I couldn’t have been more than 5 years old when I received the original PlayStation as a gift. Gaming was still somewhat an alien concept to me, with the extent of my knowledge being Solitaire and Duke Nukem that my dad secretly let me play when my mother wasn’t around. My vocabulary at the time included “It’s time to kick a** and chew bubblegum”. Much to the dismay of my family, some proper parental guidance was in order to fuel my growing gaming habit. The next thing I knew, I had a PlayStation and Crash Bandicoot. Little did I know what that would mean, not just to me, but to an entire industry in the years to come…
Crash Bandicoot was a platformer developed by Naughty Dog (whom we now know as the masterminds behind The Last of Us and Uncharted) released on September 9, 1996 exclusively for the PlayStation. At the time of its release, Crash Bandicoot was met with generally positive reviews, but was criticized for not being innovative as a platformer. This came as a bit of a shock to me, considering it’s the staple game most modern platformers try to emulate the most. Whichever way you see it, the beloved Sony mascot would nonetheless go on to become a household name and a nostalgic icon that left quite a large impact on gamers. This was made very evident at Sony’s E3 2016 press conference, when the announcement of a remastered Crash Bandicoot trilogy for PS4 was met with thunderous applause.
So what made Crash Bandicoot such a beloved game in the first place? If it lacked so much innovation, why has it transformed the way we look at modern games? Let me start from the beginning. In 1996, 3D gaming was arguably at its peak, even in its infant stages. This era brought 3D gaming to the forefront, with truly innovative titles like Mario 64 and Doom causing waves. Crash Bandicoot landed on the PlayStation amidst a heap of competition, and introduced gamers to something pretty unusual; quirk. Crash, an anthropomorphic, self-destructive mascot, also possessed an unhinged, weird character trait that wasn’t tackled in video game protagonists quite like that before. Basically, Crash was batsh*t insane.
Yes, the sole reason behind the success and impact of Crash Bandicoot actually has little to do with the level design, graphics (while admittedly great for the time), or gameplay; it was Crash himself. His spark of curiosity/borderline insanity spoke to the inner youth of us all, who saw little sense in a world that seemed larger and more threatening than it actually was. From the perspective of Crash, the world was a playground of death and nonsensical fantasy. Everything that would seem mundane in reality was trying to kill him. From man-eating plants to harmless animals like tortoises and monkeys, the jungle was as untamed and off-beat as Crash’s own personality. In fact, it directly reflected himself. Suddenly, what critics might’ve seen before as a lack of innovation in a simple platformer now has several layers. Everything about the game design played off the notion of insanity.
The resonance of Crash Bandicoot carried over into the gaming world as we began to see a sudden surge of quirky, charismatic, and arguably mad main protagonists. Spyro entered the scene as a quirky dragon, the charismatic duo Ratchet & Clank became Sony’s next big mascots, and even Naughty Dog’s own Nathan Drake of Uncharted possessed several tendencies of recklessness much like Crash. While Crash wasn’t the first main character in a video game to exhibit signs of madness, it was the first video game to truly capture the essence of it, and very successfully.
Crash Bandicoot went on to spawn several sequels, with its two Naughty Dog-developed successors, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and Crash Bandicoot: Warped, considered to be superior to the original. However, in 1996, this is where it all started. 20 years later, and the after-effects of Crash still resonate with gamers. Perhaps there’s a strange attraction to colorful characters with psychological defects that we have yet to address (a reason why Alice In Wonderland is considered a classic), but in an industry plagued by realistic war shooters and glorified annual sports sequels, I’m just glad a little bit of insanity is back.