Crash Bandicoot: The Game That Loves to Rub Your Face in Failure

By David Meikleham on at

I hate bandicoots. I’m not entirely sure what they are — some sort of Australian possum thingie? — but I know I loathe the hairy buggers. After spending several nights over the last week enduring (not playing) the prettied up PS4 remaster of the original Crash Bandicoot, I now have a deep-seated resentment for marsupials everywhere.

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy has set the UK charts on fire since it launched, so before I lay boots into PlayStation’s former mascot, I’ll doff my imaginary cap to the critter’s sales success. Jolly good show, Mr Bandicoot. Now, let the booting commence.

I finished the first Crash a couple of days ago; it took me somewhere in the region of eight hours to bash through its 30+ levels. By the end, when I finally reached the blimp-headed final boss — screw you, Cortex — I felt utterly broken. Crash Bandicoot isn’t just hard: it represents the sort of brazenly cheap, ‘wear you down at every opportunity’ bullshit design that gets under your skin in the worst way possible.

Here's what Crash's last boss looks like. Spare yourself a lot of agony and don't bother trying to get this far. 

Countless unfair deaths, mostly caused by a horribly haphazard jump. Punishing stages that stretch on and on, grinding down your enthusiasm with cheesy padding and crummy tricks. Terribly explained one-off mechanics that briefly surface, bemuse, infuriate, then slink back underground just as your blood is reaching boiling point. (I’m looking at you and your frustratingly random blackouts, Light Outs level).

It’s not that Crash is always necessarily super difficult — the first set of stages on N. Sanity Island serve up a fairly gentle introduction to the pit-jumping, crate-smashing action. The problem is, even when you’re succeeding, there’s a sense the game forever wants to take you down a peg or two.

Example? Every level ends with a completion screen that literally brings Crash to his knees unless you break 100% of the crates lying around a stage. Considering how taxing the core meat-and-potatoes platforming is, you’ll often miss a bunch of hard-to-reach crates in favour of pushing onto the next checkpoint. In most levels, I was lucky if I even smashed half of these apple-filled boxes — cue a 10 second stage-closing segment where Crash is pelted with every single crate he missed. Joy.

STOP TELLING ME WHAT A FAILURE I AM!

When you overcome a tricky obstacle in a game, it’s nice to receive some gentle recognition; a little pat on the back from the developer that says, “Hey, well done, champ!" Suffice to say, this isn’t Crash Bandicoot’s style.

On my third night with the game my sanity was steadily nuked from orbit as I spent 45 minutes desperately trying to finish the final island’s Slippery Climb level. If you’re not familiar with this sludgy slog up a tower filled with rapidly flipping platforms, disappearing staircases, and creepy bearded prisoners who scratch at Crash from behind the bars of dingy cells, it’s awful. Godawful. And my reward for finishing it? To be told “Great… but you missed 26 crates”. It’s the equivalent of finishing a marathon, having a fellow runner congratulate you, before they immediately hobble your ankles with a sledgehammer.

I’ve endured some horrible, rage-inducing nonsense on my PS4 over the years. Killzone Shadow Fall’s friggin’ awful, damn near impossible to control gliding section. Getting constantly pelted by Rom the Vacuous Spider’s cheaty homing icicle attacks in Bloodborne. Trying to keep a crippled Captain MacMillan alive on Veteran difficulty in COD: Modern Warfare Remastered’s ‘One Shot, One Kill’ big wheel siege. Know what’s worse than all of that exasperating action? Crash Bandicoot’s Road to Nowhere level.

Screw that stage. Screw it vigorously from every angle imaginable. In essence, it’s a prolonged journey across the world’s longest drawbridge; one peppered with rickety planks, devious slope sections, and overly aggressive wild boar. I’m not sure how long it took me to finish, only that I managed to squeeze in two whole podcasts while the bandicoot fell to his death again and again. If I wasn’t being done in by the downright evil placement of disintegrating wooden platforms, I was getting gored repeatedly by Pumba’s sociopathic cousins.

How did I finish this wretched level, you ask? I turned the annoyingly cheap tables on Crash by stumbling upon a cheese that let me precariously tiptoe across the bridge’s railings.

See...

At this point, your inner snark is probably dying to scream “git gud!”, right? Well, I appreciate you keeping that mean-spirited oaf quiet. Believe it or not, I’m not actually rubbish at games — I’ve finished Super Meat Boy and everything, honest! The key is, there’s a distinction to be made between brilliantly made games that just happen to be very hard (a category Team Meat’s brutal platformer falls into), and games that artificially ramp up the challenge by way of unreliable controls and cheaty tricks. *cough* Crash Bandicoot *cough*

To be fair, my grievances with Crash shouldn’t fall at Vicarious Visions’ doorstep. The Activision-owned team may have brought the marsupial menace kicking and screaming onto PS4, but it’s not to blame for all the cheap tactics and design flaws. Vicarious chose to leave Naughty Dog’s PS1 trilogy more or less untouched in gameplay terms, instead pouring its energy into embellishing the trio with some speculator HD spit and polish. I’m loathe to type ‘interactive Pixar films’ *ugh* but all three games really do look sensationally pretty in motion.

The first Crash Bandicoot is very much Naughty Dog’s terribly behaved baby, so all those needling 20-year-old mechanics are firmly on the Uncharted developer. I’d try to be angry at PlayStation premier studio, but then again, it gave me The Last Of Us, so we’ll call it square when it comes to all this Crash anguish.

Even after all the frustration I endured finishing the first part of the N. Sane Trilogy — I’ve still not taken Crash 2: Cortex Strikes Back or Crash 3: Warped for a proper spin yet — I weirdly don’t regret the experience. If anything, it gives me fresh appreciation for how far games have come since 1996, and how much better many now are at respecting their audiences’ time. It also further hammer homes just how incredible the supremely elegant, effortlessly playful Super Mario 64 was for its time — Nintendo’s masterpiece predates Naughty Dog's platformer by six months.

Crash, spending the last week with you has been an eye-opening experience. Let’s absolutely never do it again.