Crashing In

Crash Bandicoot 2

Crash Bandicoot is like taking a hike in the forest.

You’re on a dirt path for the most part, running across animals while leaves and flowers brush past you, with just enough light bleeding through the canopy up above. You feel like you’ve been funneled into something by the outdoors, a natural interior that envelopes your imagination, and with that comes a natural tension as well. The trees, the change in elevation, the twists and turns obscure your vision–the most important tool to playing a 3D platformer–leading every several steps towards discovery, and surprise.

You could only ever see a few meters ahead of you, and a few feet behind you (or the opposite, if a boulder/bear was chasing you). Occlusion is something that the thrill of most video games, especially platformers, thrive on. Our television sets become viewfinders, our hands moving them back and forth.

Whether or not the context of a larger world begins to make sense to us is only a side-effect to this layer of interactivity. Crash never asks you to envision that entire space–just what’s up ahead, or around the corner. You couldn’t plan too much ahead even if you wanted to, and the temptation of crashing into/onto a crate, than onto a skunk, then onto a platform and back onto the ground is a rhythm so satisfying in motion you’d rather just keep pressing buttons and moving forward.

The pacing of Crash games (at least those developed by Naughty Dog–I’ve never played the current generation Crash’s) were incremental and moment-to-moment, without completely ignoring the scope of its larger surroundings. Between levels you would leave the more claustrophobic forests and return to larger islands, indicating where you were in Crash’s world. From there the environment also became your interface as you’d pan between which level to play next. As unconcerned as this mode of presentation was with detail or hand-holding tutorials, it still seemed to get the job done.

Crash was pretty satisfying with so little to be said. It was focused, undistracted by duct-taped features creeping in, or a desperate excuse to leverage internet access. It was an ancient tiki island filled with secrets, and that’s how I found them.


2 thoughts on “Crashing In

  1. What happened to this genre? Does it even exist anymore? The latest game I can think of is Super Mario Galaxy. Everyone else seems to have “moved on” from this paradigm of world-level that opens to each game level, connecting everything as one game world (hub & spoke model, if I’m not mistaken). This is one of the main reasons why I loved the Sonic Adventure titles so much. Your avatar is consistent, and the way you interact with the game world is the same whether in a “level” or between levels. There’s no extra method of navigation for the player to learn, and less separation from the game world by abstract representations of level selection. Consistency != monotony.

    • Donkey Kong Country Returns was the most solid platformer I’ve played in recent memory (and that was nearly a year ago, now). Since then, I’ve lazily resorted to the vice of replaying the original Crash titles.

      Speaking of relevance of the genre though, Game Informer ran a feature article about that on their website this past summer, “Why The Platformer Still Matters”. It’s a really good read if you haven’t caught it already:

      It somewhat pained me to discover this video the other day: It’s an art reel for a cancelled Crash game, which by and far looked to have the best art direction of any post-Naughty Dog entry to the series. It has a feel that reminds me of how Retro handled DKCR’s visual concepts.

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