Crash Bandicoot is by far one of the most memorable video game franchises from the 90s – a system seller that gave Sony one of their first ever PlayStation mascots. But how did a genetically-modified Bandicoot in jeans become a household name?
From Crash’s debut and fall from glory to one of gaming’s most successful resurrections, let’s take a closer look at this beloved series’ timeline.
Creating Crash Bandicoot
Naturally, Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin founding Naughty Dog in 1986 is the best place to start. Naughty Dog’s first game, a 3DO fighter titled ‘Way of the Warrior’ released in 1994 with Universal Interactive signing the fledgling studio up to a three game deal, noting the their future potential. Jason and Andy wanted to create a mascot for their next project. Inspired by the outback wildlife of Australia, they would settle on a bandicoot of all creatures. As this character would be spinning and smashing their way from level to level, he was soon given the moniker “Crash” and the rest is history. In an alternate universe, Naughty Dog may have stuck with their original protagonist, Willy the Wombat.
A PlayStation mascot
Universal Interactive signed an exclusivity deal with Sony Computer Entertainment as development for Crash Bandicoot ramped up. The original PlayStation console gave Naughty Dog the processing power to deliver a platformer with a camera set behind the protagonist. Crash Bandicoot would later debut at E3 1996, showing off the unique blend of 3D and 2D platforming. A marketing campaign then followed, showcasing the Crash’s very 90s attitude which included an ad with our hero heckling Nintendo with a megaphone outside their US headquarters.
November 8th 1996 finally saw the release of Crash Bandicoot in EU territories. Featuring 26 levels, Crash conquers island trials to rescue his girlfriend Tawna with powers gained through the sinister experiments of his arch nemesis, Dr. Neo Cortex.
Crash Bandicoot was all about it tight platforming mechanics and gameplay variation, the level designs branching into 3D to visually stimulate players and stand out from the competition. At the time it was cutting edge stuff – see Ars Technica’s recounting of how Naughty Dog “hacked” the PlayStation to get it up to speed – and Crash Bandicoot effortlessly cemented itself as PlayStation royalty.
Two sequels and a kart racer
Crash 2 aimed to increase polygon counts for better character models while improving animation and environments. Coco the Bandicoot was introduced as an alternative to the raunchy Tawna, though she would still live on in Japanese manga adaptations before making a reappearance later in the series. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back released in 1997, taking the series to the next level with a wicked plot twist and refined platforming gameplay, along with inventory tracking, and a “Warp Room” hub space.
Development began on another sequel in early 1998, looking to address the critiques of previous titles. Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped retained what made those two previous games huge hits with Coco stepping up to become a playable character, and Naughty Dog also adding new vehicle levels. Crash 3 dialled up that all important replay value thanks to time relic collectables, goading players into running stages against the clock. Also, Crash would receive new powers as he bested each of the game’s bosses.
As we approached the new millennium, Naughty Dog wanted to push the PlayStation’s limits, so they created a Diddy Kong Racing style demo using Crash characters. After finding they could run a karting game smoothly, development began on what would later become Crash Team Racing. Fun fact: the original roster was slightly bigger, and Naughty Dog replaced 3D wheel models with 2D sprites for added performance. From its engrossing story mode and unlockable characters to the skill-based boosting mechanic, CTR proved a worthy rival to monolithic Mario Kart series.
Crash without Naughty Dog
Sony purchased Naughty Dog in 2001 following the release of Crash Team Racing to create new IP for the upcoming PlayStation 2. The Crash Bandicoot IP didn’t go with them though. Instead, Universal handed Crash to developer Eurocom and it wasn’t long before the marsupial mimicked yet another Nintendo series with the launch of Crash Bash in 2000 – a multiplayer mini-game mashup in the same vain as Mario Party. Reviews were mostly favourable though Crash fans were aching for a proper platforming sequel.
While Traveller’s Tales was working on a 3D open-world relaunch of the franchise, Universal decided they’d had enough of PlayStation exclusivity and struck a new deal with Konami. The fallout of this decision saw Crash Bandicoot Worlds scrapped and Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex would taking its place in 2001. In it, Crunch Bandicoot replaced the usual multiple bosses, gaining different powers throughout the game. Although it sold well, it was evident that franchise fatigue was setting in. Later on, Vicarious Visions would helm Crash’s Game Boy advance debut with Crash Bandicoot: Huge Adventure in 2002 and 2003’s Crash Bandicoot 2: N-Tranced. They were 2D platformers, but featured power-ups and mechanics lifted from Warped with little innovation.
Crash in crisis
Crash Nitro Kart gave us another dose of weapon-fuelled racing, though it didn’t leave the same impact as CTR. Featuring a mini-game hub world used to unlock levels, Crash Bandicoot Purple: Ripto’s Rampage released in 2003 for GBA featuring Spyro the Dragon. Trying to emulate the success of other dual-version franchises, an orange version was also available. Consequently, both are terrible. To make things even worse, Universal then cancelled Traveller’s Tales’ development on Crash: Evolution. Promising new gameplay elements, mechanics and controls, this could have been what the franchise needed. Instead we got Crash Twinsanity in 2004. Returning to an island setting, Twinsanity delivered a more slapstick relationship between Cortex and Crash as they banded together to take down a pair of evil parrot twins, the game switching to an open-world style platformer.
Radical Entertainment would later develop Crash Tag Team Racing for a 2005 release. Although it’s always great to get Crash back behind the wheel, simple track designs and a lacklustre tag-team mechanic had the series steer in a poor direction. We’d even seen Crash Bash return… in a fashion. Crash Boom Bang for the Nintendo DS did little to blow up on the dual-screen handheld, and it wasn’t long before Crash slipped into even more bizarre territory.
Are those… tribal tattoos?
2007s Crash of the Titans starred an inked Crash Bandicoot. Focusing on combat as opposed to the series’ traditional platforming mix, it was met with a notable fan backlash. In the game Crash controlled Super Mutants to fights waves of enemies in 3D environments and its 2008 sequel, Crash: Mind Over Mutant, offered a slightly more refined version of this. Unable to claw back the series’ former glory, Vivendi Universal (who had merged with Activision by this time) made the decision to shelve Crash Bandicoot for almost a decade.
Crash Bandicoot reborn
Despite his prolonged absence and cross-platform machinations, Crash Bandicoot never lost his place as a PlayStation mascot podium. After years in hibernation, Activision brought us Crash Bandicoot: The N. Sane Trilogy, a top-to-bottom remake of those first three defining games in the franchise. Released exclusively on PS4 in 2017 before leaping onto other platforms, it united old and new gamers alike, prompting Activision to revive a spree of beloved games from their archives including the Spyro trilogy, Crash Team Racing, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
Crash 4 was an inevitability didn’t disappoint when it launched in 2020. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time sported that familiar platforming experience alongside a bevy of new powers, mechanics, and challenges. For those late to the party, or who fancy double-dipping, the long-awaited sequel will receive a PS5 and Xbox Series X|S upgrade and Switch release in March 2021.
Now that fans have the remakes and sequel they’ve always wanted, what’s next for Crash Bandicoot? Another sequel could definitely help carry the gaming icon into this newest console generation, taking full advantage of Sony and Microsoft’s beefed up hardware. There are rumours of a multiplayer-focused Crash experience on the way and while Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled is a brilliant modernisation of the kart racer, we’d love to see a full blown sequel happen. As long as Activision don’t repeat history by over-saturating the series – a mobile endless runner is out this month – Crash will hopefully stick around for many years to come.