We all have that moment when the right fandom property at the right time changes our course, and we go on to dedicate our life to something. The Catalyst to My Fandom is a place for all of us to share those life-altering moments in fandom. For me, it was the varied worlds and fun adventure of Crash Bandicoot: Warped that made me fall in love with gaming.
I was barely a couple years old when Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot: Warped released in 1998. A few years later, I had the opportunity to play it myself. It was my first ever experience with a video game. Never before had I used a controller to jump through obstacles or spun-kick to kill enemies. Never before had I run from dinosaurs chasing my precious lives or driven a jet ski in a pirate ocean. It felt like I was controlling my own Looney Tunes character, and I was completely hooked. Crash Bandicoot was such a fantastic first video game for me and was my intro to the world of video games.
Before Crash Bandicoot: Warped
Platform games had long existed before Crash Bandicoot, so it was hardly revolutionary. In fact, platform mascots were far more common than they are today. The two biggest were the ones we still know today: Nintendo’s Mario and Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Platformers were two-dimensional side scrolling games up until that point, but that was about to change.
With the Nintendo 64 console, Nintendo took Mario towards open world exploration in Super Mario 64, but PlayStation took a different approach. Naughty Dog, working with Universal Interactive Studios, created a mascot for the PlayStation console they’d decided to develop for. This was Crash Bandicoot. They embraced third-person platforming, but still from a linear perspective, leading to the working title of “Sonic’s Ass Game.” In many ways, Crash Bandicoot was similar to Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog: he was a cartoonish mutant animal with a distinct color who had to fight an evil mad scientist.
Crash Bandicoot: Warped was the third entry in this series. Its first entry, Crash Bandicoot, was a nice, if largely familiar game: you progressed on a world map, you jumped on and spun kicked enemies, hopped around the environment, collected items to earn a new life, and you fought bosses.
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back brought much more new to the table. In it you had warp gates to one of five levels to collect a crystal; once you had all five crystals, you fought a boss before moving to the next warp gates. The second entry had a less harsh difficulty curve and much better graphics. It was considered to be a fantastic entry, and both games sold brilliantly. But at a time when platformers were so common, and when the prior entry had achieved so much, what did Crash Bandicoot: Warped have to offer?
The Catalyst for My Fandom
Despite never playing a video game before, there was some familiarity for me. I’d always been a massive fan of the Looney Tunes cartoons and could’ve watched them for hours. Now I had a controller and could finally control my own cartoon character. Spin kicking with Crash felt like I had my own Tasmanian Devil. Each hilarious death sequence felt like it came straight out of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. Every boss fight felt like an encounter with Marvin the Martian. I was too young to know history, but I could recognize each environment time travel took me to (and they were all based on animated interpretations of them). Fighting knights in Medieval England, flying magic carpets in Arabian cities, riding motorcycles through the Wild West, and even fighting robots in the future, was just a fantastic experience.
While the animation drew me to the game, the gameplay is what kept me around. The gameplay was my real catalyst to an amazing art form. I wasn’t just interested in seeing where we’d go next, or what’d happen next; I was interested in winning. It was now about getting all the crystals and defeating the next boss. And unlocking Crash’s next power to see what it did felt really exciting. Collecting in-game objects was just a thrill, and I kept coming back.
Why Crash Bandicoot: Warped Is Special
Crash Bandicoot: Warped is tied with Crash Team Racing for the most critically acclaimed Crash game. And it’s easy to see why; Crash Bandicoot: Warped builds on everything Cortex Strikes Back did. It perfected the formula and added even more variety. Cortex Strikes Back‘s environments were varied, but Warped‘s areas had much more to them: it wasn’t a generic jungle, it was prehistoric Earth. The game had plenty to do, but it didn’t let you take over Coco and ride a tiger across the Great Wall of China. Crash’s move-set was already great, but Warped let you expand it even further with wackier moves (my favorite? Death Tornado Spin).
The mechanics in Crash weren’t groundbreaking or new, and yet it felt like a unique experience. The combination of art inspired by all sorts of animation and the perfection of gameplay mechanics gelled spectacularly well. At a time when Nintendo had moved onto open world platformers with Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie, Crash still stood out and became a mascot for the console. And while PlayStation had made itself home for the movie-like Metal Gear Solid and Tomb Raider, Crash showed how great the console was for the family market. It sold millions and even broke into the Japanese market.
Naughty Dog is such a fantastic developer. The blend of different styles to a high-quality standard is consistent with what the studio produced afterward. Today we now say Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series puts gamers in an Indiana Jones movie, but back then, the Crash Bandicoot games put us in a Looney Tunes cartoon. While Crash was linear, Jak and Daxter took elements from Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie in Naughty Dog’s own open world game, with not a single load screen. Crash may have had little storytelling compared to Metal Gear Solid, but The Last of Us showed how great a game’s story can really be.
It’s so awesome that I can point to Crash Bandicoot: Warped and say, “that’s where it all started for me.” Most younger gamers are now introduced to gaming on a touchscreen. I was introduced to gaming by one of the greatest console games made. Crash Bandicoot: Warped had a brilliant, cartoonish feel, with top-notch, widely varied gameplay. It was a fantastic experience, and I’m super grateful to Naughty Dog for introducing me to such a brilliant art form.
Fandom is built on a foundation of passionate people with deep and unshakable knowledge spread across the entire pop culture landscape. The only way for that to manifest is timing: the right fan with the right property at the right time. Luminaries of film, music, television, games, and comics have all had that watershed moment where something infected them, and the impulse was too strong to ignore. We have shared some of those moments, and hopefully, you will join us in doing so as well.