Why Crash Bandicoot will save the PlayStation 4
Crash Bandicoot became one of the most successful and iconic titles on the original PlayStation helping put the console on the map. With critical acclaim around the globe and being the unofficial mascot, the PS1 wouldn’t have been the same without Crash. It was THE game everyone admired or wanted to play and THE game that secured Sony a position on the console market. Like Crash and the game itself, the PS1 was an experiment. An experiment that needed to convince others that it’s worth supporting. It had the futuristic CD drive that offered enourmous potential, but needed the right content to prove it. Crash was THAT content. Sure, the PS1 catalogue is full of smash hits across all genres, but hardly any other series came close to what Crash meant and accomplished – especially in the early days when developers were trying to figure the console out. Crash became very special. Not just to gamers, but also Sony. Such a product was well worth nurturing. But then it got mistreated, abandoned and eventually forgotten. Crash games on the PlayStation 2 were hardly as important as the original trilogy to the console’s success. There were bigger fish out there that made the PS2 king. Crash games for smaller systems, like the Gameboy or Mobile, were just that and didn’t make much of a buzz. And the absence of Crash on the PS3? Far from an issue and a similar case as with the PS2. Both systems did well on their own thanks to countless other titles and without Crash. Crash wasn’t anymore something they needed.
But fast forward to 2016 and strangely enough we find ourselves in a similar situation as in the PS1 days where it all began. The PlayStation might be an established brand and the PS4 is doing fairly well – 40 million units is far from something Sony should be ashamed of. It’s actually a good achievement considering Sony’s slow start on last-gen with the PS3 and the fact the Xbox One sold half. Despite that, I don’t see Sony’s future looking very bright and the fourth PlayStation staying on top for long. There are at least two issues Sony, once more slowly becoming that overconfident cocky company it was during PS3’s launch, will sooner or later somehow need to address – with Crash being the potential answer.
Issue one? The new Xbox One S and the upcoming Xbox One Scorpio. As much as I am a PlayStation fan, I’ve been gaming on it since 1997, I must admit that it’s starting to look pretty uncertain for Sony. Microsoft’s new offering comes out as more appealing, at least technically at first glance, than the new PS4 (Slim) and PS4 Pro. Performance-wise Sony’s new consoles are sadly inferior and next to the Scorpio the PS4 Pro is far from a native 4K console – it just feels lacking and incomplete. 4.20 TFLOPS of power against the Scorpio’s 6 is not a difference one should dismiss or outright ignore. Even the One S seems to have a slighter edge over the Slim by including a 4K Blu-Ray drive PlayStation fans expect and desire. For that reason alone, the more expensive Pro doesn’t come with one either even though Sony helped invent the Blu-Ray, the Scorpio could decimate the Pro in a heartbeat. And with also more raw power for its games, the PS4 Pro can eventually be in trouble. The only real advantage Sony has is that the PS4 Pro will be out almost a year before Scorpio hits the shelves during Holiday next year. But even just with the One S it won’t be an easy year for the PS4/Pro to endure. Unless Sony comes out with a killer app everyone will want and won’t be able to get unless they have a PS4/Pro and this killer app will be out sooner than Scorpio will launch. That is something Sony could work with in their favor.
