Positive Twist Gaming Blog

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Crash Bandicoot: My almost lifelong love for the marsupial

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy & Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled images captured with the PS5 share feature

1996 was an incredible year for video games. Several of the most successful and beloved video game series started with their debut in 1996. Tomb Raider landed on the PlayStation 1, MS-DOS and Sega Saturn in the fall, introducing players to the icon that is Lara Croft! No doubt, every player’s heart began to race at the sight of the T-Rex emerging from the distance. Another franchise that took the world by storm came packaged as Resident Evil or Bio hazard in Japan. Along with some of the *cough* best voice acting ever to grace the PS1, came some of the most spine-chilling gameplay thus far. Once that first zombie turns it’s pale head to reveal it’s white-over eyes and blood-soaked jaw… well, I’m pretty certain a fraction of people said, ‘nope, nope. Not doing it.’ and then realised it was that or the dreaded T-Rex.  Other notable releases being Quake, Duke Nukem 3D (shareware public release), Mortal Kombat Trilogy and The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall to only name a few. I feel I would be doing a great disservice to gamers everywhere if I didn’t mention Bubsy 3D was also released to mass critical acclaim (I’m British, and sarcasm has been embedded into me).

Japan released the Nintendo 64 with one of the most influential 3D platformers of all time, Super Mario 64 (another key game from my childhood that I’ll definitely talk more about in the future). And, hence the title of this blog, ‘Crash Bandicoot’, span its way onto the PlayStation 1 on September 9th in North America and then on November 8th in Europe. Here I must mention that I was born in 1996, so I did not play Crash Bandicoot until around six years later. Between its initial release and 2003 the game went on sell nearly seven million units, had two sequels made, and a kart racing spin-off. All of these games being developed and released by ‘Naughty Dog’ in just three years! I think it’s safe to say that it doesn’t matter whether you have an interest in video games… Crash Bandicoot is one of gaming’s most recognisable mascots that even your nan probably has heard about at some stage.

2002 was the year I was lucky enough to unwrap a PlayStation on my birthday. One game came with the console, and it was Crash Bandicoot. The marsupial burst through the art-work as if he was coming out of the case itself, with a glimpse of the N. Sanity island behind him. That morning, sat close by the electric fire that emitted a similar comforting glow as the Phillips box television; I was jumping, spinning and smashing my way through the lethal world that the Bandicoot calls home. I was utterly mesmerised by what I was playing through, unable to pry myself away from the console. Despite witnessing Crash ascend to the heavens many times, with me soon realising the game was no cakewalk, it did not deter me. Throughout the next few weeks, I would persevere as I conquered each level, each cartoonish boss and eventually would put an end to Dr Neo Cortex, if only temporarily. It was not a case of it being finished and then forgotten, quite the contrary. This had effectively launched my interest in gaming, and my life-long hobby was born. I was fortunate enough to get more games over time, and while I would get every pennies worth of enjoyment out of them, that blue-short-wearing, eyebrow-raising bandicoot had more gems to collect with plenty of lives to lose. Collecting every gem was never a feat I can say I did back then. It wasn’t until almost three years ago when I could finally claim that victory. However, my love for the character and his world/adversaries was well and truly cemented within me.

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I am not exaggerating when I say I have played probably close to a thousand video games by this point. But, the level ‘Boulders’ is one of the most iconic levels I have ever had the joy of playing, and to this day remains one of my favourites in all of gaming. Whether it was scaling the Native Fortress, pressing on up the river in ‘Up the creek’ or fleeing from the relentless boulders, each moment burnt itself into my hippocampus. I will admit that the boss encounters were a little basic at times, looking at you Papu Papu and Pinstripe. This is my opinion almost two decades later though, as I suspect such minor issues wouldn’t have phased six-year-old me. A far greater thought would have eclipsed my mind... playing the two sequels! I would go on to put even more time into them than I did the original. Twenty-five levels awaited me on each of them, not including the bonus stages. Even more gems were scattered around for Crash to conceal in all the wrong places. Relics made their frustrating debut in CB2: Cortex strikes back and remained in CB3: Warped! There was just enough content to meet a perfect middle ground of not being oversaturated with additional objectives, nor there being barely any advancements from its predecessor. This being something I feel the later games struggled to get right. This will prove to be an unpopular opinion, but 'Cortex strikes back' was always my least favourite. That isn’t to say I don’t like it. It’s a fantastic sequel that builds on the foundations the original had set. It does everything literally better, to be honest. Still, the original holds a place in my heart, and the third one had dinosaurs chasing me, so unfortunately it stayed in a respectable third place. Boosting my way across the rivers on the jetboard or clinging on to the mesh panels in the sewers made for some riveting close calls. Boss battles were much-improved as well. Although they were still quite simple, they consistently felt better than before (personally I feel that the last boss against Cortex is the worst of the bunch). It also greatly improved how you control Crash. No longer was he essentially a tank with trainers on, but now he had much more flow to his movements, and his slide/slide jump ability was simply a delight to use throughout my playtime. The less said about the level ‘Cold hard Crash’, the better.

