Thursday, 20 March 2014
Crash Bandicoot (PSX)
It should be noted that I haven't played a lot of early 3D platformers, so there's a giant black hole within my heart where my nostalgia should be. But that's fine! It means I can look at the game unbiased and unburdened by things like accumulated skills and experience, with no way to get sidetracked comparing it other games in the genre. If you're after 30 screenshots of a low polygon bandicoot falling down the first bottomless pit in the game, you're definitely reading the right article.
"But Dr. Cortex, we have not discovered the cause of past failures!" protests his assistant, but the Doc just calls him a moron and carries on regardless.
With Crash gone, they decide to use the machine on their other subject, a female bandicoot!
It's interesting that Naughty Dog seem to have taken some inspiration from their rivals over on the Nintendo 64 side of the fence, and have left their characters more or less untextured (save for the letters on their heads).
Gotta say, it's always nice to see a world map show up in my platformers. This place is reminding me a bit of Donkey Kong Country's island actually, which I'm taking as a good sign.
STAGE 1: N. SANITY BEACH.
I think I'll hang around here where it's safe for a few seconds to figure out what the buttons do. The game pre-dates the DualShock controller so I'm stuck with the digital d-pad for one thing.
It's interesting how the camera is absolutely fixed to a certain path through the level, almost making it feel like I'm running in front of a pre-rendered video. I've read that the developers used this trick so that they could carefully control how many polygons were on screen at any time, and it seems to be doing its job as this is really slick.
It's not giving me any clues about what's over the hill, but seeing as I just smashed a checkpoint box and collected an invulnerability mask, I'm not feeling too cautious right now.
Hey my invincibility mask wore off! This gives me a fantastic excuse to mention how the mask system works in this: if I collect a mask it floats alongside me acting as a hit point. Collecting two masks changes the feathers, giving me double the hit points. Collecting a third mask gives me a few seconds of blessed indestructibility before ticking back down to level 2 mask power again.
Wait a second, so I'm stuck on a tropical island filled with secret labs and ancient supernatural ruins, caught in the middle of a war of ideologies between science and mysticism... you think J.J. Abrams might have been a Crash Bandicoot fan?
Fortunately even in failure I was still allowed back out onto the map to continue onwards to stage two.
STAGE 2: JUNGLE ROLLERS.
Still, if I can aim my boots right during my descent I can at least take one of them out. Oh, I figured that I CAN jump on enemies to kill them by the way, so I have extended combat options there.
I detonated the stack, collected my reward, and marched off with my fur only mostly singed. Then I leapt through both of those rolling stones like a pro, and then proceeded to walk my bright orange hitpointless ass straight into skunk. Well it's certainly nice to be back at the last checkpoint again.
I decided that the sensible thing to do would be to first test if I still had 3D movement in this 2D level and it turned out that I do! I immediately managed to send Crash slipping off the edge of the first step and he plummeting back to the ground. Bonus failed.
Guess I'm back to jumping through rolling stone wheels then.
STAGE 3: THE GREAT GATE.
Right, back to jumping up those spring boxes then.
So they've got a villain with a big N on his forehead and now I'm jumping on turtles... hmmmm.
It's not my problem though. I've just collected my third bandicoot face again so I'm heading off to the bonus zone in the sky.
Still, it sure would be cool if I could see what's on the other side of one of these bonus levels at some point.
STAGE 4: BOULDERS.
Pepsiman flashbacks again!
Huh I'm at the level exit already? Oh thank fuck for that. Funny how I seem to do better when I can't see a thing. Maybe I'll stick something over my eyes next time I reach a bonus level, it's not like it can make me do any worse.
STAGE 5: UPSTREAM.
I'm not going to say that the game's not playing fair, you can see by the ripples that I actually fell short by a half-pixel, but it's not exactly giving any allowance for error here either. Plus apparently bandicoots can't swim, even when they're dressed as a surfer.
You're damn right I want to continue, I haven't even hit a save point yet and I've got no intention of quitting and throwing away all that hard work.
Okay I guess it's time to crack open the manual for this one, because if continues take me back to the last save point, then I ain't touching that controller again until I know how to save the game.
I'd cut them a break over this as it is one of the very first 3D platformers... but c'mon, it's not like Naughty Dog didn't have enough 2D platformers to learn from by 1996.
Hang on, password OR save game? I can't have both? They could've used the space taken up by the word 'PASSWORD' to show the password; the things are only an eight digit string of PlayStation face button symbols.
STAGE 6: PAPU PAPU.
He hit Crash with a stick repeatedly until he was dead, and that was that.
Though he's got a very predictable attack pattern involving spinning around three or so times before slamming that thing down, so I think I know what I'm doing now. He's also got a modelled ass crack, which is an interesting use of their extremely limited polygon budget.
STAGE 7: ROLLING STONES.
This is my final life, but I just need to hold out a little longer so I can get to the next bonus stage and save my progress, then I'll be able to turn it off.
Well I'll just be going back to stage five again then shall I? Nah, I'll just turn it off.
Now that I've finally had a go of Crash Bandicoot (I was 6 letters into typing the wrong title there but caught myself), I have to admit that it seems pretty impressive for the time. Naughty Dog got a functional platformer running in a full 3D world and moving at a decent speed, back when everyone else was still faking it with pre-rendered models. The game came out three months after Super Mario 64 and two months before Bubsy 3D, so that's where it fits in with the grand scheme of things, and I think it's safe to say that it's much closer to Mario 64 in quality.
But Crash isn't really clicking with me. I've been struggling with the digital controls and the depth perception like the newbie I am, but I've also been finding it hard to get invested in a game that makes it tricky to save your progress. I want to Donkey Kong Country it: replaying levels by choice to find hidden shiny things or collect all the boxes, not because I need to keep grinding for bonus tokens before I can turn the game off.
Also it's a bit too laid back for its own good I reckon. The music is mellow and percussive, but not all that memorable or catchy, and finishing a level seems like a total 'yeah, whatever' moment. I'd hit the teleporter and get booted back onto the map without so much as a fanfare. More of a stroll through the jungle rather than a dramatic life or death struggle to save the day. Actually I never was clear on whether Crash was running away from Dr. Cortex, or back to the lab again to save the other bandicoot.
Then again I don't remember liking Super Mario 64 a great deal either (in the five minutes I played it) so who even cares what I think about the genre? My opinion on the game is still a work in progress and I'll likely come back to the series at some point when I've played some others like it and know more about what I'm talking about.
If you've got any opinions about the Crash Bandicoot games, early 3D platformers, games titles you keep getting mixed up, my article, my site, or anything else in that ballpark then feel free to leave a comment! May the best opinions win.