Review: The only fraternity where your brothers look like a plumber, a gorilla, and a hedgehog and someone DIDN'T spike your drink.
Until today I had no idea what a bandicoot was. For a while I even thought Naughty Dog just made it up. But now I know (and bonus points for anyone reading this that just said "And knowing is half the battle?). According to the dictionary, a bandicoot is a giant rat. A giant rat. The playful mascot hero to a new generation of gamers is a giant rat. This means that one of two things is true. Either the boys at Naughty Dog are MENSA geniuses or they're hitting the hash pipe on a regular basis. However it happened, Crash Bandicoot became the first mascot for the PlayStation and a true classic.
Crash Bandicoot works because it knows its history. It's the pure essence of a platformer. It's what you get when you mix Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong Country, Sonic, and the need for a mascot of your own. Crash Bandicoot is actually very similar to Donkey Kong Country. Collecting 100 pieces of fruit for a free life. Collecting three friend tokens to enter a bonus stage. Collecting powerups that can best be described as "crazy crap that makes little sense" (in this case magical tiki masks). And of course the whole jungle look seems lifted straight from Donkey Kong Country. Then there's the block breaking that's Mario's trademark and having Sonic's attitude (just check out that look he gives you before jumping the hog). And it looks like Dr. Cortex probably graduated from the same evil medical school as Dr. Robotnik. They look like brothers.
Yes Crash borrows from its ancestors, but that is part of it's charm. It takes all these pieces and creates it's own world. It's familiar, yet unique. This can all be attributed to the great design by Naughty Dog. The story is simple: save your kidnapped bandicoot girlfriend from the evil Dr. Neo Cortex. The control scheme is a simple two button style: jump and kick. The game even looks simple when you first fire it up. Find the pattern of your enemy and bonk it on the head. A tried and true formula that goes back to the beginning of platformers.
All this simplicity actually tries to hide Crash Bandicoot's best feature: the huge amount of variety in everything. Crash Bandicoot wasn't a fully 3D adventure so each level is set up to give off the feel of 3D. This design allows a different layout style for each level and shows off the great variety of the game. There are levels that are pure side scroller, Indiana Jones inspired boulder runs, animal riding levels, quasi-3D levels that allow you to jump between the foreground and the background, overhead levels, over the shoulder levels, and of course, arena boss fights. They all work. Each level manages to have a personality all it's own while feeling like part of the same game.
This connection of the levels works because of Crash's strong graphics. Even for a first generation PSone game there's a lot of different environments and each one is colorful and detailed. Musts for any platformer. I especially liked the snowy bridge levels and Crash's several trips into the Temple of Doom. The only characters that come off a little blocky are the bosses. They're big, and because of that, a little polygonal. You kinda have to excuse it because of the game's age, but it's so very close to a perfect ten. And besides, any game that features a fox toting a tommy gun is all right by me. It's almost a shame the sound never rises above generic platform effects. Although the booooo-ahhhhhh! tiki mask effect is pretty slick.
Picking up a classic for the first time years after it was released is sometimes hard to do. I'm a late entry into the PSone world of games. Playing a lot of these games for the very first time can be a weird experience. It's a good thing then that Crash Bandicoot is a challenging and fun little trip. The game is challenging, but thankfully a lot of free lives are supplied and you'll need every one of them. Occasionally the quasi-3D camera fails you and you tumble to your death. But Crash knows what it is at heart: a platformer. And knowing what it is and running with it made Crash rise up above his humble roots to stand as the rat king.