I’ve spent the last few days sinking time into Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy, and while I’m not quite ready to crank out my full review just yet (look for that towards the end of the week), I will say I’m having an absolute blast. In fact, it’s everything I hoped it would be.
You see, this might sound strange to a lot of people, but in a year with huge titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Vicarious Visions’ remakes of the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy stood above all else as my absolutely most anticipated title. Yes, twenty year-old PlayStation 1 titles. What does that say about the quality of the other games releasing this year?
Well, nothing, actually. Horizon and Zelda, among other titles already released this year, have been nothing short of spectacular. No, it says more about what Crash Bandicoot means to me as a franchise than anything else. And I’m clearly not alone – it was reported just earlier today at time of writing that Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy is the biggest single-platform launch of the year in the UK – beating out even the massively marketed monster that is Horizon. Not only that, but Crash has had the second largest 2017 launch overall, behind only Ghost Recon: Wildlands.
So what’s the deal? Well, in this editorial, I’m going to look at the rise and fall of the PlayStation icon known as Crash Bandicoot and how it ties in perfectly with my personal history with the franchise, before examining why everything was set into motion for his return to be a guaranteed success. Let’s begin.
Born in 1993, I was just old enough to really start playing video games around the time games like Super Mario 64 were released to the world. The late 90s saw an influx of these popular mascot characters making the jump to 3D – but there was one mascot who was born into that world – Crash Bandicoot. Developed by Naughty Dog at the time, the original three Crash Bandicoot games were released between 1996 and 1998 and the orange marsupial skyrocketed to video game stardom. Crash Bandicoot, Cortex Strikes Back and Warped are largely seen as a near-flawless set of games and were almost single-handedly responsible for putting PlayStation on the map. Sony had their Mario.
I certainly have a ton of everlasting memories with the trilogy (and Crash Team Racing, the final game in the Crash franchise to be developed by Naughty Dog). As a nascent gamer back at the turn of the millennium, I was hooked to my PlayStation, helping the delightfully goofy bandicoot stop the evil Doctor Cortex time after time. These weren’t just games – they were gateways.
Thanks to games like Crash Bandicoot, I developed a lifelong affinity with the 3D platformer, transferring that love to the likes of Spyro the Dragon, Croc and Rayman. Even twenty years on, I could tell you who the bosses were in the Crash trilogy, or name some of my favourite levels. The same is true for many fans of the original set of Naughty Dog classics, who will be quick to tell you just how much the franchise means to them. Even by visiting the Crash Bandicoot sub-reddit, you can you see how much passion there is for the games.
Unfortunately for our orange friend however, Naughty Dog decided to move on after Crash Team Racing. Crash Bash, a middling party game, was released before the PlayStation 2 arrived. Here, Crash Bandicoot started to fade – Wrath of Cortex is widely considered the fourth ‘major’ Crash Bandicoot title, but it doesn’t garner the same feeling of nostalgia for many people, myself included. For one thing, it simply wasn’t as good nor was it as charming as Naughty Dog’s trio. It’s ugly, lazy and downright derivative. From here, Crash Bandicoot began to change – and so too, did its audience.
Although some success would be found in titles like Crash: Twinsanity, the franchise took a turn for the worst after being snapped up by publisher Activision. Crash and the rest of the franchise’s beloved cast underwent horrific redesigns, turning some of them into almost unrecognisable abominations (looking at you, Tiny). The same happened to the gameplay itself – new titles like Crash of the Titans and Mind Over Mutant morphed the games from challenging platformers to cheap-looking beat ’em ups, severely drained of any real creativity.
After Mind Over Mutant failed to ignite any kind of response in 2008, Crash Bandicoot simply went away. Those of us who had lived with and loved the original trio of games mourned a character who it seemed no longer had a future. The same was true of many of these mascot platformers – the genre was dying. During the era of the PlayStation 3, Crash was all but dead entirely. On the outside, there was no desire for these platformers of old anymore. Inside however, I never forgot the time I spent with Crash and always hoped that maybe someday, things would change.
