The Rise and Fall of Crash Bandicoot

Crash Bandicoot quickly rose to fame during the Nineties by riding the coattails of a relative newcomer to the console gaming scene: Sony. Despite all the speculation and skepticism, the PlayStation swiftly rose to console gaming stardom and changed the image of the video game industry forever. In a time when cartoonish platformer mascots were crucial to any console’s library, Sony had a little platformer series from Naughty Dog to help them along.

If you’re among the newer generation of gamers, then chances are you’re unfamiliar with this side of the company’s history. Long before adventurous Uncharted series and the modern day classic that is The Last of Us, Naughty Dog were among the leaders in the platformer genre. In the generation prior to the last one, they were pushing out some excellent Jak and Daxter games. But their first major breakthrough, which made them real industry players, was Crash Bandicoot. Which may come as a surprise to some given the nonexistence of the franchise in recent times, not to mention over a decade of forgettable releases.

Crash_02

Let’s take a trip back to the good old days, when the Crash games were still lovingly crafted by the hands of Naughty Dog. Nintendo had launched the Nintendo 64 with the groundbreaking Super Mario 64, and SEGA had no major Sonic release for the Saturn after Sonic X-Treme got cancelled.There was a void left by Sonic during that hardware generation, as that franchise served as Mario’s antithesis. Naughty Dog, Sony, and Crash Bandicoot had an opportunity to fill in that void and give PlayStation owners something to brag about to  Nintendo fans.

As a huge Sonic fan who grew up in that era, I have to say Crash did an excellent job of taking his place. While Crash Bandicoot never emphasized speed, it certainly was a fast-paced game. Where Mario went for an open 3D world approach that would set the benchmark for Rare’s Banjo Kazooie and other collect-a-thons, Crash Bandicoot chose to offer a tightly focused conventional platforming action complemented by highly engaging and progressive level design. Naughty Dog’s original trio of games are as excellent now as they were back then, and Crash Team Racing was one of the best Mario Kart clones out there.

Crash_03

Things changed when Naughty Dog became an official part of Sony and the rights to Crash Bandicoot remained with Universal Studios. What followed was a slow and heartbreaking death. I can’t imagine how the original creators felt.  Once Naughty Dog gave up the rights, a number of outsourced developers would have a go at the series, each one worse than the last. Eurocom’s Crash Bash was a sad attempt at a Mario Party clone and the first unnerving sign of things to come. Even the most decent games felt like shells of Naughty Dog’s superior output. The Kart racing spin-off saw a few sequels as well, but all the new features and power-ups couldn’t help them surpass Naughty Dog’s excellent original.

As an exception I did enjoy Traveller’s Tales’ outings with the series. Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex was a serviceable title which played by the book and didn’t innovate. Their second game, Crash Twinsanity, was actually a pretty fun and imaginative effort. Shame that the developer’s involvement with the series ended there. I have a soft spot for Traveller’s Tales, as they also did a decent job with the Sonic series during the Saturn days. The worst came when Radical Entertainment rebooted the franchise with Crash of the Titans, followed by Crash: Mind Over Mutant. Throwing away a game’s basic foundation and replacing it with an entirely different set of mechanics is almost always a bad idea. Crash of the Titans was fun for all of two minutes before you were force-fed its primary gimmick: hijacking monsters and engaging in cumbersome combat.  That game was to Crash Bandicoot what Sonic Unleashed (awful werehog and all) was to Sonic, but far worse. After the sequel and a few inconsequential mobile games, the series went into hiatus and is now owned by Activision.

Crash_04

As of right now, Crash is dormant. I became a fan when the series first made its debut, as to me it did a great job making up for Sonic’s absence. I followed the series through its highs with Naughty Dog, and stuck around through many of its lows. As time went by, my feelings toward new releases would progress from mild amusement to utter disappointment. Activision had plans for a new game called Crash Landed back in 2010, but that was soon cancelled, and we’ve heard nothing since. What the future holds for the fallen Bandicoot is anyone’s guess, but at this point he ranks with Gex and Bubsy as another of the many forgotten platformer mascots of yesteryear. If there is enough interest, maybe someday a developer will step up and give us a Crash game we can all enjoy. Maybe they could include him in the next PlayStation All-Stars as a start…