Today is a big day. Crash Bandicoot officially turns twenty as of Sep. 9, 2016. Developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Entertainment, our favourite bipedal bandicoot has come a long way in the past two decades. Just as Crash is about to make a comeback and right on the Crash Bandicoot anniversary, let’s take a look back at the PlayStation exclusive that made him famous.
Developers Naughty Dog might currently by famous for its work on Uncharted and The Last of Us but it first made itself known with Crash Bandicoot back in 1996. The company wanted to make a mascot in the same manner that Sega and Warner Bros. had — Sonic the Hedgehog and the Tasmanian Devil respectively — by using an animal that was “cute, real, and no one really knew about.”
The team purchased a book on Tasmanian animals and selected a wombat, potoroo, and bandicoot as potential options. After tinkering around and using the temporary name “Willie The Wombat”, they settled on the bandicoot. No offense to Willie, but we’re glad Crash won out.
For a big bad, the team idealised an “evil genius villain with a big head” who was “all about his attitude and his minions”. Taking inspiration from the then-popular cartoon Pinky & The Brain, Neo Cortex was born.
Crash’s Experimental Start
The plot follows a genetically enhanced bandicoot rebelling against his creator, Doctor Neo Cortex. Almost all the enemies encountered are various other animals that Cortex altered and dropped into a distinctive Australian theme. For example, one of the bosses is a kangaroo; another is a koala. The main plot is what you expect from most cute mascot games — defeat the villain and rescue your girlfriend from his evil clutches.
Even for the time it was released, Crash Bandicoot is a straightforward platform game, despite being one of the first major 3D ones. It has restrictive levels in comparison to the open worlds of Super Mario 64, despite being rendered in similar polygons. But even if it might not have been truly free, there are branches in the path that took you down different routes and platforms to take you to extra areas.
Expected action game elements like item collection also came in the form of Woompa fruits and enemies that you could only defeat in certain ways — either jumping or spinning. However, by far and away the most impressive ideas came in the form of rolling boulders.
In a very Indiana Jones fashion, a standard level for Crash would suddenly be interrupted by sharp, gigantic stones, forcing Crash to run as fast as possible or die trying. These chases were tense and challenging but never felt cramped or oppressive thanks to smart camera work and level design. Whenever you see Nathan Drake running towards the camera in an Uncharted title, remember that Crash did it first.
Crash Bandicoot might appear to be a simple game, but it’s much more complicated than it seems. An extra challenge came in the form of bonus crystals. The only way to get these crystals would be breaking every crate in each level in a single playthrough. Distinct crystals would also open up exclusive areas in other levels. The rewards at the end? More crystals.
Sony’s First Mascot
Crash Bandicoot wasn’t just the biggest PlayStation game of 1996. He was also the big, smiling face they built all their marketing around. Just as Mario was to Nintendo, Sony wanted Crash to be that for PlayStation. And it led to some pretty humorous commercials 20 years ago.
The next couple Crash sequels would get similar marquee treatment, but soon after that PlayStation moved on. At this point, the PlayStation brand has had so many different attempts at a mascot that there isn’t one particular character who represents the brand. But for a generation that grew up with ads like the ones above, Crash still equates to PlayStation.
Where’s Crash Now?
Crash Bandicoot was an amazing success story and lead to several sequels, racing and party spin-offs and recently lodged Crash in the Skylanders franchise. Both the Jak & Daxter and Uncharted franchises owe at least a little bit of credit to the success of Crash. Had it not become the success that it did, Naughty Dog may have been unable their later works.
Despite being missing in action for the past few years, Crash Bandicoot remains a firm fan favourite. To celebrate the Crash Bandicoot anniversary, a remaster has been announced for a re-release next year on the PS4. The first three games will receive some long-lost love and younger gamers will now have a shot at playing as the orange maniac out to save the world from his creator.