February 16, 2007 - In the cutthroat videogame wars of the 1990s, a mascot seemed essential to a company's survival. After all, Nintendo and SEGA built empires around the smiling faces of Mario and Sonic, so it was only natural that the rookies at Sony got a spokesman too. Luckily, the guys at Naughty Dog gave the fledgling PlayStation exactly what it wanted in Crash Bandicoot -- a smarmy, platforming marsupial that set out to stop the evil Dr. Neo Cortex. The resulting game enjoyed unbelievable success and a profusion of copies were sold, sequels were made, and critics ate them up like candy. Naughty Dog had created a sensation.
Ten years later the Crash phenomenon has died down, but it's quite a testament that the original game still holds up fairly well. An obvious star of the first-run downloadable "PS One Classics," the first Crash Bandicoot has made its transition from old-school console to new-fangled PSP with few hitches. And why wouldn't it? Don't forget, the original project was designed around a controller that didn't have any analog sticks, and the trend of creating a huge open environment hadn't taken off yet. It's with that in mind that we get a Crash title identical to what appeared all the way back in 1996, and that means we get some fun right along with it.
To be fair, Crash Senior can't compete with today's bigger and more ambitious platformers in terms of size and scope. The world's dimensions are comparatively small when measured against modern competitors, and it's also an entirely-linear experience. Even with those limitations, however, Naughty Dog has created a solid "pick up and play" mix of side-scrolling and top-down stages. Sure, the gameplay never really evolves beyond the traditional "jump and bump" mentality of yesteryear, but the design that supplements this philosophy is first-rate. The developers did a great job of varying the camera angles and goals that Crash has to face throughout his adventure, and being able to use spin attacks, earn invincibility power-ups, and jump into multiple bonus stage types is just icing on the cake.
Another one of Crash's strengths is that there's a ton of stuff to find. Secret levels, hidden gems, an alternate ending, and a number of unseen crates within each stage populate the landscapes of N. Sanity Island. What's more, the boss battles are typically challenging and the environments and objectives change with regularity (you'll jump-climb a huge mountain, run into the screen to avoid a rolling boulder, and plenty more). Granted, hopping and bopping may take up most of your gameplay actions, but at least it's entertaining.
Ironically, if Crash Bandicoot has one glaring flaw when played for today's fans, it's the very simplicity that makes it interesting. Indeed, it's the age-old case of a double-edged sword. More specifically, twitch gamers will likely gravitate to the game's need for fast reflexes and precision jumps (which can be frustrating if you don't re-map the controls to the analog stick), but fans of platformers like Super Mario Bros. aren't going to like the complete lack of puzzles. Crash is all about avoiding things and pushing forward -- nothing more, and sometimes it does come across as repetitive and shallow.