Back in the good old days of the 90s, Naughty Dog was just two guys – Jason Ruben and Andy Gavin, friends from school who liked making games together. They’d been working on a few games before and had made a bit of money from it. After they wowed Universal Studios with their fighting game, Way of the Warrior, Universal decided they wanted to get into the games industry and promptly made a deal with Ruben and Gavin: “we’ll give you an office space on the Universal lot and a few employees to help you make us a few games”. They agreed and hired seven people, which was quite a lot of people in the early 90s, to help make their next title.
They’d previously worked with consoles like the Sega Genesis and the Panasonic 3DO (yes Panasonic made a games console, everyone was doing it at the time). The 3DO had the advantage of an optical drive, meaning that developers could put a lot of content into their games – 650mb was a lot in the 90s. The problem with the 3DO was that it wasn’t very powerful and neither was it very popular. Quite recently, however, Sony had just entered the console market with the PlayStation. This had an optical drive, and importantly, it was very powerful – being focused on 3D graphics. It had been released exclusively in Japan a year before and was met with wild success, knocking Nintendo and Sega off of their pedestals as the industry leaders. Naughty Dog bought a developer kit at vast expense and got to work making a game for the newly released, in America and Europe, Sony PlayStation.
Mascots were a thing for consoles back in the 80s and 90s. Nintendo had Mario, Sega had Sonic. Sony had nothing. This gave Naughty Dog an ambitious idea. They were going to, without Sony asking them to or even knowing it, make the PlayStation mascot. They decided they wanted it to be an animal like Sonic the hedgehog and wanted to follow the idea of making it an animal that most people don’t know about (apparently people don’t know what a hedgehog is in America). They decided to go for an Australian setting and therefore to pick an Australian animal. They eventually picked a Bandicoot. To this day, most people still don’t know that a Bandicoot is a real animal. Many people will Google “what kind of animal is Crash Bandicoot?”, followed quickly by “what is a bandicoot?”. He was given the name “Crash” because he is always crashing into boxes during the gameplay.
These games were a wild success and got Naughty Dog to where they are today – one of the most respected game developers in the world. Earlier this year, a remastered collection of the original trilogy was released for PS4. This meant that a studio, Vicarious Visions, had to play the original games and recreate everything. Every level, every secret, exactly the same. I’ve heard they’d done a marvellous job of it, so that’s why I bought all three of the original PS1 games and played them all the way through.
It’s been said a million times by now, but these games are all harder than most people remember. I only remember playing Crash 3 and remember getting stuck at one point and never continuing, but I don’t remember it being quite as hard as it is.
Crash 1 starts with no cutscene. You press play and the game throws you into the first level. There are actually no cutscenes at all until you reach the very end of the game. To watch the opening cutscene you have to wait on the main menu for a minute or so. It really makes a statement about the importance of the story in this game when the opening cut scene is only really there to serve as a screen saver. So it turns out that Crash has been genetically engineered in order to lead Dr Cortex’s army of bandicoots to take over the world. It goes wrong, the bad guys kidnap Crash’s sexy bandicoot girlfriend and now Crash needs to save her. A very simple story which only serves to provide some kind of motivation to the main characters, and is only there for the people who care about that.
The gameplay is your simple Crash stuff – 3D platforming including excellent level design, inventive enemies, compulsive box smashing and wompa fruit collecting. It’s all very fun and furiously frustrating. Most of the time when you screw up the game makes you feel like it was your fault, that you’re not good enough, which is actually something that takes skilled game design. You’ll screw up a lot, and when you do you’ll start screwing up even the easy bits that you got perfectly the first time. This all makes it so much better when you do finally get to the next save point because you know you’ll never have to do any of it again, but you’ll be glad you managed to do it. This is important – you don’t get angry at the game for being unfair or too hard, you get angry at yourself for being bad at the game.