CB3:Warped took everything the previous two instalments had, added its own ideas and additions and what this culminated in, was to many, the best game in the series! It boasted just as many levels with even more variety in level-locations. Even more gems/relics to collect, but not by an excessive amount. Brilliant boss battles remain as some of the greatest encounters in the franchise. New abilities for Crash to use as a way to traverse through each stage or as a method of dispatching his abundance of enemies (both simultaneously if you really got to grips with it). There is even more variety in stages, including motorbike races, scuba diving a.k.a underwater levels, aerial combat sections, and Coco’s jetski stages. This as well as the regular platforming and animal riding sections. Some players even went as far as saying there was too much variety. I can’t entirely agree with this, but I do have my preferred types of levels, with my least favoured stages being the plane sections as they always felt a little monotonous. I digress; Warped threw everything in the pot to create what most consider to be their favourite entry.

What stuck with me throughout the years was the level themes, boss fights and music. Firstly, it didn’t matter whether I was leaping over swinging swords in the medieval levels, wading through the overgrown grass in the Jurassic sections or avoiding being crushed in the Arabian areas; it all made for such an entertaining playthrough. Every area dazzled my young eyes as I ventured through them. Secondly, the boss battles were tweaked to perfection. The very first fight against Tiny Tiger and his infinite amount of lions made for an edge-of-your-seat experience. Dingodile and his impenetrable barriers created a sense of desperation as you fled the danger-zone with his gas tank ready to explode and take you both with it. Crash’s final showdown with Cortex was nothing short of epic! Whilst Crash and Cortex focused on each other, Aku Aku and Uka Uka scrapped around them. It really did feel like a genuine final face-off between good and evil. I still remember my uncle helping me finish the fight, to which I burst from my seat and rushed to tell my mum. And finally, the music was the icing on the cake. Both the original and the sequel had masterful soundtracks, with CB1 having the bouncy ‘Upstream’, frantic ‘Hog Wild’ and the menacing ‘Dr Neo Cortex’. CB2 had the exciting ‘Hang Eight’ plus the equally frantic but jolly ‘Bear It’. Warped continues the tradition of superb musical numbers also. My highlights being ‘Toad Village’, ‘Hang ‘Em High’, ‘Hog Ride’ and the Warped ‘main theme’ itself. Each track in the trilogy is instantly recognisable, and while the gameplay across them may have aged to an extent, the music remains timeless. The original three games are some of my most treasured digital adventures, with my favourite game of all time being tied with Crash Bandicoot and The Last Of Us (both developed by Naughty Dog).

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But, as if the trifecta wasn’t enough, Naughty Dog outdid themselves with a kart racer involving the whacky characters and locations from the universe. And they didn’t settle for just a competent spin-off, but rather one of the best kart racers ever made, in my humble opinion. It most certainly rivalled Mario Kart, which is no easy feat. Crash Team Racing was Naughty Dog’s farewell to the franchise as they began working on Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. I cannot recall playing CTR too much, as while I enjoyed it, racing games didn’t interest me all that much at the time. The remake is a different story, but much happened in-between 1999 and 2019. Before I move on to the next generation in Crash Bandicoot games, I have to mention Crash Bash. A new developer stepped in to create a party game based on the world of Crash. Honesty is essential, and so I will express two thoughts here: one is that the game was far from perfect and has its share of problems. However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy, even somewhat love, this little, kind-of-rough, gem Eurocom and Cercy Games had created. I do hesitate in saying that the crate crush minigame called Space Bash is my pick for the best stage. Numerous school nights were spent battling it out with my family and friends on Crash’s only party game (the only time I will mention Crash Boom Bash is here…. I don’t consider it part of the franchise).

