This for me was the crown jewel of the early PlayStation era. It was before anyone came up with the idea of a sequel for a game console.
I don't know what it was exactly about the game that resonated with me so much. It was just so cool. The first one I played was Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, they'd taken the idea of "warp rooms" and the goal of collecting the "crystal" on each level - mechanics that had been introduced in game 2 - and added the extra layer of all the levels being placed at different points in history and in the future. I was too young to notice this at the time so a lot of the finer points were lost on me. It didn't click that I was in medieval England one moment, China during the building of the Great Wall the next and then prehistoric times after that. All I knew was that in the prehistoric stage, there would be a point where I would be chased by an enormous triceratops and that if I slowed down for even a second before I could escape, I'd get trampled.
For many years, I considered it a great achievement to even reach the first boss, let alone beat him. It was Tiny Tiger: the ironically-named super-specimen that had somehow appeared in the Gladatorial Roman Colosseum. But when I was old enough to get past him and realise that I got a bonus superpower for doing so, my whole world opened up with new possibilities.
One thing that also didn't click with me at the time was there there was a female playable character. In I think four of the 25 levels, Crash would step aside and let his sister Coco Bandicoot take over. Growing up, I didn't view that as particularly out of the ordinary or even noteworthy. But I realise now that it was unusual for its time, especially since she was so feminine while still causing a lot of damage.
Then there were the bad guys. A mad scientist named Neo Cortex who was working for some sort of evil tiki God who was in the shape of a mask and was named Uka Uka. Uka Uka had a good twin named Aku Aku that served as a mentor and occasionally gave you invincibility throughout the game. As you progressed through the game, Neo's face would appear in the middle of a vortex and he'd talk directly to the screen, warning you that if you kept going, there would be consequences. As you got further, it Uka Uka would appear with him and take up the anger a notch. It was actually pretty scary.
It wasn't until I got hold of the first Crash Bandicoot game and started playing it that I learned the back stories of most of these characters. Cortex - being the mad scientist that he was - was attempting to create super-soldiers out of animal experimentation. He'd managed to create a giant, muscly, upright koala bear, a psychotic, maniacal kangaroo and a hybrid dingo and crocodile among others. As you may have guessed, this was all happening on a small island off the north-east cost of Australia. Crash had been a reject of the program and was scheduled to be put down but managed to escape. Then, having washed up on a nearby island, he had to fight his way through dozens of levels and a number of Cortex's experimental bad guys to get back to the castle, defeat Cortex and save his girlfriend.
Most of the bosses and other characters stuck around and made appearances in future games, and new characters would be added in as we went along. I remember when the fourth installment of the game came out in 1999. It was called Crash Team Racing and it rode on the back of the successful Super Mario Kart franchise. It introduced a new character named Nitrous Oxide, who wanted to take over planet Earth and turn it into a giant intergalactic parking lot. Rather than go through a big battle, he decided to challenge the planet's best racer to race for the world, and held a big series of qualifying races to decide who Earth's champion would be. For the first time, all the classic good guys and bad guys were on the same side and you could pick from a pool of eight of them to be your character for the journey. Some had amazing speed, but low acceleration, others had great acceleration and turning but couldn't go as fast. But I always picked Crash because his stats were even across the board and for me, the main character is always the best.
It was also the first version of the game to have a multiplayer mode, and I loved battle mode, where up to four players were placed in a small-but-detailed arena where they collected comical weapons and tried to take each other out.
For me, it'll always be better than the Mario Kart series. Controversial, right?
Finally, the last game to be released on the original PlayStation (and for me, the last good version of the game) was Crash Bash. In this game, Uka Uka and Aku Aku were arguing over who was the more powerful. Evil Uka Uka wanted to fight to prove his superiority, but wise Aku Aku wouldn't allow it and suggested a contest instead. Each picked four champions (Uka Uka picked Cortex and his henchmen while Aku Aku picked Crash, Coco and also got to take two of Cortex's henchmen) and they battled it out over a long series of mini-games. The good guys and bad guys were back to working against each other, but you could still play as a bad guy if you wanted. Playing against your friends on this one was even more fun.
|They had pinball...|
|Polar bear sumo...|
|Pogo turf wars...|
|And pod races.|
It's my favourite series of video games hands down. It provided SO many hours of entertainment both on my own and with friends. I just wish my friends hadn't gone and grown up so I could play it with them now.