The personification of insanity comes from an unexpected place. In 1996, a little developer called Naughty Dog released a platformer that would go on to pioneer the marsupial mascot traversing dangerous territory in video games. From Gex to Ratchet & Clank, the iconic image of anthropomorphic, oddball characters has become a staple in the industry now, and it’s all thanks to Crash Bandicoot, an icon, hero and defining character in gaming that added an ingenious spark of crazy to the equation. His legacy is rooted in nostalgia that kickstarted many gamers’ love for the medium, including myself, and no doubt holds a very special place in our hearts.
In 1996, Sony’s home console, the PlayStation, dominated the gaming market. Thanks to advanced hardware, 3D rendering and convenient disc storage as opposed to cartridge, it was a sure-fire hit and a great challenge for developers hoping to push themselves to accommodate the tech behemoth. Naughty Dog, a Sony-owned developer at the time, dared to try something different and introduce the world to a new type of platformer and gaming hero. While Mario 64 had already made waves with its innovative 3D platforming just a few months prior, it was Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot that shot to stardom thanks to the exclusive popularity of its home console. However, where gamers were already familiar with the lovable, dopey Italian plumber, Crash was an entirely different beast.
Modelled after a bandicoot (though resembling more of a canine), Crash entered the gaming scene with a thunderous bang. Taking place on a remote archipelago, a bandicoot sporting jeans and sneakers is washed ashore and quickly takes to rampaging the islands in a gleeful fit of insanity the likes of which gamers have never quite experienced before. Where prior mascots like Mario and Samus were, for the most part, level-headed and stern hero types, Crash (literally) went against the current in some extraordinary ways. His off-beat persona and outbursts of random, twisted insanity made him an instant memorable hit with gamers. There was an endearing charm to his madness and likeliness that broke the mold of the expected hero figure in gaming. Much like Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII, Crash challenged the very idea of what the main character should aspire to be.
Crash Bandicoot was a technical feat at the time, presenting an extremely detailed and colorful world, intricate (sometimes begrudgingly challenging) platforming sections, and impressive use of the PlayStation’s graphical capabilities, breaking its limited draw distance with great use of field of depth. The graphical achievements for the 90’s aside, it wasn’t just Naughty Dog’s groundbreaking technical work that made the game a marvel of the industry. Crash himself was the beating heart and soul of the whimsical adventure.
Crash’s cultural impact felt all the way through to today, as his remastered return announced at E3 2016 was met with widespread applause. Crash’s rise in the 90’s, however, did lead to an untimely downfall when the rights to the character fell in the hands of Activision. After the initial trilogy of games on the PlayStation, Crash moved into the next generation under new ownership while Naughty Dog shifted their focus to Jak & Daxter. Activision’s efforts to carry the legacy of Crash Bandicoot were admirable, but never came close to scaling the heights of Naughty Dog’s attentive technical detail and whimsical nature.
The results were middling, with each new addition in the series feeling more processed for a quick buck than a project with a defining soul and character like the original trilogy. Gameplay mechanics were constantly tweaked, and the character of Crash himself became somewhat of a generic cartoonish protagonist amidst the sea of competition it had ironically paved the way for. The nail on the coffin had been driven with 2008’s Mind Over Mutant, an uninspired shell of its former self that failed in almost every aspect to capture the spirit of Crash Bandicoot. It would be a while before Crash would re-enter the spotlight again, and just in time to usher in the nostalgia-driven modern era of gaming that sorely missed this insane, beloved Sony mascot.
Crash Bandicoot, in every sense of the word, is an icon. There’s no denying his charismatic, oddball personality left a mark on the gaming world. In a time when Sony was ahead of the competition by a wide margin, Crash, like Mario to Nintendo, became the face of PlayStation. While that has changed over the years and Crash branched out to wider platforms as a result of Activision’s involvement, it helped reach a larger audience of fans. Now seemingly back in the home of PlayStation 4 and with the anticipated remastered trilogy on the horizon, the blissfully psychotic Crash Bandicoot is finally making his comeback, and we couldn’t be any more crazier for it.