A.K.A The First One
DEVELOPER: Vicarious Visions
DIRECTOR: Dan Tanguay
PRODUCER: Kara Massie
COMPOSER: Josh Mancell
GENRE: Platformer/Pain and suffering simulator
RELEASE DATE: 30 June 2017
So I’m not entirely convinced that Crash Bandicoot is a game. I mean, I sat down, I put the disc in, and I certainly experienced something that was a revival of a seminal classic from days gone by, but I’m still not sure it was a game. What I am sure of is that Crash Bandicoot is an endurance test, a true trial of will and patience, a portal into indulging every sad-masochistic impulse you may have ever had in your life. You enter whole, and you leave broken. You will suffer, and wail in agony after failing the same ridiculously finicky jump for the tenth time in a row, and you’ll soon lose yourself in the mire of failure, your identity and your sense of self spiralling away as you forget everything you were or ever will be, replaced by Crash’s vapid, brain dead grin. But its not truly brain-dead, oh no, its mocking, taunting you with its presumed innocence. It’s a grin that cuts to your soul, which knows your failure and laughs merrily in the face of it. I want to cry out at Crash and his evil, mocking grin, to scream at him, and curse his name…but I cannot.
For I have no mouth, and I must scream.
TL;DR, this game’s hard as fuck and I think I hate it.
To be fair to it, though, I don’t necessarily think Crash Bandicoot is a poor game by any means, though the passage of time has done very little for its somewhat archaic mechanics and highly questionable design choices, and I’m certainly not opposed to being challenged.
But not too far past the first island or so, and it became rapidly clear to me that Crash Bandicoot’s particular variety of brutal difficulty doesn’t seem intended to be enjoyed. Most of the later levels give way to endless finicky and ridiculously precise sequences of jumping that are often unwieldy or frustratingly obtuse to execute. It doesn’t help that Crash (or Coco, if you prefer) really handles quite poorly in Crash Bandicoot: I reached a point where even simple jumps were sometimes a 50/50 shot between actually sticking it clean or just completely missing. The margin for error, while initially generous, quickly evaporates into virtually nothing and makes basically everything put in front of you incredibly frustrating and stressful instead of fun. And given that this was a remastered version of the game, these seemed like problems that Vicarious Visions could have ironed out, though little seems to have been done in that department.
This is particularly true of the obvious disconnect that some levels present between modern updates and older mechanics: like the side-scrolling levels where most platforms allow a full range of movement, which combined with the freer range of motion of the thumb stick, will often lead you to fuck up jumps solely because you were only a smidge in the wrong direction. And yeah, I could just use the D-pad as was originally intended, but I would equally argue that the whole point of remastering something is to bring it up to speed with a modern audience, as much as it is shameless nostalgia baiting for cash. Perhaps VV could have balanced those two aspects out a little bit more, eh?
It also doesn’t help that Crash Banidcoot’s levels often like to pull truly diabolical and ridiculous tricks: hiding gaps behind scenery, concealing TNT in stacks of boxes like one time and never doing it again after, and following up tricky jumps with ridiculous ambushing hazards that are profoundly hard to spot. It doesn’t help that when Crash Bandicoot does pull this fucking nonsense, you’re rarely given even the slightest chance to dodge it, unless you just happen to remember every single trick its got, which often reduces these sequences to a painful and truly perfunctory routine of trial and error. The end result is a game that really feels like it’s daring you to keep playing as opposed to encouraging, like it really wants you to just give up. Its level design that is, in my opinion, entirely too mean-spirited and contemptuous of the player to actually be truly enjoyed, and it often just descends into incredible frustration instead. I think the only reason I got as far as I did is because I decided to take all this very personally because I’m a silly boy with a dumb brain. The fact that Crash Bandicoot now includes secrets gems and such that involve having to complete some these insanely brutal levels without dying is as close to criminal activity as video game has ever gotten, and I would be astounded if even a fraction of people who play Crash Bandicoot could even be bothered with even one attempt at getting these gems after the agony of just trying to complete the level once.
This is all even more baffling given how uneven the game often feels in places, especially in terms of difficulty. While most of Crash Bandicoot’s levels are often brutally hard, its boss fights are, in almost all cases, laughably easy to the point that I almost questioned why they even bothered when the rest of the goddamn game just feels like one elongated hard-as-nuts boss fight. Most of Crash Bandicoot’s bosses are just very basic exercises in pattern recognition and repetition, which while fairly common for the time the game was made, haven’t really aged well in the face of 20 or so years of game design since.
By an large, platformers have disappeared from the mainstream market, with a few notable exceptions, which was something I never fully understood until I played Crash Bandicoot again after all these years: these games really tend to be frighteningly inaccessible and extremely user-unfriendly, which given Crash’s origins, is exactly what you don’t want for a lovable company/console mascot. Still, even in spite of all this, I can’t deny that I really, really did wanna love Crash Bandicoot once the initial nostalgia rush wore off, and there is still plenty to like. Visually, the remaster is very impressive, with each environment popping with vibrant colors and a distinct visual style. And while Crash Bandicoot generally tends to rely on the same tricks one too many times, there are a few really neat and creative levels in there, and these are the ones that often proved to be the break in the game’s brutal monotony of unnecessarily torturous difficulty. And Crash and his pals are still as charming as ever, even if you’ll be thoroughly sick to death of them by the end of the game because you’ll have seen them thousands of times over after so many failed attempts.
Overall, I don’t really think I would recommend Crash Bandicoot: its simply entirely too unforgiving and frustrating in its pursuit of “challenge” to actually be enjoyed as an experience, unless that sort of thing really appeals to you. If you’re a longtime fan it’ll give you a nostalgic kick, but if you stick with it too long that kick will becomes several kicks, specifically roundhouse kicks to the face. And hey if that sounds like a gas to you, by all means go ahead with my blessing. But for me at least, Crash Bandicoot may be better off just being remembered as the charming artefact of gaming history that it is.