At one time, Crash Bandicoot was the face of the PlayStation brand, but through licensing headaches and the creation of other characters, the spunky star hasn’t quite gone on to fill the role of Nintendo’s Mario or Microsoft’s Master Chief. However, the hero’s titular game remains a signature PlayStation classic that served as a launching point for Naughty Dog’s climb to greatness, and it went on to inspire and entertain many with its memorable visuals and 3D platforming. Is it still as desirable and appealing as a freshly picked Wumpa Fruit, though – or has the game’s charm become more bland and stale after all of these years?
When the protagonist comes, er, crashing in on the title screen, it’s immediately apparent how zany and colourful the art direction for this game is – especially as you move on through the early jungle-themed levels. Oversized foliage is presented in all of the colours of the rainbow; primitive, wooden fortresses and dwellings are decorated with tribal flair, and even the enemies add to the settings, such as giant man-eating plants, boars, snakes, and other fitting wildlife.
Things take a turn for the stranger as you progress through the game and make it to Neo Cortex’s castle, which will have you drastically transitioning to levels in laboratories filled with hazardous chemicals to underground caverns, with ancient stone structures. It may be nonsensical, but this varied tour is one worth taking.
As an anthropomorphic bandicoot trying to save your female counterpart from a mad scientist and his mutated animal cohorts, the game’s premise is almost as ridiculous as a certain red plumber’s exploits in the Mushroom Kingdom – but since this is all portrayed in a stylized, cartoony way, the game has a one-of-a-kind, memorable layer of eccentric charm that you can’t help but smile at while playing. It accentuates the humorous tone that the Californian developer was going for with how enemies comically hurtle off the screen when flung away, and how wacky the bosses look and behave.
It helps that the graphics hold up, even if a couple of animations look janky by modern standards. The environments and characters look great despite the visible polygons on some objects, but thanks to its art style, Crash Bandicoot – much like Spyro the Dragon in this regard – is still pleasing to the eye. As for the audio, it’s almost equally important since it adds a good portion of personality to the experience. The upbeat, catchy tracks and over-exaggerated sound effects seem as though they were directly inspired by Looney Tunes, which will make you chuckle. That’s a compliment in our book.
However, the actual gameplay is a bit divisive considering that it both has massive strengths and weaknesses that cannot be brushed aside. The 3D platforming may only require you to jump, do spin attacks, and move around, but it’s hardly archaic: you’ll be jumping across chasms, over enemies, and onto moving platforms in the pursuit of breaking every box and picking up fruit to gain more lives, which is good, simple fun.
What’s really brilliant is that the levels are presented in different perspectives, with some taking a side-scroller and even a frontal view. In addition to this, the added dimension to the gameplay with the spin attack actually makes the title more engaging, since it allows for levels with some truly challenging enemy placements.
Unfortunately, this leads to some punishing difficulty spikes. While you’ll likely breeze through most sections – including the boss fights – some spots will demand superhero levels of skill, including the Bonus Stages, which are brutal. To be fair, there’s replay value to be found in these, but seeing as you only get one life to beat them, it can be discouraging to try over and over again. Indeed, if you’re a masochist, you’ll probably get a good eight hours of playtime out of the campaign, but a standard run through will last you somewhere around three hours. This is a bit of a letdown, but the core loop is mostly so enjoyable that it’s a release that we’ve returned to regularly over the years.
Crash Bandicoot delivers a blast of nostalgia, and if you grew up with the zany character, it’ll forever hold a place in your heart. However, through a modern lens, its inconsistent difficulty and length issues are letdowns, which the franchise’s fantastic sequels fortunately addressed. Still, as a cornerstone in the PSone’s library, there are plenty of reasons to overlook these flaws in favour of its vibrant art direction, audio, and overall outlandish creativity. You may only get an evening’s entertainment out of this classic, but it’ll always be a splendid bash when you spin and dash with Crash.