CRASH BANDICOOT / Sony / Playstation
If you didn't live through the early-to-mid-1990s (or just weren't in gaming yet), you missed out on the Furry Platformer With Attitude Era. At that time, it was the major dominant trend in console gaming, the way that Military FPS is now. Publishers were pumping out shitty games trying to be the next Sonic or Mario left and right. That trend is the main reason why I dismissed Crash out of hand as being uninteresting without ever really giving it a look, and why it's taken until 2011 for me to pick up even one of these games.

The game goes the truly old-school route by giving you no story in-game ... Crash is out to rescue some furry bimbo from some mad scientist or something. Cue many levels of platforming. The platforming is like the old 2D Mario games brought to 3D, even more so than Mario 64 ended up being. Most of the time, you're running in a sort of tunnel either away from or toward the camera, with only a relatively small space to manuever in to the left and right. Levels also sometimes shift to a more traditional side-scrolling style, but with 3D models, a la Donkey Kong Country. Crash's control schema is pretty simple, he runs and jumps, and has a button that sends him into a near-invincible Tazmanian Devil spin for clearing out enemies.

When Crash is "on", it's impressive. First off, it's better looking than a lot of the PS1 library, amazingly so for a 1996 launch title (it looks better than most stuff that was coming out in 98-99.) Some of the levels are brilliantly designed. And even though it's just a more limited form of 3D, somehow it feels unique and fresh, the "tunnel platformer" style really wasn't adopted by any other platformers that I can think of. The freedom of exploration of the more standard 3D platformer is traded off here for a faster, more action-packed pace that makes you feel more like you're playing as Indiana Jones than some guy in a clumsy fur suit.

Just as often as it can be fun, however, you run into technical limitations and head-slapping design decisions that make it irritating to play. It's a little-remembered fact that the Playstation didn't have analog stick controls available for the first year or so of its life, so that first wave of launch games and such force you to use the D-pad only. For a platformer that requires precision jumping over instant-death pits quite often, the pad is just a little too slippery and slidey.

Some of the awkwardness and difficulty is mitigated by the fact that the game gives out extra lives like candy, but it's also pretty quick to take them away too. What's the absolute pits is the save system. There are no fixed save points; to save your game, you collect Bimbo Bandicoot tokens strewn throughout the levels. When you have three, you get transported on the spot to a "save level." Before you get to save, you go through a small jump/puzzle contest, in which it's actually often quite possible to mistakenly break the wrong block and plummet to your death. But instead of dying, you just get kicked back to the level ... with all your Bimbo tokens gone and no chance to save. While I'm not entirely against the idea of having the player earn the right to save in a relatively short and linear platformer, doing it this way just sucks. Need to quit because you have to go somewhere, or something comes up, and you fail a Bimbo save level? Tough shit kid, play like three to five more levels before you get another opportunity to save and quit. C'mon Naughty Dog.

I dunno man. In spite of the Meh rating, Crash really isn't bad. I wouldn't feel I wasted my money if I spent a few bucks on it on PSN or whatever. It asks you to put up with a lot of needless frustration though, too much in my opinion. Literally dropping all the crates you missed on your head at the end of each level is obnoxious too. On the other hand it's quite the visual spectacle for a 1996 PS1 game and often quite creative and fun. Hopefully the series went on to refine itself from here.
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