Archive for June, 2013

Crash Bandicoot and Crash Bandicoot 2: Crash and Burn

This story begins on a dark and stormy evening. Or at least, it could do. Me and two friends sat down and decided to don our nostalgia hats and play some Crash Bandicoot. Where better place to start in our quest for sweet Bandicoot nostalgia than the first game? Recently purchased by one of the aforementioned friends and housemate to fulfill his Crash Bandicoot itch, we sat down and turned on the old PlayStation 2. Little did we know what was in store, for when we started that game we could not stop. What began was an unbroken marathon of swearing, frustration and tiredness and, above all, Crash Bandicoot. (Disclaimer: It wasn’t actually a straight marathon, we did do the first 4 or so levels a couple of hours before the rest of the game). Our marathon claimed many lives, by which I mean one. By which I mean one of my housemates had to go to work for a few hours and by the time he got back me and the other housemate had got so good and determined that letting him have a go would only result in failure. So he watched, cheered us on, consoled us  when we failed and soothed us with promises that the game was indeed being unfair and cheating in our darker moments. I should begin this sort-of review by saying I never actually played the Crash Bandicoot games when I was younger, it was a phenomena that passed me by when I was busy with my beloved GameBoy Color. This strange platforming experience was new for me and, to say this was the first time I played a Crash Bandicoot game, it was a hell of a way to start.

We catch up with our heroes embarking on their journey, smashing through the first few levels all filled with that familiar combination of 2D side scrolling and sort-of 3D platforming with the camera behind you or fixed facing the screen. Sometimes you would be traveling away from the screen and sometimes towards it and, whilst moving towards the screen was a cautious affair, it all worked very well. Precise jumps were occasionally utilised and careful timing often needed. However, the game was progressing well. Some levels took some attempts to get done, but we powered through all the same. A particular highlight is the level ‘Hog Wild’ where you ride on the bag of a wild boar and hurtle through a level. The sound effects are hysterical and the noises that the pig makes whilst you ride it like a bull are truly spectacular and something I will imitate until my dying day. However, here were darker times ahead of us. One later level in particular had the two of us bamboozled for something approaching and hour and a half. It may even have been longer, either way it was probably more time than any two people should spend on a level of a Crash Bandicoot game. The level is the infamous ‘Slippery Climb’, oft recognised as the hardest level in the game, we certainly found it to be the hardest at any rate. The level is a series of precise jumps and there are sections in which the slightest of errors result in death. The level isn’t really that long and there is a midway checkpoint as well. I can’t really put the reasons why it was so difficult into words. I think it was a combination of having to bounce on vertically moving pterodactyls and collapsing stair cases. Needless to say it was difficult, the most difficult level in the game without a doubt (special mentions to ‘Road to Nowhere’ and ‘The High Road’ as they were both quite challenging) .

However, the difficult of this game does somewhat come from the save feature, this is often the way with older games. Crash Bandicoot’s save system is quite strange and not ungenerous at times, it’s certainly a neat idea and I have not seen it’s like before. Basically in some levels there are 3 Coco head (I think) icons that, when they are all collected, take you to a bonus level. This bonus level must be completed to secure a save and a checkpoint. These bonus levels are not hard really, one or two were a bit tricky, but they’re easy to fuck up and to do so is to doom yourself to another few levels playing with the fear of a large setback should you fail to often and incur a Game Over. This system is actually one of the reasons why we played Slippery Climb so many times. Slippery Climb does not have a save point in it. Neither does the next level. The one after (‘Jaws of Darkness’) does contain a save point but my housemate span away the last icon, and died on the bonus level in an unprecedented disaster. However, after the despair of this calamity I was somehow able to rally myself and complete the next level and the boss fight that came afterwards without incurring a ‘Game Over’, this rewarded us with a valuable save point and more importantly, we would never have to play Slippery Climb ever again.

After our Sisyphus-esque experiences with Slippery Climb it was three in the morning and the rest of the game passed by without many hiccups. By the time we had finished it was nearly 5:30 am and the sun was beginning to rise. As we finally defeated Dr Neo Cortex and agreed to go to bed I was reminded of why I love video games. No other form of media presents a challenge, unless you can’t read and pick up ‘War and Peace’ by mistake. No other form of entertainment demands you overcome the challenges set by the creators of the content in order to fully experience it. With the game completed I stood victorious. I was tired and fatigued but triumphant. Whilst I cursed the game’s difficulty and attitude towards check points whilst I was playing it, they made victory all the sweeter. Crash Bandicoot, you are defeated. I am your master now. No I will not play again to get 100%, go fuck yourself.

Our saga continues the following afternoon as my friend declares we should play Crash Bandicoot 2 to further sweeten the victory over the first game. He also informs me that this game is easier than the first, his favourite in the series and that he’s also pretty good at it. He is indeed good at the game and knows it well and the game quickly fell to his prowess with me helping out on some levels. (A quick note: we usually alternated levels in these games unless someone had a particular urge to play a level. If they did,  we would let them). CB2 is more hub based than the first game and you can save at any time between levels. The side scrolling is mostly gone but this isn’t a bad thing, it’s just different. I personally prefer side scrolling platforming as depth perception can be a bit funny if you are moving away from the camera. The game does feature some fiddly controls, in particular a jetski and a jetpack that both took some getting used to. The level design is solid and each world has it’s own theme that keeps the game fresh and interesting. Riding on a baby Polar Bear is a particular highlight. The final boss is however a little disappointing and, whilst the idea of jetpacking after Cortex sounds cool, I don’t think it it had the grandiose scale as the others, for example N-Gin is in a large robot you pelt apples at in order to destroy first the arms of the robot, then the shoulders and finally the chest piece. You defeat Cortex like you would most enemies in the game, by ‘spinning’ him with the square button. Perhaps more thought should have gone into the design of that.

All this being said, I don’t not like Crash 2. I just liked the first one more. This is almost certainly because of the circumstances under which I played both of them. Either way, these games were both fun and if you wish to replay them or play them for the first time then I heartily encourage you. I would tell you to beware ‘Slippery Climb’ but I would also assure you that fun will be had whichever of these two titles you play. In short, Crash Bandicoot and Crash Bandicoot 2 are both good games with different design choices. Naughty Dog’s classics can be thoroughly enjoyed today. Especially at 5 in the morning.

Shout-outs to Will (for playing the games with me and for being boss at Crash 2) and Henry (for helping).

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