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Are you ready for some serious feels as we head down the rocky Australian memory lane? Is he a fox? Why is he wearing jeans? What the Aku Aku is a bandicoot? Dust off your old Play Station, because it is time to revisit the Crash Bandicoot series. He may look as much like a bandicoot as Arthur does an aardvark, or Taz a Tasmanian Devil, but here is how our furry friend managed to jump, ride and spin his way into our hearts.
Willy the Wombat
From tiny wombats do mighty bandicoots grow. Crash Bandicoot started life as a different (more Australian) creature altogether. The brainchild of Naughty Dog studios's Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin, the bandicoot started development back in August 1994 whilst the pair were on a long road trip from Boston to Los Angeles. The pair already had the concept for a platformer called Saurus and Dinestein- it was about time travelling dinosaurs merged with scientists.
The Back to the Future dinos were soon scrapped for an Australian setting and an original protagonist named 'Willy the Wombat' (above). We don't think the original sketches look like a wombat either, but who really cares, when did you last see a blue hedgehog? Speaking of which, the 3D platformer was universally nicknamed "Sonic's Ass Game", because the player spent the majority of the story starring at the rear of Crash. A first model of the game was deemed too easy and contained large areas of nothingness - trying to mix it up, Rubin decided on different puzzles, activated by changing symbols. The game's first crate was put in during January 1996, and the character 'crashing' through the crates prompted the change of name. R.I.P. Willy the Wombat; long live Crash Bandicoot. We all have fond memories of the original game, and it is easy to see why. Crash Bandicoot is currently Play Station's seventh best-selling game of all time, shifting over 6.8 million units.
The Future's Orange
A runaway success, development on the second game started almost immediately after the release of Crash. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back promised to be bigger and better, with Gavin creating an engine that was three times faster than the original. It would feature Giant polar bears, leaping Orcas, and even a trip into space. Cortex Strikes Back expanded the team of Crash stars and introduced the adorable Coco Bandicoot, Crash's marsupial sister. Coco was there to counterbalance Crash's super-sexy girlfriend from the original game. It is safe to say that Sony Computer Entertainment Japan wasn't impressed with the sexist Tawna Bandicoot - a stereotyped Jessica rabbit.
A third game, Crash Bandicoot: Warped began in late 1998; but with a strict timeframe of just 10.5 months, Naughty Dog had their work cut out. As well as better character development and imaginative boss battles, the technology moved on to handle jet-ski, motorcycle, and even plane levels - Warped was aiming for more of a vehicle-based design, which would later be adapted into the spin-off racing games. Despite the tight timings, you would be hard pushed to find a game better than Warped. The proof is in the pudding, as Warped is only beaten in official ratings by the next entry, Crash Team Racing.
Naughty Dog decided to round off their games with a fourth game and a new concept for the franchise. Crash Team Racing aimed to continue the success of Nintendo's Mario Kart series, further twisting the knife of the Nintendo/ Play Station conflict. Pitching 15 of the franchise's characters against the villainous Nitros Oxide, Team Racing's imaginative level designs and an array of vehicles gave it more of a Diddy Kong Racing feel and it was a hit!
'Kart' Him Away
With Naughty Dog departing after the fourth game, the series began to wobble - first came Eurocom Entertainment's Crash Bash in 2000. It seemed that a new millennium had done nothing to help the old dog, and Bash was a poor attempt to cash in on Mario Party. It seems that not everything Nintendo does, Play Station can do better. Sadly, this wasn't the last flop for the franchise.
Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex was the first of the main games not to come from Naughty Dog and was rightly criticized for its recycled elements and dated storyline of previous villains returning for more. Wrath of Cortex is a rainy-day-game, and it lacked the spirit of Crash of old! Crash then took a trip off-console to the Game Boy Advance with Crash Bandicoot: The Huge Adventure. The game was created due to an existing agreement with Universal Interactive Studios and Konami to make a game for the next generation of consoles. Reduced to side-scrolling, Huge Adventure wasn't dealt as harsh a blow as other games and is by no means the franchise's worst - it also managed a sequel, Crash Bandicoot 2: N-Tranced.
