Thursday, January 31, 2013

VGR Crash Bandicoot 1

I'm gonna make some reviews on demand pretty sure.
Here's already one game review that lots of people asked me on deviantArt in the past.

Time for a Playstation 1 classic!

VGR: Crash Bandicoot 
From Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment/Universal Interactive Studios
Played on PSX
Also available on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable

Type P
Year 1996

If cartoony mascots lost their appeal over the last few y
ears, during the mid-90s they were still all the rage.
That is why during the turn of the 3D boom in gaming, when the 16 bits left the way to the more powerful 32 bits systems developers still tried using those to appeal to big audiences while attempting the dangerous leap from 2D to 3D.

Back when Nintendo started exploring free open 3D spaces with Mario and while Sega struggled to make 2D look as nice and modern as 3D (see those two for example), the little independent studio known as Naughty Dog went the opposite way.
Why not fully embrace 3D characters yet modeling the level design after 2-dimensional sidescrollers of yesterday?

They started working on this idea of a good modern "old" arcade platformer around 1994 for Universal Interactive with whom they were already making Way of the Warrior, a fighting game.
The game started life at first on such systems as the 3DO and the Sega Saturn but low sales of these systems and the way they weren't specifically tailored for 3D as Sony's and Nintendo's systems made them abandon those earlier versions of what would become Crash Bandicoot.
He didn't even start as a bandicoot actually but was originally a wombat!
By keeping the whole "dude with 'tude" look going on and bringing the best of their favorite mascots at the time - Sonic The Hedgehog and the Tazmanian Devil - the design and the whole idea behind the gameplay got progressively defined on paper.
Sony bought the exclusivity and... the rest is history.

The pitch behind the game isn't actually that far from Sonic's.
You got the usual environmental message standing behind, an evil scientist messes around and a furry hero fights back to save nature/the world.

In this case Doctor Neo Cortex and his henchman Doctor Nitrus Brio.
Our two over the top evil doctors were sort of modeled after Pinky & The Brain, a popular cartoon at the time, which the guys at Naughty Dog loved.
Dr. Cortex was planing to take over the world by making an army of ferocious superpowered mutant animals.
Cortex planned to turn a simple bandicoot into the leader of their army, but the mutation failed so they threw him out the window....

That's where the game picks up.
The cinematics weren't frequent back then, but a couple of those still illustrated the story in game at the start and the end.
The opening cutscene launches after waiting a bit on the main menu.

The game opens on a beach, in a nearby island where our hero landed...

You play as Crash Bandicoot!
Unlike any of the other animals, Crash can still think for himself.
The idea is to move across several islands through Super Mario-esque map menu. On you way Crash will have to face several of Cortex's mutated minions, robo-scientists and some of the other superpowered mutant animals as bosses.

Also Crash has to save his girlfriend Tawna who was left behind. (but that's for the alternate ending through the bonuses I'll explain below)

The game is a pretty traditional platformer despite the jump into 3-dimensions.
Crash can run, jump and spin.
Yeah, kinda like Taz in Taz-mania.
You can defeat most enemies by just jumping on their head. But you an also spin your way through several of them, which will often throw those enemies in the background and thus hitting other foes far away.
Unlike Mario 64, there's no silly puzzles and here it's all about the gameplay.
The levels are quite linear, often paths with a closed camera angle you explore from behind the back, running to the camera while something (a rock) chases you down or even in 2D from a sidescroller point of view. These sicescrolling levels can even be vertical segments not that far from some levels of Super Mario Bros 2.

Crash is mute, Naughty Dog was smart to not make him talk.
He still makes some occasional "WAAAOOOH" noises.

The levels might be linear, so in turn it's all about the difficulty and getting around.
In the world of Crash Bandicoot, there's several items to collect.
First there's Wumpa Fruit, those colorful apples you'll find around plenty.

The game is also constructed around the several types of crates you have around.
Normal crates contain apples. There's also bouncing crates.
? crates that contain surprises such as extra lives. ! crates will make other crates appear to reach other platforms.
And finally TNT crates which have a timer counting down to three..but be careful not to spin through those!

Crash is not alone in his quest, he is aided by Aku Aku, a mysterious mask-spirit also found in crates.
He will serve as Sonic's rings or Mario's mushrooms in this game.
Aku will allow Crash to take one or two hits depending how many you collect. A third one will grant a temporary invincibility.

Getting all the crates in a level will grant you a gem. You need those for the alternate ending.
So that means backtracking previous levels for missed boxes that were out of reach without those gems providing alternate paths.

Finally there's also Bonus Stages.
You need to find 3 "Tawnas" (represented by an icon of her face) in a level to access those.
They're usually all very challenging 2D segments.
And also the only way to save in this game!
That's right. We were still in the early days of memory cards back then.
So the game uses both a save system which hadn't been standardized by then and passwords.
The difficult availability of the SAVE POINTS made the game quite hard at the time. But they were still messing around, being experimental. Or you can just use passwords but those are only good for every odd number of levels.

With all the crates, fruit around and the jungle/ruines theme going on, the game is actually quite close in tone to Donkey Kong Country.
Plus several levels in Crash 1 are actually from a sidescrolling perspective.

Naughty Dog had to really think how to make an old school platformer work in 3D.
Since you would spend most of the game starring at the main character's rear, the game was dubbed "Sonic's Ass Game" during its production.
And the team was able to avoid the problem by offering several different kinds of levels. Running for the screen instead of just away from it. Several bits view from the side like in good old times.

The music is also one of the key factors that had the game made such an impression on gamers.
It was actually a last minute decision, the game almost featured only ambient sounds as a soundtrack.
It was handled by Josh Mancell from the music company Mutato Muzika.
Sometimes tribal, other times more "techno". It really gives the game a rhythm.

Crash Bandicoot is a good looking game.
Still to this day.
Very cool and with such original fun boss fights.
Even more than a decade after, it still holds pretty well and the great design really make these graphics timeless.

No wonder he became Sony's unofficial mascot for the original Playstation.

Overall, it's one of the PSX's best looking games and definitively a classic in the history of video games.

People thought the mascot fad would have died with 16-bit systems... Yet Crash following ideas and designs from the 16 bits was able to leave a mark forever on Sony's 32-bit console.
He is at least probably the last good attempt of making a successful new hero that way.
On 128-bit systems we would still have a last bunch of those that would prove successful in terms of reception but often depicted as arrogant anti- heroes or parodies. Certainly more agressive "in your face".
Not in its purest form as here.

People call the original Crash Bandicoot game difficult, and for a reason.
Not only is it long enough but you either play it in one sitting or go along the difficult saving/password system.
The platform itself require precise reflexes and timed jumps.
Plus those hard as heck vertical levels come back several times...

Fun enough, the title was completely adapted for the Japanese audience from the advertisment campaign to whole packaging.
Crash was slightly redesigned, more kawai cute, with a simpler look and bigger eyes!
Even various voices were added as well as a whole prologue!
I give it:
2.5 / 3 Bruces!

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