Nostalgia and Crash Bandicoot

Image Captured by Hatm0nstar

Nostalgia can be a funny thing sometimes. Sometimes it keeps us from seeing a old favorite’s shortcomings, but other times…other times it can do the opposite. It’s effect of making us simply accept everything in an old game can also blind us towards the nature of its strengths, and even that which sets it apart from the new. Nostalgia discourages questioning, which is exactly what we need to do if we’re to appreciate a favorite for everything that it is, as well as everything that it does.

I recently had the opportunity to introduce a friend to the fast-paced, manic insanity that is Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. It’s important to note that the Crash games are insane, because well…they absolutely are! At any given moment Crash is either getting chased by bears,  chased by bees, chased by dinosaurs, flying through space, fighting giant robots, catapulting over bottomless pits, or suffering through one of a myriad of comical deaths. It’s nuts, it’s out there, it’s outlandish,…it took a friend pointing it out for me to notice!

Going through the game again with a fresh set of eyes has brought to light much about the game that I either just stopped noticing after awhile, or simply accepted from the beginning. All it took was a few questions. Questions like “why am I collecting this stuff” to even simpler things like “can I jump higher?”. It caused me to think about the game. After all, how did I learn those things? Well…for starters I read the manual. Yup, Crash games \ actually warranted reading the manual! True, games from the 90’s and earlier all came with manuals, and reading them was usually helpful, but how many of us read them even then? Well, with Crash you’d better read the manual, because this was a game that did very little to hold it’s players’ hands.

Not a single advanced move is described over the course of the games’ 25 main levels. One would either have take the hint in the level’s design and figure it out, or refer to the manual to find out how to do it. Needless to say, I had my friend play the game the trial-by-fire way: no hints, no explanations; figure it out or lose a life. It took a few tries for each new challenge, but each one was eventually conquered and much rejoicing was had. It all amounted to a very rewarding experience, and also one that served the gameplay! It was designed to be learned and developed steadily, and the level design complemented that. It makes all the sense in the world, but again, how would it have been noticed had the question not been asked?

Going back to the craziness mentioned earlier, much of Crash sounds like insane musings when said out loud. “You’re a mutant bandicoot trying to collect gems and crystals while eating fruit in various locales, and trying to do it before a little man with a big letter ‘N’ on his forehead can get his hands on them.” Makes you wonder how the game even got made in the first place right? What’s even crazier though is the simple fact that we accept it, ALL OF IT, while we’re playing the game. It doesn’t even matter if you’re aware of it. It doesn’t matter if you grew up with it like I did or were introduced to it as a rational adult. When you play Crash Bandicoot, sooner or later you’ll find yourself obsessing over collecting all the fruit or smashing every box. Why? Because that’s what you’re supposed to do!

That’s amazing thing about Crash Bandicoot. The setup is as insane as any you’ll find in video gaming, but not once does the thought of it pull you out of the game! It’s as if everything about the scenario was setup as a complement to the gameplay, rather than the other way around. From the locations, the enemies, the abilities, to the very objective; it’s all there to enable the fast-paced gauntlet navigation gameplay that Crash fans have come to know and love. It’s not weird that a player could find themselves running from a dinosaur in one level and then jetpacking though space in the next. What is weird is that somehow a game set up like that sounds kind of weird.

I’ve been trying to put my finger on just what it is about many modern games that make them feel so different from their predecessors, and I think this is it. The feel is different. It’s as if the gameplay is there to support the story, setting, and characters rather than the other way around. Funny how it took playing one of the zaniest games of the retro generation in order to see it,

I won’t say it’s necessarily a change for the worse, but the Crash fan in me can’t help but want to see that older style of design become more prevalent again. Thanks Crash 2! May your special brand of insanity inspire new games in the years to come!

What you think is the biggest difference between modern games and the old? Do you even think there’s a difference?


4 thoughts on “Nostalgia and Crash Bandicoot”

  1. Great piece. I like that idea about nostalgia – that it blinds us to the positives as much as it does the faults of old games. I also think it’s easy to be suspicious of nostalgia: “well, I thought it was good at the time but I probably wouldn’t like it anymor-holy crap this is amazing!”. I’ve had that happen several times lately :D

    I also completely agree that an unhinged premise and lack of exposition is a trademark feature of many older games which you don’t come across too often these days. It’s my long-standing complaint about the incessant exposition in Sonic Team’s recent games. As if anyone honestly cares about Sonic’s motives, why he has to go here, or there – just no! I just want to go to the level and do the running and jumping, not get bogged down in discussing the whys and wheres with the characters.

    I had a rant about this in Sonic Team games a while ago on my blog:

    And speaking of old games with odd premises, I don’t think I even once questioned why it is Mario in Super Mario 64 has to enter a painting to reach the game levels. Why does Peach have all those paintings that do that? *shrugs*

    Kids have it in them to just accept things. As a child (and a lot of times as an adult too) the real world seems utterly nonsensical, so I think it’s easy for kids to go along with fantasy scenarios and not have to explain them. (Where did the Pokemon come from, anyway…?)

    1. t…Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever questioned Mario 64 either. Like you said it didn’t need exposition to explain what was going on, that was just the way that world worked. Mario accepted it, the Toads accepted it, Bowser accepted it, so I accepted it too. The rules were clearly established and were consistent; that’s all that’s really necessary in any game come to think of it.

      On the topic of Sonic, has that been consistent with every newer Sonic game? I wonder if they tried explaining everything in Sonic 4 (never played it)

  2. I’ve never played any of the Crash games, but they sound quite interesting indeed (especially since they were made by Naughty Dog). Games did have a different feel back then, but I’m not sure what it is. Many games just feel lazy nowadays. They feel emptier. One reason could be how short they are, even when the cost keeps going up (I just read your Duration and Value post). Or series try to be too different from their past games, like how the gameplay of Final Fantasy has changed since Final Fantasy XII came out, and we stopped having control of our characters in battles. Fresh and new is good, but getting rid of concepts that worked in the past is not a good idea.

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