Change, they did. With the impending arrival of the PlayStation 4 in late 2013, several small things happened that seemed to set in motion a chain of events. Rumours began to swell and circulate that Crash Bandicoot might be making a comeback in the near future, mostly spurred on by an image of Crash’s silhouette appearing in a PlayStation 4 launch trailer. Not only this, but the mascot platformer seemed to be making a comeback, what with the excellent Rayman Origins and Legends paving the way. Excitement began to bubble and those of us who had once grieved for Crash, found renewed hope in his return.
You see, Crash Bandicoot’s return was inevitable – and so was its success. Crash Bandicoot fans had been battered fairly hard during the character’s fall from grace, watching him transform into something almost alien. Now, with the rise of indie platformers helping to champion the smaller, more intimate game once again, the time was ripe for him to return.
Word of Crash Bandicoot was never far – someone, somewhere was talking about him. Interest was high indeed. As for myself, I observed everything unfold with a degree of optimism. The platforming genre was on the rise once again thanks to exceptionally good games like Shovel Knight gracing the indie scene. With the genre making a return, there was room once again for Crash. Fans of the marsupial were taken on a roller coaster ride, from ‘leaked’ artworks to accidental voice actor reveals, culminating with American PlayStation boss Shawn Layden wearing a Crash Bandicoot shirt at PlayStation Experience 2015. There was no game to announce, no remarkable comeback to reveal – but it was enough. The Bandicoot had been acknowledged on the public stage.
At the same time, this meant that Activision, who looked on with a watchful eye, had every ingredient for a perfect revival. Reception to the failed Crash Bandicoot of 2008 had been fairly vocal, so they had to be careful with the execution. Luckily for them, a game was released in 2016 that proved the public was thirsty for remakes.
Ratchet & Clank, a remake of the original game, built from the ground-up for PlayStation 4, was a critical and commercial success. It looked stunning on the console and the gameplay held up even today as fabulously good fun. PlayStation looked set to start a trend of resurrecting its most popular mascots and Crash absolutely had to be on that list. At this point, expectations were at a fever pitch – so really, Activision and PlayStation could do no wrong. They had everything they needed.
Fans of Crash Bandicoot were, at this point, desperate to be satiated. For years I had been dragged along, watching as some kind of rumour was swiftly put to bed over and over, only for some executive to mention the fabled franchise in an off-the-cuff remark. Uncharted 4 even featured an Easter egg where you played the original Crash! I knew what I wanted – I wanted a Crash Bandicoot remake, in the style of Ratchet & Clank, with beautiful graphics and updated gameplay. I didn’t want the rubbish character designs of the Activision era – I wanted to see the characters I grew up with, back and glorious as ever.
Well, as you know, that’s what we got. Activision and PlayStation looked at what they had – a core fanbase absolutely desperate for a reveal after years of teases and false starts. A core fanbase sick of what had happened to a once great mascot, a fanbase who had seen what the PS4 was capable of with Ratchet & Clank and thought, hang on, that’s perfect for Crash! They delivered. At E3 2016, it was revealed that Crash Bandicoot, Cortex Strikes Back and Warped were all being fully remade for the PlayStation 4.
A year on, with the trilogy in our hands, it’s not hard to see why Crash is selling so well. After all, the N. Sane Trilogy is essentially the byproduct of years and years of waiting and wanting. Perhaps we’ve all been played – perhaps this was a master plan of Activision’s, to keep us waiting before slowly drip-feeding the rumour mill, building hype and anticipation to a boiling point before the big reveal. Or maybe, the industry, which once tried so hard to leave these games behind, couldn’t stop talking about Crash.
The idea that ‘Crash is back’ is being used heavily in the marketing for the N. Sane Trilogy. It’s a strange phenomenon, as though Activision themselves are almost admitting to nearly killing off the franchise for good. More importantly however, it’s proof of what I said at the beginning – that Crash’s return was guaranteed to succeed. Everyone involved in the situation surrounding this famed franchise, from the developers, to the publishers, to the fans, have been completely self-aware. Everybody knew exactly what they wanted from this franchise’s return – and we got it.
That’s why it has succeeded.
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