Whatever Happened to Crash Bandicoot?

It's funny that looking at it now, everything about Crash feels small time. Once an international phenomenon, its games now sit alongside second rate Disney titles in bargain bins. During the glory days of the PS1, the Crash franchise shifted nearly 20 million copies across three games. 

Despite the classic Super Mario 64 outselling the debut of the Bandicoot, its success must have caused a few sleepless nights for the bigwigs down at Nintendo HQ. Sony had their own mascot which was already closing in on their greatest asset. Crash had swaggered on to Mario's turf, spit on his face and called him a bitch for not closing the deal with Peach sooner. At least that's how it must have felt.

Sonic on the other hand was free-falling, trapped on the doomed Sega Dreamcast and suffering from an awkward transition to 3D. Crash Bandicoot usurped the spiky haired legend as the No 2 platforming icon for the new generation. Its sequels Cortex Strikes Back and Warped did almost as well, selling over five million copies each.

The appeal of Crash is a strange one to describe. There was just something about his image that felt right for the time. The squeaky clean Super Mario had always put off certain gamers. Traditionally they would flock to the cooler Sonic, but that ship was sinking and from it a gap emerged. Crash Bandicoot filled that gap.

In many ways Sonic and Crash were mirror images to one another: both looked nothing like their respective species, both offered a fast-paced alternative to the Mario games and both of them had “attitude”. 

What that last part means is shrouded in mystery, all we knew is that to be successful in the nineties you had to have attitude. Wrestling had it, kids shows had it, even crisps had it. It meant that your product was all that, it was the bomb, it was fly, fresh and completely phat. I'm glad we cleared that up.

The games themselves were solid titles that nonetheless felt like relics compared to the fully 3D platformers appearing on the rival N64: the likes of Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Kazooie and Conkers Bad Fur Day offered a freer experience than the mostly linear Crash games.

Far from being its downfall, many gamers preferred this simplistic approach. Despite lacking in revolutionary ideas, the first three Bandicoot releases still stand up well today and have aged more gracefully than many of their 3D counterparts.

I suppose this shouldn't be a surprise. Original developer, Naughty Dog went to an extraordinary amount of effort with the series, ensuring that everything from controls to level design was spot on. Crash didn't push the boat out in terms of innovation, but everything it did was honed to perfection.

Naughty Dog achieved something timeless on the Playstation. They should have been well-stocked to take the next generation by storm. Considering the disappointing commercial performance of Super Mario Sunshine, it's not unimaginable that they could have usurped everybody's favourite plumber to become the premier platforming icon.

Unfortunately after Naughty Dog's contract with the series ended, Universal decided to go with another developer (Travellers Tales) for their first multi-platform release. So began a painful descent into mediocrity. 

The Wraph Of Cortex was by no means a bad game, but it failed to add anything to the series. Everything had been done before and it had been done better. Its sequel, Twinsanity was the first to truly pull away from its roots with free roaming levels and the use of dual characters.

But these "innovations" failed to impress critics, who panned its poor level design. Sales slumped once more. Failing to see that their poor choice in developer was the real reason for the collapse of the franchise, Universal ordered for the series to be re-branded drastically. 

Developer Radical Entertainment certainly changed the look of the brand: sequels Crash Of The Titans and Mind Over Mutants look like Ben 10 threw up on a tribal tattoo. The gameplay changes were equally misguided and half-arsed.

The story of Crash Bandicoot came to an end in 2010, when a remake of Crash Team Racing was cancelled. It's sad to see such a great franchise go out without so much as a whimper. Since then many have suggested that it was simply a product of its time: its passing inevitable as the PS1 era drifted further and further along the cultural horizon. 

I think there's a little truth in that. A bandicoot with a yo-yo seeming like the “edgy” alternative to anything seems laughable in 2013. For most gamers today it just doesn't feel like Sunday unless they've murdered some prostitutes by lunchtime. 

Nonetheless, I think any game as well designed as Naughty Dog's first three installments would have a future in this industry. Hey, they're still around. Maybe its time they bite the bullet and pick up the phone.

Words by Ben Gibson