However, which brings me to issue number two, there’s an elephant in the room. The PS4 basically has no games. The Xbox One literally has no games, albeit Microsoft is trying hard to change that, but “basically no games” on the PS4 isn’t much better. In fact, I would argue that even the PS1 catalogue in its first years was richer than what Sony is currently trying to sell us. If you look at purely exclusives you can count Microsoft’s traditional line-up on a couple of fingers and Sony, compared to how they went all out in previous generations, doesn’t fare much better – even using all the fingers I have I am left far from impressed. I mean, just look and count: Infamous Second Son? Killzone Shadow Fall? Gravity Rush 2? Uncharted 4? Disgaea 5? Earth Defense Force 5? Yakuza 6? Ace Combat 7? Another Gran Turismo? Another God of War? Not saying these weren’t or won’t be good, Uncharted 4 and the upcoming God of War being the highlights, but they’re all expected sequels on the borderline of unoriginal boredom. They’ve burned out their fuel already on the previous generation where they were in their prime. In the end they are just shuffled versions of the same old and for the fourth, fifth or sixth time, knowing you also have to catch up on the previous installments, it doesn’t have the same effect. So, in hope of change, you look at new exclusive IPs. Driveclub. Rime. Bloodborne. Knack. Wild. Horizon Zero Dawn. The Order: 1886. Days Gone. The Last Guardian. Detroit: Become Human. 10 titles. Some of these have already come out. Some will come out fairly soon. The problem with them? They’re in the same bag. All decent newcomers, but there isn’t one that would somehow substantially stand out and at the same time appeal to everyone. They’re all just bits and pieces of awesome that together taste great, but on their own none of them is THAT treat. The Last Guardian perhaps had the best chance, it truly seems unique, but due to endless delays it devalued its IP and became the PS4’s Duke Nukem Forever – somewhat of a joke. It can simply never reach the level of success it originally envisioned. The hype and momentum is gone. So you explore further the PS4 treasure chest and what’s really left? The exclusive remasters and remakes. Hm, let’s see. God of War 3 HD? Last of Us Remastered? Uncharted Collection? Similar situation as with the sequels, but even worse. The sequels at least bring SOMETHING new. The polished versions of said old titles? Most people have already finished them on the PS3. A few more frames, pixels and polygons won’t cut it. So, anything else beyond that? Anything at all? Maybe Final Fantasy VII or Ratchet and Clank? Well, maybe. Those are more than your traditional facelift. But two games? That’s not really much, is it? And VR that is just now starting to become accessable and playable? PlayStation’s Morpheus, as it was codenamed, is a fairly decent headset, but the amount of engaging titles for it is very limited and right now it’s still more of a demo unit instead of a fleshed out experience – albeit Resident Evil 7 might be the game to change that. That is if Resi 7 is any good, there’s no certainty what the final game will look like, because VR itself won’t save it.
You look at all of that and you sadly realize that the PS4’s catalogue is still quite poor. Saying it sucks would be a bit harsh. Compared to the Xbox One, that only recently snapped out of its we-don’t-need-games trance, it sounds pretty sweet. And if you add all the multiplatform games that may or may not have some kind of exclusive PS4 content into the mix? In that case the PS4 library indeed sounds fantastic. But we’re talkin’ exclusively exclusives here. And in that area there is still room for improvement. Even moreso when it becomes clear that technically the future Xbox system is superior and can eventually, thanks to its additional horsepower and Microsoft’s new game-centered approach, offer better or more exciting titles that would lead to a greater commercial success. Worst thing Sony could do would be to underestimate their enemy.
So where does the PS4/Pro fit in? And what about Crash?
People who already own a PS4 are unlikely to upgrade to the facelifted Slim. The difference between the two is marginal at best. The Slim is, well, slimmer. And newer. But that’s about it. With the HDR patch there’s nothing the Slim can do that the fat PS4 can’t. So current owners will look, if they’re interested at all, at the PS4 Pro – a revision to which upgrading makes more sense. But how many will actually upgrade? They don’t need a fancy 4K TV, the Pro will take advantage of their current 1080p sets through richer visuals or a smoother framerate, but that somewhat misses the point. The Pro is marketed as a 4K system, which due to its so-so processing power and lack of a 4K drive it clearly is not, yet ultimately will do just what the original PS4 promised to do from the start – provide a rich and smooth 1080p gameplay experience. Something both platforms, even though this was more apparent on the original Xbox One, continuously struggled with. PS4 owners with 4K sets will obviously get more out of the Pro. Despite that, most of the games will be upscaled. The PS4 Pro simply doesn’t have enough power to run complex titles in 4K at 60fps and high settings (something even expensive PC builds still have a problem with) all at the same time – leaving native 4K to a handful of titles locked at 30fps with lower graphical fidelity or online streaming through services such as Netflix or YouTube. At launch, which is only a few weeks away, it may seem good enough. But in the long-run, and by the time the Xbox Scorpio comes out, the Pro will feel inferior if not obsolete. Knowing there won’t be another PlayStation console out for at least a couple of years, as recently confirmed, in a world where with each passing day 4K is becoming the norm it could pose a problem. There is a chance Sony might eventually release some kind of patch that would bump the performance a bit to help the Pro stay relevant, but software updates can only do so much. Whichever way you look at it, it seems clear that the console was baked together rather quickly and its main goal is just to try to beat the Scorpio by coming out first without properly calculating the risk this might pose. Newcomer or someone who’s upgrading, solely from an objectively technical standpoint, there isn’t much reason to get either the slimmer PS4 nor the Pro – even if the Pro is the best thing Sony has. In 3 years, 2019 seems to be a good bet when we’ll be seeing the PS5, the Pro will be heavily breathing and the Slim will be in cardiac arrest – all while the Xbox One S will be still alive and the Xbox Scorpio will barely sweat. So, unless Sony pulls a raygun out of their hat, the PlayStation 4 will remain mainly a 1080p system alongside the 4K-proof Xbox One Scorpio. Hard to predict what this will do, but it is safe to assume some kind of a drop in sales over time one way or another.