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As you can probably guess, I was almost obsessed with Crash. The teddy in the picture above is the same one my mother bought for me on holiday not long after first playing the games. At our local supermarket, there stood a toy vending machine (Gasapon machine) in which you inserted a pound coin, twisted the handle and out fell a capsule with a Crash keychain inside. To this day, I cannot find any of the six you could collect. I’d draw pictures at school and remember being asked by my teacher in year 2 to create a tally list between two different things. I chose Crash and Cortex and asked everyone what they preferred; the teacher bemused by this. Little did I know that many more entries were coming in the series, and they would vary in quality significantly.

Along with the almighty PlayStation 2 came CB: The Wrath of Cortex, releasing on the Xbox and GameCube also. Even at a young age, I knew it wasn’t the same. It held a lot of resemblance to the PS1 classics and yet could not stack up to their reputation. It essentially loomed in their shadows. It must be said that I returned to Wrath of Cortex not too long ago, and I had a surprisingly fun time with it. Again, the music is fantastic. So much so that I’d say it was the game’s biggest strength. It also introduced Crunch, who I found to be a fine addition. Plus, it had such talent as Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker, Joker from Batman: The animated series) and Ronald Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket, Toy Story) voicing two of the elemental masks. Wrath of Cortex is not the dumpster-fire some claim it to be, but rather an underwhelming start to the bandicoots next batch of 6th generation games.

The franchise would see an influx of new entries on both home consoles and handheld systems. Four games came out for the Gameboy Advance in CB: The Huge Adventure, CB2: N-Tranced, Crash Nitro Cart and Crash Bandicoot Purple. It wasn’t until three years ago when I eventually got round to playing them. The Huge Adventure and N-Tranced remain to be decent little side-scrollers. If you handed me the system with either of these in the cartridge slot, then I wouldn’t complain. The same cannot be said for the other two games. Nitro Kart is your run-of-the-mill racer, and Purple is the tragic failed attempt and merging Crash and Spyro together. However, I will give them some credit in saying they all made some long train journeys more entertaining.

Several more games would come to home consoles, starting with Crash Nitro Kart in 2003. I was around eight years old when I began playing it. My appreciation for the genre had increased by that point, and so I remember playing Nitro Kart a lot more that CTR. Seeing the intro cutscene for the first time blew me away with just how vibrant and smooth the animations were. I couldn’t fully appreciate the leap in graphical fidelity at the age of eight, but I definitely noticed how video games were looking more like my most treasured animated favourites as the years flew by. As for the gameplay, again, I was eight, and I was just happy to be playing as the marsupial again. In hindsight, the handling was a little off and somehow seemed better in 1999. Nevertheless, Nitro Kart furthered my interest in the racing genre to what it is today. Two years later, Crash Tag Team Racing released on all the leading home consoles. This flew straight under my radar for some reason, and I’m thankful it did. Years later, I played it for the first time, and I was not a fan. It has its moments but failed to capture the same, relatively, unencumbered thrills as the other racers.

For me and numerous others, the highpoint for Crash on that generation of hardware came in the form of Crash Twinsanity. The team at Traveller’s Tales returned to develop this tremendous game, with them having developed Wrath of Cortex a few short years before. This is easily in my top ten games of that generation. I vividly remember going to my town centre with a stack of unwanted games to trade so I could get my hands on Twinsanity. It’s likely that I might have even wanted to keep a couple of the games but made the sacrifice to get just one in return. Me and my mum walked into the wonderland that was GameStation and exchanged around eight games to receive my most anticipated one for that year. We walked down one of the backstreets to the post-office, and I couldn’t contain myself. I had to look at the artwork and the manual. Like many kids my age would do, I would read through the manual twice over before the end of the bus journey home. Within minutes of stepping through the front door, I was booting up the console. Over only a few days, I would complete the game with a respectable 83% overall completion. Despite a few glitches and the end boss being frustrating (Nina and them grapple timings just failing to work), I adored my time with it. Immediately I was taken back by the fact I could explore the Island. There was a limit to how much exploration you could do, with the game still being quite linear. But I didn’t care one bit. I searched high and low for them gems. It was apparent from very early in the game the humour had been ramped up. So many scenes had me burst out loud in laughter and still do to this day. Cortex stole the show throughout my playtime. His character grew more over the years from a dastardly, one-note villain to more of a Looney Tunes character in how he could never execute the plan he had set out. The story references this many times and uses it within the gameplay itself. Crash remains the loveable oaf he had always been. This game also has one of the most excellent and most underrated soundtracks ever recorded! An acapella group named Spiralmouth created some of the catchiest and most memorable tracks I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to while repeatedly pressing square. I could write an entire blog about that game alone (perhaps I will at some point), but I’ll cut to the chase and say that Crash Twinsanity is easily the bandicoots best outing on 6th generation hardware.