If you run out of lives in Crash 1, you’ll go back to the last time you saved. So it’s fine, right? You just need to save after each level and it’s good. Oh, how naive you are, thinking you can save whenever you want. You have to earn the right to save your game in Crash 1. To save your game you have to collect three bonus coins from unmarked boxes to get into the bonus level, then you must complete the bonus level without dying. When you load the save it’ll put you back to the start of the level you got the save point on. The save points aren’t on every level, either. You’ll find one on every one out of three or four levels. Which means you might run out of lives and have to go back to redo three or four levels that you just completed, preferably without losing any lives because the number of lives you have carry over to the next level. Does this make you want to smash your head into a wall? Yes. Does it make for the best feeling in the world when you finally get a save point? Also yes.
The boss battles in Crash 1 are known for being hilariously easy in comparison to rest of the game. I agree with this knowing; the bosses are a bit pathetic in their attempt to defeat you. They’re all just scripted so once you learn what the boss is going to do, you aren’t in any real danger. Some bosses only take a few seconds to defeat once you know what they’re going to do. Naughty Dog took this advice on board when making the next games.
Crash 2 discards with the sexy bandicoot girlfriend aspect in favour of an actual female character, Coco. Coco is Crash’s sister and she’s really clever and has a pet tiger which is pretty cool. There is actually an opening cutscene to this one, but it doesn’t matter. Cortex wants to take over the world still and Crash needs to collect all the power crystals so that Cortex doesn’t have them. Coco sometimes calls Crash and tells him what’s going on with that. Crash 2 adds the idea of a warp room. The warp room is where Crash can jump through one of many portals to get to a level. This is probably so that there can be more variety in the levels, with ice levels and fire levels which wouldn’t have made sense if there was no warp room idea and all the levels were supposed to be connected like in Crash 1. The gameplay is basically the same as the first game, but just with new enemies to get angry at.
Thankfully, depending on your opinion, you are now allowed to save after each level. Now you only have to complete a level once. This makes the game a lot less infuriating but also feel so much easier. I felt that the game only really became a challenge with the final few levels. Although, this might have been because the levels are genuinely easier, or it might have been because, unlike the first game, DualShock controllers had been invented by this point, so now you don’t have to control the game using the D-Pad. In any case, this meant that where the first game took me two weeks to complete, the second only took me two days.
In Crash 3 there’s some time travel nonsense that matters as little as any of the stories in the Crash series, but it’s all very similar to the previous game, with warps rooms and so on, except now as crash progresses he gets new abilities like double jumping, extended spinning and a bazooka, which makes some of the enemies very simple to deal with – you just shoot them. You can also play as Coco now, which is pretty good because she has a jet ski and a tiger. This was the game that I remember playing most and playing it filled me with memories of a better time when life was good. I never finished it as a child, and I’m very glad that I finally did. Again, it only took me two days.
It’s said that you haven’t really finished a Crash game until you have all the gems. So you have to smash every box and complete every time trial of every level of every game. I didn’t do this, so when I say it only took me two days, that’s just how long it took to get to the end of the final boss battle of each. For some people, doing what I would count as finishing the game is just the start. I don’t really want to commit to that. I’m not that kind of person.
So then, which is the best? It depends on what experience you’re going for. If you want to have a really tough time of it but feel very rewarded at the end, I suppose you probably want to play Crash 1. If you want to just sort of have fun and chill out, Crash 3 is your game. Crash 2 is the worst one, but that’s not to say that it is bad – it’s excellent – it’s just not as good as the other two, or rather, it doesn’t do anything that Crash 3 doesn’t do, and it’s not as hard as Crash 1. I can’t speak for the N’Sane Trilogy, but apparently, it’s a very faithful remaster of the original games, and many have claimed it’s even harder.
The Crash Bandicoot trilogy is legendary amongst gamers, particularly around my age who played them as a child and remember them fondly, because nostalgia blocks out all the painful parts. It got Naughty Dog to where they are today and began their legacy of making some of the best games in the world. Well done Naughty Dog.
P.S For those wondering why I didn’t mention Crash Team Racing, it’s because it’s like £30 everywhere I look and I only have bad memories of that game.