The Crash Comeback

 

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Crash Bandicoot, the one-time face of Playstation, turned 20 this past week.  I’ve always found it curious that the long decline of Sonic the Hedgehog has been a popular topic of discussion, but the corresponding decline in quality of the Crash Bandicoot series has not received nearly the same amount of attention.  I’ve had a few theories as to why this has been the case.  First, Sonic *was* the Genesis.  When most people think of the good times they had with that machine, the Sonic the Hedgehog games are among the first things that enter their mind.  They are a symbol for an entire gaming era.  But I think when most think of the PS1, the experiences that immediately come to mind are titles like Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, and Resident Evil.  Even though Crash was generally held up as the mascot of the Playstation, he was not nearly as critical to its success and popularity as Sonic was to the Genesis.  And furthermore, the decline of Sonic is sort of symbolic of the decline of Sega as a whole.  Once a major pillar of gaming, Sega fans have not only had to endure the struggles of one of their favorite characters, but it has corresponded to the waning of Sega’s particular brand of creativity as a whole.

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While Crash was used by Sony as the mascot of the PS1, Sony never really owned the Crash Bandicoot brand.  Instead, Naughty Dog developed the game for Universal Studios’ game publishing arm (which is now defunct).  When Sony bought Naughty Dog to develop PS2 games, the rights to Crash didn’t go with them.  Instead, Konami worked with Universal to take the series multiplatform, and, similar to his hedgehog counterpart, that’s when trouble started to arise.  Now, after a long stretch of diminishing popularity with less than stellar releases, Crash is in the hands of Activision, who have shown little interest in getting the series back on track.  But I’ve noticed more and more over the past few years, however, there’s been a growing fan community that’s trying to convince Sony to take back the series and do it justice.

I’m a long time Crash Bandicoot fan.  The first game was among the titles I originally received along with the console.  As I’ve discussed before, the PS1 is my favorite console, and, as a result, Crash occupies a special place in my heart.  So, I’ve been in favor of the recent fan push to get Crash returned to the hands of Sony and hopefully start a subsequent return to glory.  It’s a long shot, and I know it’s very unlikely that we’ll ever see a new proper Crash Bandicoot game, but…whatever… you have to support what you love.

Of the original Crash games created and developed by Naughty Dog, I think my favorite would have to be the third game, Crash Bandicoot: Warped (setting aside Crash Team Racing).  I think the time travel plot made for the series’ most creative levels thematically, and while many prefer the levels in Crash 2, I’ve always felt they were a little soulless when compared to the settings that Crash 3 wanders through.  And I’ve also always thought it was an amazing game graphically for the original Playstation.  Crash Bandicoot always had great graphics, especially when it came to animations, but Crash 3 made use of vibrant colors in a way that just made everything pop better.  The final boss fight deserves mention as one of my favorites ever, as Crash faces off against Neo Cortex while also having to avoid getting steamrolled by a parallel duel between his shaman buddy Aku Aku and the evil Uka Uka.

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I also have to mention Crash Team Racing here, as it may be my favorite kart racer ever.  It’s certainly among my favorite games of all time.  In the arena of kart racers, the Mario Kart series basically sits high above all else from a quality perspective, but there has been a small few number of titles to challenge MK’s crown, and Crash Team Racing is undoubtedly one of them.  I would actually rank it above its N64 counterpart, as I think CTR has more interesting tracks and karts that handle better than the slipperiness of MK64.  I also think CTR just has way better visuals than MK64, but that’s a bit of an unfair comparison, since MK64 came out near the beginning of the N64‘s life, while CTR appeared at the end of the PS1‘s.

The fan movement to resurrect the Crash series hasn’t gone unnoticed by either Sony or Activision.  At E3, Crash was announced to be incorporated into the next Skylanders game, but far more exciting, a remake of the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy is in the works for Playstation 4.  There was also a major cameo by the character this year in a form that I won’t spoil here, but many of you probably know what I’m talking about.  These attempts by Sony to placate the Crash loyals have been incredibly amusing to me.  Most companies just ignore fan demands to revive old, dormant series.  Sony is oddly trying to sideways satisfy them by throwing out a few bones, but not actually doing what fans are requesting, which is an entirely new game.  Presumably, such a thing is on the table if the remakes do well enough, though.

