Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: August 31, 1996
It is easy to see why Crash Bandicoot caught on as the Playstation’s mascot in 1996. Crash was charming, quirky and charismatic, and he fell in line with other popular offbeat animal mascots at the time (Sonic the Hedgehog, Tasmanian Devil, etc.). His first game, aptly titled Crash Bandicoot, is a platforming adventure that is a hybrid of both 3D and 2D styles. The graphics are strictly 3D and hold up surprisingly well today, but the game plays more like a 2D platformer than anything else.
Crash has 32 levels set on three islands, and there are a good mix of styles as the game progresses. Some levels are traditional horizontal side-scrolling fare, whereas others have Crash moving vertically instead. Every now and then a different spin on these levels will appear. For instance, an early level has Crash running frantically toward the bottom of the screen while avoiding obstacles in order to outrun a giant boulder. This variety keeps things fresh from beginning to end.
For the most part, the gameplay is fairly formulaic. Each level has enemies and crates scattered throughout. Enemies can kill Crash in one hit (unless he is powered by the popular Aku Aku character), although they can be taken care of either by performing a carefully timed spin attack or by simply jumping on them. The crates bear helpful items, including fruits (collect 100 for an extra life) and extra life tokens. Pretty basic stuff, but it works.
Crash Bandicoot has two glaring problems that hold it back from potential greatness. 1) The save system is royally fucked. In order to save your progress, you have to find three unique items in a level and then finish a brief bonus round, some of which can be tricky to complete. This is a very off-kilter system, and it is not very effective. Crash is not an easy game, and it is possible to complete 2-3 levels, die, and then have to start right back from square one because you missed out on the bonus round. It’s amazing that someone thought this was a good idea. 2) The controls are so finicky that they can cause cheap deaths, and this happens far too often. Since the game can only be played using the D-Pad, this setup is far from optimal. Thankfully this would be rectified in future games.
Even with these two weaknesses, Crash Bandicoot is definitely enjoyable. There may be times when you will want to smash your controller, but the game has such a fun atmosphere that it’s hard to stay mad at it for long. This is an admirable first effort for a once-great franchise.