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Crash Bandicoot (PS Game)
Member Name: SWSt
Crash Bandicoot (PS Game)
Advantages: Fast paced, fun gameplay, strong level design
Disadvantages: Awkward camera angles make precision leaps tricky
Whilst Sony may have achieved dominance in the console market, the one thing it always lacked over its rivals was a recognisable mascot. Sega had Sonic, Nintendo has Mario, Sony had... Well, Crash Bandicoot is probably the closest thing to an unofficial mascot that the original Playstation ever had.
This original outing sees the gangly-limbed bandicoot taking on his archenemy, Dr Cortex who has been experimenting on animals and turning them into all sorts of nasty things. Crash must race through a series of levels to liberate his friends and stop Cortex's evil plans. Along the way, he must collect apples (100 apples=1 extra life) and smash any boxes he sees lying around, which will reward him with bonuses.
At first glance, Crash Bandicoot doesn't have that much to recommend it over a myriad of other similar titles; it's essentially a slight variation on the platform game, requiring you to run, jump and collect items whilst avoiding enemies. Thankfully, there are a number of elements which help it to rise above its rivals and stand out as a classic.
First up is Crash himself. It might be a no-brainer that platform games need a cute, appealing character, but the number of failed attempts to create them over the years is proof that this is easier said than done. Developers Naughty Dog got it right with Crash. He's cute enough to appeal to kids, but has enough attitude and swagger to appeal to older gamers. Crash is all gangly limbs and looks quite cute and there's a sense of restless energy about him that suits the often frantic pace of the game. He's a character you actually feel a connection with, so you feel bad when your gaming clumsiness leads him to die.
The same is true of the enemies in the game. At times, you almost regret having to kill them as they are really appealing and imaginative. Whilst some of the graphics might now look a little dated (they are 15 years old, after all) they still give the game a strong, instantly recognisable look and feel which makes it a lot of fun to play. It might be an over-used cliché, but the graphics have a cartoon-like quality which really does make you feel as though you are actually playing one of those old Warner Bros. cartoons.
Inevitably, time has perhaps been less kind to the graphics than some other elements and there are a few issues. On some levels, the colour scheme is a little murky and it can be tricky to work out what is a shadow and what is a pit which you need to jump over. This can cause some frustration and there have been numerous times when poor Crash has plummeted to his death down a pit which I didn't realise was there, or I've jumped to avoid a "pit" that actually turned out to be a shadow and, as a result, have not had enough time to avoid the next hazard.
Camera angles can be a little ropey, too; particularly since the game's later levels require you to make some very precise jumps. It's particularly true on some of the water related levels (where you have to leap off one moving lily pad onto another moving lily pad). The margin for error is quite small and the sometimes confusing camera angles can cause you to misjudge the leap, resulting in death. Most frustratingly, this can result in the loss of several lives before you get it right.
Sound is also fairly minimal when compared with the full orchestral cores that accompany today's games, but again, it's well-suited to the title. Music is full of plinky-plonky tunes that fit with the jungle theme of the levels and whilst none are particularly memorable they add to the overall atmosphere, as do the equally minimal sound effects.
It's the underlying gameplay that makes Crash Bandicoot so much fun, though. This is the very definition of a pick up and play title: it is simple to get into, but is fiendishly addictive and challenging. With only a few basic controls to master (run, jump and spin) you can get straight into the action without having to read a 500 page instruction manual first.
From the very first level, the action is fun and addictive. The overall pace of the game is fast and frenetic and smashing boxes or spinning into enemies to destroy them is very satisfying. The judicious use of checkpoints allows you to make regular progress without having to constantly replay entire levels, although the Save Game function, which requires you to collect three tokens before you can use it, is a bit of a pain.
Levels are also well-constructed. They are usually quite short and don't take that long to complete. True, it can be a little frustrating losing life after life on the same level and having to replay that section endlessly (particularly when you die inches away from the next checkpoint!). Practice will definitely help you improve, though and this is a game that rewards both fast reactions and memory, whilst remaining fun and accessible to the more casual gamer.
There's nice variety to stop all the levels being too similar. Some levels see you controlling Crash as he runs up (and into) the screen; in others, he runs down the screen (towards the player) having to avoid chasing boulders and leap over hazards in front of him. Some levels are viewed from a more traditional 2D side on view, whilst each section ends with a boss fight against one of Cortex's mutated animals. This level of variety is quite unusual in a platform game and once again shows how Naughty Dog tried to move the genre forward.
With only 32 levels, it's not going to take most people that long to get through them all and it's one of the few games that I can honestly say I have beaten without the use of a cheat mode. A bit of longevity is added by the fact that in order to achieve a 100% completion rate, you not only have to complete all the levels, but also smash every single box-something which is very tricky on some levels! It's all too easy to miss a box and it's not unusual to have to replay a level dozens of times before you finally locate and smash all of them. Whilst this can be slightly annoying it does give you an even bigger sense of satisfaction when you finally manage it.
Because it's so much fun to play, Crash Bandicoot has held its price pretty well for a game that is now around 15 years old. A physical copy of the original Playstation game is likely to cost you around £5, but if you don't own a PS1, it's also available as a digital download from the PS3 Store for £3.99. However you choose to buy it, it's well worth the money and is a game that will give hours of fun for the whole family.
© Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: A slice of Playstation history that plays as well today as it did in the 90s