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But if Sony really were to do a new Crash game, what would that actually be?  Some seem to want a new game developed by Naughty Dog, but I doubt Naughty Dog is up to the task anymore of doing Crash Bandicoot, and I doubt they would want to.  A lot of talent from the Crash and Jak days have moved on from the company, and their current talent pool is more experienced with and seemingly more interested in creating highly linear, story-driven action-adventure titles than making a new 3D character platformer.  In fact, there aren’t really many studios outside of Nintendo that do have such experience anymore, but I can think of a few.  Namely, Sanzaru Games, who did a good job with Sly Cooper 4 on PS3, could be the best match for taking on the task of Crash.  I would also suggest Next Level Games, who did the Luigi’s Mansion sequel on 3DS, could also be a good fit.

And furthermore, what would a new Crash entry even be like?  In its original time, Crash straddled the line between two distinct eras of game design.  Ostensibly, Crash is a 3D platformer, allowing movement along 3 axes.  But unlike other similar releases of the time (like Mario 64, Banjo, and Spyro), Crash was structured much more similarly to 16-bit era games.  While the aforementioned contemporaries featured objective-driven gameplay in open, free-roaming levels,  Crash still had a focus on linear level design that tasked the player with making it from point A (the starting point) to point B (the finish line).  This made it a lot more similar to earlier games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario World than other comparable games of the PS1/N64 era.

Should a new Crash Bandicoot retain the linear-style of the originals, or should it attempt something more advanced, like the free-roaming environments of Mario 64?  My feeling is that most fans, myself included, would rather a new game be true to what Crash was at its peak.  But would this make the game feel antiquated?  Ironically, I actually think that more recent games like Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 3D Land show that linear level design can still be very exciting and modern.

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Regardless of all these questions, I would definitely like to see Crash make a comeback.  Aside from the fact that I’m a huge fan of the originals, these kind of games just aren’t really made anymore, besides those featuring Mario of course.  And I think more than just being fundamentally fun, 3D platformers served an important function in the gaming world, as they were the gateway through which many young people became passionate about this hobby.  I mean, mobile games are fine and all, but I find mobile gaming to be a very limited representation of what games can be as a form of creative art and experience, and now more than ever, we need projects like Crash Bandicoot and Yooka-Laylee to capture the imaginations of young gamers who are otherwise glued to games on their phones and tablets.  In a world saturated with shooters and checklist-driven open world games, I really hope the vibrancy and inspiration of these carefree mascot characters can thrive again.

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Posted on September 12, 2016, in Essays and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. I really enjoyed Crash Warped too and I’ll be watching to see how they try to revive Crash. Very few characters have been able to relaunch themselves successfully so it won’t be easy. He does have a special place in many people’s hearts regardless of what happens.

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  2. What are your thoughts on Final Fantasy X?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post. I enjoy the Crash games but I didn’t grow up with them so I don’t have any special attachment to them. It’s cool to get a perspective from someone who did grow up with them and is a fan. The remake(s) is definitely interesting, I feel similarly that it should be kept strictly linear – that is what distinguished Crash from other 3D games at the time!

    Also, in terms of Crash’s impact on the PS1, Metal Gear Solid, Gran Turismo and other more adult-themed games no doubt played a significant part in the console’s success and they’re the games that we tend to see as synonymous with the console. But I also don’t believe you can have a hit console without games that appeal to a younger crowd: in Europe for example, the original Rayman was the best-selling game on the PS1.

    Of course Spyro and Crash were juggernauts too, my point is you can’t underestimate the importance of child-friendly mascots and accessible games and right now those are primarily on mobile and Nintendo systems. The Spyro remakes might be a smart way to get some younger people (and slightly older nostalgic folks like ourselves) into the PS4. Otherwise what else is there on PS4? Ratchet and Clank, Yooka Laylee, and…?