This doesn’t leave Sony with many options. If they can’t beat Microsoft with hardware, they’ll need to top them with the software – something they have proved over the years they can be creatively good at. Sadly, as pointed out earlier, for some reason the PS4 catalogue is still relatively small, boring and is yet to see its killer app. Three years in one would expect it. Sony needs something big. Something that would make Nintendo, another contestant that could steal the show, and especially Microsoft jealous. Something that would make people purchase a PS4, PS4 Slim or the PS4 Pro en mass. When I look at the plethora of available and upcoming titles, no game does that for me. Not a single one of them encompasses me with the feeling of “I MUST play this!”. Except one: Crash Bandicoot.
By now you probably think I’ve lost my mojo and am just trying to promote the Skylanders game and the yet-to-be-fully-revealed Remastered collection. Or that I’m blinded by nostalgia. Far from it. I’m just going to sincerely tell you why I truly believe that Crash Bandicoot will once more be the property that will make Sony triumphant.
There are a number of factors at play here from which Crash Bandicoot, and ultimately Sony, can benefit. As pointed out, Crash on the PS1 was a tremendous success. The first three games sold almost 20 million copies and Crash was one of the few western video game properties to make an impact in Japan. The games were simply fantastic, pushing the boundaries of what the original PlayStation could do while pioneering a new genre, and they came at the perfect time. Not just that, they also stood the test of time and aged really well. You play them today, knowing them perfectly, yet they are as entertaining and rewarding as they were when you first launched them back in the ’90s. The charmingly wacky Looney-Tunes-esque characters, visually diverse rich environments, unique memorable soundtrack and simple catchy gameplay all make for a strong formula that never gets old. There is replay value too – especially in Cortex Strikes Back and Warped. Crash Bandicoot is also the type of game anyone can pick up, understand and enjoy. With the variety the games offer there’s something for everyone and even though there is some continuity between the three, each one feels unique enough to be its own thing without the need to be familiar with the rest. You can hop right in and have fun without having to worry about anything – no complicated controls, no weird camera and no complex story arc. Because of all these various traits people have fond memories of the series. While nostalgia may kick in for some, it’s hardly the core selling point the games would rely on. Nostalgia alone, while indeed a factor, won’t suddenly turn a bad product into a pot of gold. There has to be something there, in some form or capacity, in the first place. Crash has that. Because of that, despite his brief disappearance, he became a brand people recognize, are familiar with and like. And interestingly enough, two decades since his debut, there is desire for more. Fans kept the series alive in hope of a comeback and after years of hints it’s finally happening. In a big way. First, Crash is coming to Skylanders Imaginators and then the original trilogy will be out next year as a remastered collection. What’s great about these releases is that even though they target mainly new audiences who haven’t experienced Crash yet, majority of PS4 users included due to the PS1 classics being unavailable for them on PSN, they will cater also to old fans as well. That’s why the Boulders segment in Uncharted 4 is from a marketing standpoint, by forcefully exposing 3 million people to the Bandicoot, absolutely genius. And if Crash’s Skylanders treatment is any indication, another demographic Sony can tap into, the remasters at Vicarious Visions are in good hands with potential to speak to everyone. This is the closest we’ve been to the source material in ages. Peculiar about the remasters is also the notion they might be a lot more than that and end up being closer to remakes – meaning there’s likely a lot more effort put into them than your average remaster and they are being “fully remade from the ground up” with care. We haven’t seen anything from them yet, a full reveal is expected at PSX in December, but chances are that VV in cooperation with Activision and Sony will nail it and deliver – in which case both fans and Sony can celebrate. With enough proper promotion, this thing should be all over the place, and a reasonable price tag the collection has a very decent chance at being the number one exclusive for the PlayStation 4 system for some time. Plus if it comes out before the Xbox Scorpio (possibly even the Nintendo NX) and does really well, it could literally save Sony’s console from eventually falling behind to the more powerful competition. With the possibility of an entirely new Crash game already being worked on, presumably by a Japanese studio, it is almost guaranteed. The buzz Crash could create, we already saw what happened during E3, and the sales he could generate? Unreal. Let’s not forget that if the Bandicoot wasn’t part of Sony’s long-term plans in the first place, his 20th anniversary would be a lot more modest. Sony will use this window of opportunity to the fullest. They have to and I can only wish everyone involved good luck. Now, #BringMeTheCrystals!