The 7th generation gave the fans two more Crash games (with them releasing on pervious gen consoles as well). But these were two substantially different games that deviated from much of what was established thus far in the series. Crash of the Titans and Crash Mind over Mutant released in 2007 and then in 2008. Crash now had tattoos up his furry arms. Most of the characters had either a few changes to their character designs or a complete overhaul. No longer would you spin, body-slam or slide your enemies out of existence, but rather punch them in what was now a beat-em-up style of gameplay. You would collect orbs that would fall out of enemies as you pummelled them. And to really rub salt in the metaphorical wound was the bizarre decision to make Crash dizzy if he span for too long. I feel I speak for many when I say that this wasn’t Crash Bandicoot. Its central mechanic was that you could hijack the numerous beasts in the world that had their own variations of roughly the same move set. It was decent and made for some mindless amusement, but it wasn’t Crash. Mind over Mutant had a brilliant array of art styles for the cutscenes, and the jokes bordered on not-exactly-kid-friendly in the best possible way. But that was it for my personal highlights. I enjoyed them for what they were and appreciated the risky attempt at revamping the franchise. But… it wasn’t Crash.

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Other than some forgettable mobile games, Mind over Mutant was the last main entry in the franchise for almost a decade. Many presumed the series to be over, hoping that they were wrong (myself included). I was twelve when I played Mind over Mutant. It wouldn’t be until I was twenty one when, at long last, I would play a new Crash Bandicoot game. On December 3rd 2016, I awoke to a notification, the trailer for the N. Sane trilogy that would remaster the original three games. Again, I was twenty-one, had a full-time job, a beard, tattoo’s on my own apparently fury arms, and yet when I watched that trailer, I was transported back in time to being that six-year-old kid. It was almost as if I was reliving it all over again. I had it pre-ordered within minutes! Over the next six months, I would eagerly await my childhood gaming love to be released in all of its modern glory. I feel no shame in admitting I finished work early on that day and beat the first game the same night. The remaster could not have been anymore perfect and ironed out all the kinks, in my opinion. Tens-of-hours would be put into each, and I made it my goal to achieve the platinum trophy for each game. Every gem/relic that I could not attain when I was younger finally became mine. I truly did relive a part of my childhood, thanks to the remaster, and I cannot express how much I appreciate that. I’m smiling as I write this. Vicarious Visions hit a home-run as far as I’m concerned.

Then in 2019, CTR would be remastered as well, two decades after it debuted on the PS1. Again, I pre-ordered the game as soon as it went live. It proved to be another flawless remake that got practically everything right. I would hammer the game for all its worth throughout the summer, loving every second of it. It became my go-to kart racer and I’ll comfortably say my pick for best game in the kart racing genre. So much love and passion must have gone into creating the game, as you can see it at every turn, from the perfect recreations of each track to the expansive character roster and subtle details interspersed throughout. It was the remaster everyone hoped it would be.

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My worries have been put to rest regarding the franchise being over, especially since Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time released in October of last year. I will keep it brief about that game as I would like to review it at some stage in the near future, especially since the current-gen upgrades have just been released. The pros far outweigh the cons, and I look forward to my second playthrough on new hardware.

Crash Bandicoot is my first gaming love that I honestly believe shaped my passion for gaming overall. It opened up this whole new world for me to me to get lost in. It introduced me to the hobby that I would carry for the rest of my life, a hobby I would never grow tired of or feel as if I’ve outgrown it. A hobby that connects me with family and friends. A hobby that has taught me lessons and told some of the best stories. And as a side-note, it even connected me with my current job. I teach children aged 3-5 for a living, and one of my most cherished moments was when a child told me they had been playing Crash Bandicoot at home with their parents. Almost two decades later, and I am still talking about Crash, but now I’m the adult listening to the child. However, unlike my teacher in year 2... I'm not confused in the slightest.

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