Thursday, 20 March 2014

Crash Bandicoot (PSX)

Crash Bandicoot title screen
Today's 'C' game is Naughty Dog's PlayStation platformer pioneer Crash Bandicoot, or as I call it Banjo Kazooie. I dunno why I do that, the games aren't even all that similar as far as I know, I just continually end up saying the wrong name without fail and it's kind of annoying. So if you catch me slipping up, let me know in a comment and I'll get it sorted out. Seriously.

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.

I left the title screen on for a few seconds and was rewarded for my laziness with some set up for the game's story. Dr. Neo Cortex, has captured Crash the Bandicoot and is trying to use mad science to turn him into a general to lead his army of Cortex Commandos to world domination.

Right, so a guy with an N tattooed on his forehead is trying to turn a cool mascot character into a soulless tool to attain control of the video game market. Uh, I mean the world. I wonder if there's some kind of hidden message in there somewhere...

"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.

Bandicoot 1.0 screen
Oops, the broken device didn't work and now Crash has a chance to make a run for it and jump out of the window.

With Crash gone, they decide to use the machine on their other subject, a female bandicoot!

Uh, that's not a bandicoot, that's a human painted orange with an animal's face sewn on! What the hell kind of sick experiments have they been doing here?

If she's the same species as Crash, shouldn't she look more like this? I mean the guy really doesn't have much of a neck; he's basically a living triangle with a limbs and a nose sticking out of the top.

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).

N. Sanity beach? I should've guessed that a mad doctor with an N tattooed on his head would be into ingenious puns. It seems to be one of those rare 'single meaning' puns as well... unless I get to visit S. Sanity beach later I suppose.

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.

Crash wakes up on the beach to find himself lying next to three wooden crates so mysterious that not even the guy who printed the label on them knows what's inside.

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.

Spin attack! Very Tazmanian Devil, I like it. Though I liked it better before I found out that I can knock these 1up pick-ups right off the level with it. What kind of heartless game designer makes it so that I can accidentally kill my own extra lives?

I'm spotting a 'crate' theme to this level. I can smash unmarked boxes for an apple, jump on arrow boxes like a spring, and punch floating boxes like I'm Mario. I could probably jump on that crab as well, but I think I'll stick to the spin attack for now until I know it's safe.

The game sure likes its bottomless pits. Shame I've got no depth perception here so it's difficult to judge my jumps.

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.

Hah, after I all I said about the camera being fixed to a rail, it's given me a choice of paths here. Two rails!

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.

See, this is what I mean about how it's difficult to judge distance. You see that pit I'm standing right at the edge of? I'm not actually standing next to it, it's a meter or so down a hill from me.

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.

I've reached the end level teleporter! No idea why there are teleporter stones in the jungle, probably for similar reasons as there are magic floating masks.

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?

Huh, who said anything about collecting boxes? I just woke up on a beach and started running for my life, no one mentioned anything about me having to smash these things. Though I went and did it anyway, wrecked every single box I saw, so I don't know what they're whining about.

Fortunately even in failure I was still allowed back out onto the map to continue onwards to stage two.


STAGE 2: JUNGLE ROLLERS.

Agh, homing skunks! They like to run down the path in a line of four like this every now and again, on their way to throw themselves into a pit like the foul smelling lemmings they are. I've already figured out that I'm supposed to spin into the first one to knock his corpse flying forward and take out the whole chain Mario shell style, but I was taken by surprise and hit the jump button instead.

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.

Oh this is way too tempting. Sacrificing my hitpoint mask for the promise of an extra life, what can go wrong?

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.


SOON.


Whoa, I collected three pickups that looked a whole lot like the female bandicoot's face and it brought me to this 2D side-scrolling bonus stage high above the trees!

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.

I eventually completed the second stage and now I'm back to glorious 2D again on the stage three. I've only just started 2D platforming and it's already doing its best to make me regret it with these crate springs. I keep overshooting or undershooting the next box just very slightly then dropping back down to the bottom again. I'm just glad that those dangerous looking downwards facing spiky logs up there are just for decoration. The game is actually much fairer than it could've been.

Speaking of things that are fair, I did my spin attack on this monkey as he was rolling towards me and ended up bouncing right off again, skidding helplessly down into that instakill hole behind me!

Right, back to jumping up those spring boxes then.

Seems that jumping on turtles makes them retreat into their shell, turning them into a handy step to let me reach these high up floating hitpoint mask crates!

So they've got a villain with a big N on his forehead and now I'm jumping on turtles... hmmmm.

Awesome, I've found some good old fashioned platformer obstacles here. RUN up the slippy floor, LEAP the moving spike pole, STOP before slipping straight into the fire... wait, what? A fire in this place, what are they thinking? The Great Gate is going to be the Great Big Pile of Smouldering Ash this time next week if they don't tone down the deathtraps.

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.

Walked right off the bloody path again! Why would they let me fall into the background on a 2D level anyway? Why would they even let me do that? Well I guess the fact that they're amongst the first people to ever try something like this is a reasonable enough excuse.

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.

Oh crap, now I'm being chased by a giant boulder! So that's why the stage is called 'Boulders'. Worse, it's a 'running into the screen' level so I can barely see what I'm doing. I'm getting the Pepsiman flashbacks again!

Crap, I got stuck against the wall there. Don't you hate it when that happens in these classic 3D games? New features and ideas on every stage is cool, getting trapped on geometry is bad. Fortunately I past a checkpoint box a second ago so it's not an overly massive deal.

