Crash Bash, a somewhat-decent Mario Party clone, was my gentle introduction to the crazy world that is the Naughty Dog-created Crash Bandicoot series, an icon of the fifth generation of consoles and one that helped make the PlayStation the biggest name in the video game world. The little marsupial’s platforming adventures were a great leap forward, especially in terms of graphics: while certainly not the first game to use polygonal 3D, it established the form as the way of the future by way of just looking amazing. Crash’s romps through time, space and everywhere in between were certainly a lot of fun when they were first released, but the question remains: can the franchise’s early efforts still hold up even today?
The original Crash game, released in 1996, has not aged very well. It was released before the DualShock’s analog controls were even available, so you have to make do with using the D-pad, making movement through the levels feel stiff and unsatisfactory as you fight against the controller to get Crash to move. In an era in which analog sticks are necessary parts of any controller, having stiff controls is unforgivable; you would NOT want to have to use the Xbox 360 controller’s infamous D-pad, and while the PS1’s D-pad is otherwise okay, it’s still a hassle. The graphics, however, look incredible for the era and even today are quite pretty to look at, if you can look past some noticeably polygonal boss characters. If you want to pick up the original Crash, be aware that it can be brutally difficult at times and you cannot save except after completing the bonus levels, but completionists will still love the challenge of collecting every crystal and gem. A good game for its time, but doesn’t really hold up.
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is a massive improvement on the first game. Considering it was released only a year after the first, this was an incredible achievement; turns out all Naughty Dog needed to do is make a slight upgrade to the engine to make the game look and feel amazing. Not only does the game have full DualShock support, making movement feel more fluid and satisfying, it also introduces the Warp Room to the series, allowing you to save at any time. This makes it a decent introduction to the series for younger and/or less experienced gamers, although trial-and-error is still prevalent in the game’s platforming, so be wary. The levels largely stick to the formula established in the first game, consisting of either jungle, snow or water elements, and don’t vary much from this, but there’s enough challenge to keep the player interested.
However, just a year after Cortex Strikes Back, a miracle happened: a third Crash game in as many years was unveiled! Crash Bandicoot: Warped is the franchise’s pinnacle and it’s not hard to see why, taking everything good about the first two games and cranking it up to 11. The graphics are the best you’ll ever see in a PS1 game, the level design allowing you to take in the visuals while still giving you a challenge. There are very few elements of the trial-and-error gameplay that plagued the first two games so you’ll never feel cheated when you make a mistake; moving feels great as a result. Even the music is fantastic, perfectly capturing the essence of each level and immersing you totally in the madcap world. Warped is, no bullshit, possibly one of the greatest platformers ever made, placing Crash in the top echelon of video game franchises and competing admirably with the likes of Mario and Sonic.
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If you can’t tell, I absolutely love Crash Bandicoot games and I’m very glad I made the choices I did when I encountered that massive shelf of games. Crash Bash introduced me to a vibrant and colourful world that was equal parts joyful and brutal, one which could only have come about in the PlayStation era. While I’m disappointed very little worthwhile has been done with the franchise since Naughty Dog moved on from it, gamers will always have the original games that helped put the PlayStation on the map and made 3D gaming the way of the future.