Video Game Review: Crash Bandicoot [Playstation, 1996]

Crash Bandicoot [Playstation, 1996]

Crash Bandicoot
System: Playstation
Publisher: SCEA
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.

Crash Bandicoot [Playstation, 1996]

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.

7/10

Video Game Review: Crash Team Racing [Playstation, 1999]

Crash Team Racing [Playstation, 1999]

Crash Team Racing
System: Playstation
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: October 20, 1999

Back in 1999, Crash Bandicoot was still reigning supreme as the Playstation’s mascot. Looking to branch out from the series’ standard platforming games, developer Naughty Dog released Crash Team Racing, a kart racing spinoff very similar to Mario Kart. If you have played a kart racing game before, then you have a good idea of what to expect with CTR. The controls are largely the same and are very simple — the buttons for accelerating, using powerups and the “hop” function are all you really need to know (power sliding is key). The powerups are standard fare — there are speed boosts, rockets that take out the leader, TNT boxes that are dropped immediately behind you, etc. There really is not a lot in the way of originality, but this is not an issue simply because CTR is so well-polished. Naughty Dog took the best elements of previous games in the genre and molded them together to make something that truly stands out on its own.

When I think of kart racing games, I immediately think of multiplayer. Playing split-screen with friends is usually the best way to go with these types of games, and while CTR offers plenty of fun via its battle and versus modes, it really excels in its single player adventure mode. This feature has an absurd amount of depth. You select a character from the world of Crash Bandicoot (Coco, Neo Cortex, Tiny, etc.) and then proceed to race in a variety of worlds while battling bosses along the way. You are given free reign in an open world in which you drive to whatever race you want to participate in. Once you have completed a course’s standard race, new options open up that bring additional replay value to the game: Relic Races and CTR Challenges. The former option requires you to race the track alone in the fastest time possible while smashing crates that temporarily stop time. The latter option puts you in a standard race, but your goal is to find the hidden C-T-R letters while still finishing in first place. Beating all three styles of races for each course provides you with gems/emblems that open up more levels. It really is a lot of fun going through each course while trying to get 100% completion.

Although the graphics shows its age, CTR is still one of the better-looking games from its era. Its kart racing formula is timeless, and even though it is not original in the slightest, it is still a blast to play. In fact, CTR is one of the most well-rounded kart racers I have ever played. I liked this game a lot when I was younger, and I still enjoy it to this day. If you are looking for a simple racing game with surprising depth, I highly recommend Crash Team Racing. You can’t beat its $6 price tag on the Playstation Network either.

8.5/10

Um Jammer Lammy [Playstation, 1999]

Um Jammer Lammy [PSX]

Um Jammer Lammy
System: Playstaton
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: July 31, 1999

Um Jammer Lammy is a musical/rhythm game that is a spiritual successor to the popular PaRappa The Rapper. This time around, however, instead of rapping, you control a guitar-playing female lamb. Uh, yeah, and she just so happens to be in paper-thin 2D, just like the rest of the game’s characters. The game possess a unique style, this is for sure, and its storyline is even more bizarre. The main character, Lammy, is running late for a gig for her band, Milkcan. Along the way to the show, she continually gets interrupted and has to perform a number of amazing feats with her guitar. She puts out fires, delivers babies, and flies a plane, just to name a few examples. All of this is absolutely ridiculous, but it definitely adds to the game’s unending charm.

As for the gameplay itself, there are seven levels to go through. The stages are played by pressing buttons in conjunction with the rhythm of the songs. Easy mode lets you press any button you want, but normal mode requires using specific buttons. Some of these songs get awfully complex, whereas others resort to button-mashing (the pregnancy level is notorious for this with its “ma ma ma ma ma ma ma”). Thankfully there is room for improvisation, which is especially helpful for those who struggle at these types of games. Um Jammer Lammy can get pretty difficult, but the songs are catchy and the rewards for beating the game are worth it. Completing the game on solo mode unlocks the option to play as PaRappa and a new character, Rammy. There is also the possibility of co-op play, which adds to the replay value.

Um Jammer Lammy is challenging, and it has the ability to easily frustrate gamers, especially since sometimes its button-pressing recognition seems a little off-kilter. However, there is still a lot of entertainment to be had here, and there is a surprising amount of replay value despite only having seven stages. If you like rhythm games and have a knack for the weird, you will enjoy Um Jammer Lammy.

7/10