call, the game is littered with moving and collapsible platforms, platforms that are incorporeal until you flip a switch, as well as spikes, retractable pikes, rolling barrels and other oft-seen hazards which at times feel shoehorned as impediments.

Let’s not forget the obligatory collectable McGuffins such as Wumpa fruits which stand in for coins, granting an extra life after mustering one hundred of them. This also includes hidden tokens which give you access to a hidden bonus round and Aku Aku masks, each of which grants you progressive levels of invulnerability. Disappointedly, some of the enemies, such as bland Island critters, textureless tribesmen and balding scientists, -can all look a bit too stock.

Yet for all the rather standard obstacles in store, the game keeps these elements pretty varied for the most part. Crash Bandicoot takes great pains in order to constantly switch things up in a manner that keeps the action on screen well-paced and engaging. It deliberately utilizes a simple yet straight forward design philosophy that creates some effortlessly fun experiences.

Execution is pretty much the watchword to describe what makes Crash Bandicoot such a joy to play, something which makes it accessible for everyone, even with the child-like visage. It’s challenging in places without being merciless, its levels are assorted with things to overcome without being strenuously involved. It’s the definition of a pick up and play game, with an admittedly low bar of entry, yet still maintains an appeal for the more seasoned of gamers.

Of course that doesn’t mean that Crash Bandicoot was beneath the opportunity to flex the PlayStations’ technical muscles. The facial animations- exhibited in Crash Bandicoot’s character models was one of the first games of its kind to be implemented in 3-D games, making it something of a tent pole release in that regard.

Despite this, the game thankfully does not expend too much effort showboating it’s technical abilities, rather focusing on keeping the gameplay as dynamic as possible. For the most part Crash Bandicoot has a fairly humble presentation, adding to the game’s endearing quality.

However a game this accessible is still going to rack up a few flaws, one of the most prominent ones being that it is somewhat too easy.

Lives in the game are fairly common to come by; being stocked with over 60 lives on the third island is not a remote possibility. Whilst death can be a common occurrence, it tends to be caused simply by careless mistakes, most of which are easily avoided. When you have that many lives in tow, it’s hard not to be nonchalant, with the large stockpile acting as a massive crutch.

Some of the bosses are also a tad on the easy-side. For example, Koala Kong is a cakewalk once you’ve worked out the timing of the TNT placements. Not to mention that the last stand-off with Neo Cortex himself is also slightly anti-climactic as well, requiring some very simple pattern recognition.

It won’t take a herculean effort to finish the majority of the game, yet there are some elements that will take a bit of trial and error to finish.

Some levels such as Temple Ruins and Machinery Room have some very weird perspectives which can make jumping alignment from foreground to background tricky at times. It can also be a pain to get purchase on moving or even static platforms, where you’ll often offshoot or undershoot a jump.  This is even caused sometimes by monuments or objects in the foreground obscuring where crash is going to land, as well as the pattern of moving obstacles being frequently awkward to negotiate.

As with any platforming game, Crash Bandicoot has some notoriously grating levels in its midst. Whilst not exactly murderous in their difficulty, they are going to take quite a few tries to complete, where levels such as Generator Room, Toxic Waste and The High Road can potentially make even the most collected of gamers lose their presence of mind.

Although perhaps not quite fine wine, Crash Bandicoot’s charm still ripens with age, considering its somewhat benign and well-meaning presentation, which is a rarity in today’s rather cynical market. It is a source of pure fun, -and with its colourful gameplay it is truly a gem worth revisiting.

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