Now it's making me to leap from pillar to pillar across a chasm, but I can't even see them coming! I can't even see myself! I've jumped too high and disappeared off screen!

AGGGHHHHHH!

AGGGHHHHHH! AGGGHHHHHH! AGGGHHHHHH! AGGGHHHHHH!

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.

Oh cool, now I'm jumping from tiny island to tiny flower down a stream, with crappy depth perception. He refuses to even try to walk along the bank! Still, as long as the platforms I need to land are directly lined up in front of me I don't think I'll have too much trouble here.


SOON.


Okay, what the fuck? It wasn't funny the first time this happened, didn't quite inspire a smile the second time, and the rule of three has failed me because I'm definitely not laughing now.

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.


AND THEN...


This isn't the most amazing looking screenshot I know, but I just bounced off a bloody checkpoint box into the water, so I'm sharing it anyway. So many messed up jumps, so many wasted lives.

Crash Bandicoot game over screen
Oh thank fuck the game has continues! I was starting to get concerned.

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.

Uh... what? It just wiped all of my progress, I'm right back at the start again. Holy shit that's annoying!

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.


LATER.


It turns out that the save points... were waiting at the end of the bonus stages the whole time. You have to collect tokens and complete an extra stage just to save the game! A really really short stage mind you, but saves games should be a feature not a bonus to be earned.

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.

Oh, I guess I should have probably freed up some space first. Duh.

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.

Alright I replayed the first five stages... then screwed up the fifth stage and had to go back and replay stage four again... but now I'm finally up to the first boss!

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.

Alright I'm back on the move again now, running down these narrow paths, timing my jumps through these rolling stone wheels, and trying to fall short from leaping onto the TNT crates. It's a little trickier, but I think I'm getting the hang of judging distance now.

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.

There's a bloody pit hidden behind the wall! I... can only take my hats off to the level designer for their impressive trolling. You got me.

Well I'll just be going back to stage five again then shall I? Nah, I'll just turn it off.


CONCLUSION

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.

7 comments:

  1. I've got to disagree about the music: CB's score is one of the most memorable on the Playstation, I love it. Great write-up as usual though, thanks for an excellent read.

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  2. I am the only person in the world to have this opinion and I accept its deviant nature but I don't think 3d platformers really started to work until Super Mario Sunshine; before that they were still choppy, experimental affairs.

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  3. You really need to play Crash 2 or 3 and see what you think of those, as those games are so, SO much better than the original that it's not even funny. Crash 1 is basically like Sonic 1 where they had the very basic ideas figured out, before they actually made them work in later sequels.

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    1. Yeah I should give one of them a shot at some point, as I've heard from a few people now that they're better games. Also Sonic 2 I guess.

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  4. Hi Ray,

    > "I'd hit the teleporter and get booted back onto the map without so much as a fanfare."

    As you noticed on the first stage, finishing a level without dying causes the "GREAT BUT YOU MISSED X BOXES" screen to appear. Collecting every box without dying once grants you a gem, and to get the REAL ending you need to collect EVERY gem on EVERY stage. There a also five "special" gems, and two "keys" that unlock hidden stages.

    > "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."

    This is explained by the above - once you have at least one gem, you are given SUPER passwords. If I recall correctly, try entering TRIANGLE, TRIANGLE as the first two symbols on the password screen and you'll see what I mean.

    Here's the problem: You save the game by completing special stages, which you get to by finding tokens in levels. Not only does this make it more difficult to actually save your progress, but (A) these stages get harder and harder as the game goes on, and (B) once you have "used up" a special stage by completing it, you can't go back to it again, meaning that you only have a limited amount of saves for the whole game.

    Crash 2 and 3 are much better, as they have analog stick support and an unlimited, whenever-you-want save system. Additionally, you don't need to collect every single box on a single life in order to collect a gem - you can restart from checkpoints and still unlock them.

    However, they do retain the really hard to find secrets, which are necessary for 100% (or, in Crash 3, 105%) completion:

    In Crash 2, there are 5 (unmarked) secret level teleporters hidden within regular levels, and one of the special gems is accessed by jumping through an apparently-solid wall.

    In Crash 3, there are two hidden levels that you can only access by killing yourself in just the right way within other levels (crashing into a special sign-post on a particular racing level, and being killed by a specific enemy within a secret area of another stage).

    Incidentally, there is one secret in Crash 3 that you might find interesting: Entering a special code on the title screen lets you play a demo of Spyro the Dragon, allegedly because the two development teams were friends who worked near to each other.

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    1. Thanks for the info.

      It's interesting how the save system and the box collecting seem at odds with the adaptive difficulty system. The game's telling players 'everyone's welcome' and 'come back when you're not crap' at the same time. I guess the designers must have thought the same thing if they changed it for the sequels.

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  5. The saving in this game is a pain if one does not know what the system does, those treetop bonus rounds save your level unlocking progress, and gem saves save just the acquired gem (why people say this saves overall progress I don't get, IT WON'T, have those people even played this game?), same with key saves, just the key is saved. So there's "just enough" save points to make it to 100%. In fact level saving bonus rounds are not necessary for 100%, as the last item makes it 100% automagically and unlocks everything if locked (most likely the last boss only at that point).

    But yes, the saving is OK to me, people should be happy that they can SAVE at all, and the bonus rounds aren't really that difficult in the end. Brio bonus rounds are all somewhat tough though... ...they aren't necessary.

    You get too many damn lives in first three games. IS MADE WORSE IF ONE HAS SKILL as the cap is 99, though id resets to 4 every load/new game.

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