Despite what recent internet petitions might lead you to believe, the Crash Bandicoot series has been on many gamers’ minds for a while. We all want a new Crash Bandicoot game – a proper one – and we’ve wanted it for more than a decade. Naughty Dog’s original trilogy of Playstation platformers were polished, charming adventures that gave the Playstation a face, something it could use to challenge the gaming king, Nintendo’s Mario. The extraction of the Crash Bandicoot series from Sony’s home was disappointing, especially when it was also taken from Naughty Dog’s careful hands. At the moment Crash Bandicoot belongs to Activision, and despite fan outcry that doesn’t seem like it’ll change, but we still like to fantasize about a new game in this beloved series. What would a Crash Bandicoot game be like in 2014?
Crash Bandicoot was the brainchild of Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin, two up-and-coming game developers who formed their independent game studio Naughty Dog back in the 80’s. Though Naughty Dog had already made games prior to the 90’s, they wouldn’t make their claim to fame until the fifth generation. With support from former Sega programmer Mark Cerny (who at the time was helming Universal Interactive Studios), Naughty Dog created a new platformer for the Playstation. Comically referred to as the “Sonic’s Ass” game (based on the camera being positioned behind the character), Gavin and Rubin’s idea would eventually become Crash Bandicoot. The game played with 3D perspective, which at the time was a vast frontier. Naughty Dog’s 90-degree spin on 2D platformers kept things linear while allowing players more options for movement. Though its innovation would pale in comparison to Nintendo’s groundbreaking Super Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot became a household name for Playstation, and was considered the unofficial mascot of the system. With great sequels and some surprisingly solid party and kart-racing spinoffs, Crash was quickly becoming Sony’s answer to Mario.
Sadly, Naughty Dog weren’t content with sticking to a single franchise and left Crash behind in order to create new games under Sony’s roof. Due to the expiration of publisher Universal’s partnership deal with Sony, Crash Bandicoot soon left Naughty Dog’s hands and became a multi-platform series. Post-Naughty Dog Crash Bandicoot games like Traveller’s Tales’ Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex were okay, but never reached the level of Naughty Dog’s original trilogy. Even as the series was passed off between Radical Entertainment and Renegade Kid, Activision (who merged with publisher Vivendi Universal) cancelled a number of enticing Crash Bandicoot projects. The last console platformer in the series was 2008’s Crash: Mind Over Mutant, which released to mixed reception. Crash Bandicoot was an iconic series and the hero’s old home knows it. Sony has made a number of references to the classic series in advertisements and has openly supported the idea of revisiting the franchise. Sadly, Activision keeps getting in the way. Despite having a platforming icon in its library, the publisher refuses to support the creation of a new game in the series (or giving it to someone who will).
But as our heads spin with thoughts of petitions and series purchases, it’s interesting to think of how Crash Bandicoot could exist in today’s gaming culture. Things have changed since the 90’s, and Crash Bandicoot’s distinctive design doesn’t hold as much water as it did back then. Crash Bandicoot’s design as a platformer was much more restrictive than its peers, with the gap only growing as 3D platformers broadened their scope. Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 introduced a tremendous amount of freedom to explore their huge environments. The next generation emphasized this even more, as the Sony triple threat of Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper, and Naughty Dog’s own Jak and Daxter blew the doors off how platformers functioned spatially. 3D platformers reached an all-time high with the stellar Super Mario Galaxy series, which toyed with level design in some of the most unorthodox and imaginative ways. The genre has become less about reaching the end of a stage and more about exploring it. Compare that to the walled-in linearity of Crash Bandicoot and there’s simply no contest.
But at the same time, the gaming world still has a fascination with linear side-scrollers. With the rise of downloadable games and indie development, retro design is still alive and kicking. The success of games like Super Meat Boy and Alien Hominid has proven that there is a demand for games with old-school philosophies. Even Nintendo’s own New Super Mario Bros. series has a tight grip on its nostalgic appeal and has been met with massive critical success. Crash Bandicoot is, at its core, a traditional platformer, so who’s to say that its classical design won’t hit home? With this in mind, it would be difficult for Crash Bandicoot in 2014 to be like anything but its first trilogy. While post-Naughty Dog Crash Bandicoot games haven’t been awful, Crash is still in his best element when following the winding, linear path of the Naughty Dog originals.
But simply following that cue isn’t going to be enough. A lot has changed since the 90’s, and Crash is going to have to evolve. It’s difficult for a series to adapt to new ideas without compromising its identity, but platformers thrive on imagination. If you look at more contemporary platformers like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, you’ll see dynamic level design at every turn. Retro Studios are incredible artists when it comes to using environments and perspective creatively and Tropical Freeze proved that in spades. Crash Bandicoot had plenty of its own charm, and Naughty Dog were always finding ways to make that come alive. Crash Bandicoot: Warped‘s dinosaur chase; the frantic rodeo run across the Great Wall – these Crash moments kept players on their toes at every turn. Linear design peppered with a strong amount of environmental energy is what’s kept the 2D platformer from dying out. Developers are still finding cool new ways to encourage motion and drive the player through the levels at a rollercoaster pace. Crash Bandicoot is perfectly at home within that philosophy.
Now’s the time for a Crash Bandicoot resurgence. With the popularity of cheap, downloadable games that embrace retro design, Crash could find new life as a $15 title on PSN. Give his old gameplay an HD polish and he’ll be set. That might be enough to get people’s attention, but Crash Bandicoot needs to step his game up if he wants to really thrive. Recent platformers have oozed charm, and found ways to use new tech for energy rather than realism. Momentum-based challenges and dynamic level design have given new life to series like Donkey Kong Country, pulling them to the forefront of the classic side-scrolling resurgence. Crash Bandicoot fits in perfectly with the philosophy adopted by modern platformers; it’s brimming with energy, a love of motion, and charm to spare. Crash Bandicoot can succeed in 2014. He just needs a chance.