Alongside N-Tranced in 2003, Vicarious Visions and Universal Interactive released Nitro Kart, hoping to emulate the success of Team Racing. Nitro Kart leapt from the standard Play Station system into a full blown console assault - released on PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, Xbox, Game Boy Advance and N-Gage. It was 2005's Tag Team Racing which is a low in the character's history. Nintendo World Report condemned Tag Team as a cheap cash in on a legacy:
Crash Tag Team Racing is unworthy of its namesake, and I really wish the developer had taken its time to study what was great about the original game before starting work on the sequel ...since it’s such a travesty compared to the PlayStation title, I’d rather that series fans didn’t play it either – it physically hurts.
The move off-Sony to other gaming devices seemed to dilute Crash's later years. Whilst titles faired well on most consoles, gamers could never agree that a title was truly great across the board. Take for example the fact that the 2004 game Crash Twinsanity was released on Play Station and Xbox, whilst a Gamecube version was canned due to the console's limitations!
As Crash circled the grave, his last games included Crash of the Titans and Mind over Mutant - both put Crash on various giant animals and pitched them against each other in battle Smash Bros style. The likes of Titans tried to cash in on pop culture by referencing shows like Pop Idol, but it all became a bit meta as they were clearly running out of ideas and steam. The franchise turned to the app store and limped out of fashion with Nitro Kart 3D in 2008 and a final racing game in 2010's Nitro Kart 2. Whilst both games were praised as some of the best racing games on the app store, it was a high fall from grace when compared to the platform beginnings of the bandicoot. It has been a long seven years since Crash last graced our screens in Nitro Kart 2. For better or worse, you decide!
Crash and Burn
The problem comes when you look at the Naughty Dog era compared to the rest. Changing developers as often as underwear, Crash Bandicoot has had nine companies at the helm across 20 years. There is no denying that the long hiatus of Crash has resigned the franchise to a sort of '90s nostalgia. When did you last pick up a disc and rumble through the jungle on your PS1? That being said, there is still an appetite for Crash out there. Back in 2011 Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg threw a bone to those hoping for a new game, telling Kotaku:
I don't have anything official to announce, but I can speak as an individual, I love Crash Bandicoot. Those were some of my favorite video games growing up. And I would love to find a way to bring him back, if we could.
In 2013 there were rumors that Sony had acquired the rights to Crash and PlayStation 4's #4ThePlayers campaign featured a road sign of a bandicoot - were we about to return to Crash? However, Activision was quick to confirm they still owned Crash and he would be going nowhere! Since then, Crash has been relegated to the odd Easter egg in Uncharted 4, or hints of a revival when anyone near a gaming conference wears a Bandicoot t-shirt.
Co-creator Gavin had always said that he would love to see a remastered version of the first four games...it may have been a bit of a wait, but only this year at E3 it was confirmed that Crash and Dr. Neo Cortex would be playable characters in the upcoming Skylanders: Imaginators and have their own Thumpin' Wumpa Islands' level. The future of the franchise still remains in limbo, but the most exciting news from E3 was not Skylanders - just as Gavin hoped, the original three games will be remastered for the PS4 in conjunction with Activision. It isn't a new game, but it's as close as we are getting for now!
Crashing the party.
So, is there still room in the crowded world of Lara Crofts and tubby plumbers for the anti-Mario? When you compare Crash to Nintendo's similar offering Banjo-Kazooie, there is only one winner. The 1998 bird and bear duo have managed five games and one cancellation, compared to Crash's impressive roster of 18 games and the upcoming remastered trilogy - and the games speak for themselves! As for the remastering of the Naughty Dog era, it gives us hope that Crash will be crashing onto the next generation of consoles with something new soon. If not, there is definitely room in Wreck It Ralph 2 for the spinning orange Aussie to appear. If Crash does decide to take a permanent trip down under, maybe leave him be - it was a good running, and things could be worse...you could be Spyro the Dragon!