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  4. I liked Crash 2 better than Crash 3, but – regardless of favorites – I agree that it would be awesome to see the series make a comeback, as the gaming world needs more games of that kind than only Mario.

    I still have a silly kind of hope that Yooka-Laylee will succeed commercially and critically and bring back those types of games. Dreaming is free. =P

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  5. Really great write up! The Crash series has such a special place in my heart an I’m excited to see how Sony and Activision remake the first 3 games without tarnishing the legacy.

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  6. Prior to the remakes, there was a full-on reboot of the series being developed entitled Crash Landed. It was going to have an emphasis on free-roaming while retaining the core gameplay formula while also adding on to it. I think if a new game was to come out given that the remakes are successful, I’d love to see it take a few pointers from it.

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  7. I’ve only played a few Crash games (neither of which were the original), so I look forward to the HD games! I don’t have the nostalgia for them, but they look fun!

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  8. I do not have much experience of Crash Bandicoot games, but I was interested in the discussion about the demise of the series. I was also interested in the comments about how the Crash Bandicoot game straddles a change in the development of computer games (3D graphics with a 2D gameplay), as I have found that the creation of 3D games altered many series.
    What was Crash Bandicoot’s personality like? How did the games work? Did the player have to go on quests? Or was the character on a long journey?

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    • Crash didn’t have a whole lot of personality. He was a mute protagonist, and I generally think he was meant to be sort of buffoonish and reluctant in a way. There was much more personality in characters like his sister, the shaman that guides him, and the villains. The game was basically like Donkey Kong Country or Mario World. You pick a level on the world map and you try to get through that level. You don’t really have objectives in the way that something like Mario 64 had. The character was just basically on a long journey from the starting point to the end point.

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      • I thought he might be like Sonic. While Sonic was a mute protagonist, he was always described as having attitude, demonstrated by his folded arms and impatience. I thought Crash Bandicoot might have a similar personality and would be a reason why these characters lost popularity as they had become dated.
        I find it interesting that playing a sequence of levels that form a journey seems to be an idea mostly used in 2D games. 3D games seem to include more story and each level has an objective, until recently when 3D side-scrolling games were released, which seemed to feature a sequence of levels.

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  9. I definitely hope Crash gets a new entry after the remasters. I too wonder who will make it (both Sanzaru and Next Level are good suggestions). As much as I loved these at the time, I would like them to be a little more creative from a level design standpoint in a potential new entry. The original trilogy kept things hemmed in partly due to work better with the tech of the PS1. While I think they should keep things linear, I can’t help but look at the recent Marios you mentioned (the Galaxies and 3D Land/World) as vastly better from a level design standpoint. Either way, I do hope things stay linear. I’d cut back on some of the less-platforming focused levels found in Warped (like the motorcycle levels) as well.

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    • Yeah, definitely they would need to put a lot more effort into creating more intricate levels. I don’t mind gimmicky levels that much, but they don’t need to be repeated more than once. If I recall correctly, there were two motorcycle levels, and there really only needed to be one.

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  10. I don’t know if you’ve seen this yet, but Crash has made an apperance in the new Skylanders cartoon. Also, he talks. No joke, he actually, legitimately talks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I actually took some time to watch the whole episode. I don’t really know anything about Skylanders, I’m afraid. The voice they picked out for Crash was alright, I think. Spyro, on the other hand,…..not so much. Spyro was supposed to be a kid dragon, and yet he sounds like he’s in his twenties…..

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      • Let’s be honest, Spyro never really did sound like a kid, even if he was supposed to. That’s not to discredit Carlos Alazraqui and Tom Kenny’s vocal performances, though.

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  1. Pingback: Lesenswert: Crash Bandicoot, Kulturkritik, Shenmue, Time Twist, PS Vita, 80er | SPIELKRITIK.wordpress.com

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