When you’re supposed to pick one game you are truly thankful for, it’s hard. Especially when you’ve played so many amazing titles over the years and value most of them, because they were – and in many cases still are – really great products. Finding that needle in a haystack is simply a challenge and it was something I wanted to properly think through first.
I grew up in the 90’s and eventhough my first gaming experience was with the Sega Genesis (hello Sonic!) and I still love its classic games to this day, the real journey began for me a few years later. It was 1997 and the original Sony Playstation was becoming pretty popular and affordable. Numerous titles, most of which were experimental and later ironically became famous franchises, started appearing for this stylish CD-ROM platform en mass and building it a solid reputation in the gaming industry amongst critics. It wasn’t until then that developers started getting the hang of it and were able to, finally, materialize their wildest dreams. Nintendo re-entered the market once again with its N64, but Sony had a head start. There was, however, something they lacked – a mascot. Crash Bandicoot ended up being that character – at least unofficially. The first game of the series was so memorable and popular that it overtook this role relatively quickly. It managed to sell overall more than 6 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most successful Playstation titles to date. Crash became an icon and synonym for the Playstation brand and I dare to say that without him Sony wouldn’t be on the map where it is today – and nor would Naughty Dog.
Though Crash came out in summer 1996, I was introduced to him almost a year later when my parents decided to surprise me with a Playstation unit of my own – mainly to see for themselves what the buzz was all about. Little did they know they opened a Pandora’s box. I remember like it was just yesterday. We went to the Sony store downtown and my mum explicitly told me: „Tomorrow you’ll be getting a Playstation. Come pick 2 games you’d like.“ For a second I froze and then started instantly screaming with joy. I started running around the store, looking for Crash Bandicoot, and repeated over and over again: „Please. Don’t forget this. Don’t forget this.“ I remember walking outside the store so excited I didn’t want to go to bed that night and kept thinking about the next day. It was so close, yet so far away. The following afternoon the console arrived and me and my dad set it up. It booted. I used to get chills every time and still do even now. There is something mysterious and creepy about that start up sequence. Either way, I remember being very impressed by the futuristic round shape of the CD. Back then everything used to be angular or rectangular, so you can imagine what holding the data donut felt like to a 7-year-old. I couldn’t have been happier. However, there was a small catch – as always. No memory card – meaning no save games. Nada. That… kept me busy. Writing down password codes was fun at first, but they always got lost God knows where and eventually I gave up and just kept playing and playing. I even once got up at 6 AM on the weekend just to play three hours straight before my parents woke up and found me sitting on the floor with the controller in my hands. Thankfully they didn’t mind and luckily enough bought me a memory card a few weeks later on. Suffice to say it helped. The internet was still without any extensive content and slow (hello dial-up) and cheats weren’t my kind of thing anyway. I wanted to beat the game myself. N. Sanity Beach, here I come!
I won’t lie. What got me attracted to the game in the first place were colors. They got me attracted to Mortal Kombat (hello palette-swap ninjas) and Sonic three years earlier and they attracted me again. Crash Bandicoot looked so rich compared to everything else on the market that it was hard to ignore. Vibrant, vivid and sharp. That’s how I would describe the graphics in three words. Despite looking a bit cartoon-ish, the game did maintain a pinch of realism. I was worried about Crash. I didn’t want to see him die. The game wasn’t the easiest and there was the moment of suspense, while trying to navigate Crash through various levels. When I say various, I mean that literally. With 3 islands and 32 levels the title managed to show alot of diversity on many fronts. Though rendered in 3D, some stages embraced 2D gameplay elements, while other used different cameras (from above, behind, over-the-shoulder). Despite the basic gameplay formula remained the same (run, jump, spin, collect), playing the game from other angles helped to avoid any stereotype by a mile. In two levels you could even ride a hog! Then there were the environments. From jungles, rivers and villages to factories, temples and ruins. Some of my favorite levels have to be Heavy Machinery, Road To Nowhere or Sunset Vista. It’s interesting how parts of the game are so different, yet still enjoyable. I admit, some of those were hard and actually forced me to pay attention, but were fun nontheless. Figuring out how to get all of the gems and keys was part of that as well, no matter how challenging it may have seemed. I may have been upset at times, but I kept coming back. I wanted to know what would come next. Nobody knew, except for some magazines and guides, and it was great to discuss with my classmates during breaks. We competed. Who would finish the game first, who would get the gems, who would get 99 lives, etc. Enemies ranged from crabs, turtles and bats to lizards, robots and traps. Some were dangerous and tricky, while other were cute. Bosses fit in nicely and some made it into regular cast members later on in the series. Dr. Neo Cortex was humorous. I felt sorry for the guy. But Crash had friends as well. His magical mask – Aku Aku – made him all mighty, Tawna – his love – was hot. It possibly couldn’t get much better than that 🙂
Crash Bandicoot is one of those games that had the ambitions and guts to bring something new to the table. It delivered. With rich environments, clever level design, addictive gameplay and distinctive background music, it managed to combine everything into one large and juicy package that not only became a classic over the years, but paved the way for other companies and titles to continue in its footsteps. The game isn’t perfect and had some issues during development, but I’m glad it made it. Who knows what the industry would’ve been like now-a-days if it wasn’t for Crash. Maybe Nathan Drake wouldn’t have ever been born, maybe Playstation wouldn’t have ever become that big. Founders of Naughty Dog – Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin – took a risk and succeeded. Anytime I want to remind myself of my childhood, I pick up the controller and simply start playing Crash games all over again. In fact, I’m playing Crash 2 right now. My favorite. Thanks to everyone who worked on the game that initially started it all. I owe you one!
P.S. I would go nuts if a HD collection of the original games, with remastered graphics and trophies, came out. Pretty please, I beg on my knees. Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