Opinion: Bring Back The Bandicoot!
Pretty much every industry evolves over time, but video games have changed massively since the creation of Crash Bandicoot in 1996. Developed by Naughty Dog (the folks behind the critically acclaimed Uncharted series), the character ‘Crash Bandicoot’ was originally designed to become the mascot for Sony’s new PlayStation console. The quick-spinning marsupial’s debut was a resounding success, with its linear 3D platforming, intense arcade-style action and colourful cartoon-like graphics making it one of the most popular games around.
These days the rights to Crash are in the possession of Activision, who are seemingly ignoring the license in favour of publishing titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. There were rumours flying about of a Crash comeback to mark this latest anniversary, but there’s been no official statement as yet and Bandicoot fans are growing increasingly worried that their beloved Crash has been forgotten.
Crash’s last outing was back in 2008 with Crash: Mind Over Mutant, a less linear 3D platformer that served as the sequel to Crash Of The Titans, a game in which Crash had the ability to take control of large mutants after defeating them in combat. It was quite a neat idea, and certainly appealed to the younger or more ‘casual’ gamer. That being said, this new mechanic failed to really catch on and as a result no new Crash game is being developed (as far as the world’s media is aware, anyway).
Although practically every Crash game was well received by critics (with the exception of a few spin-off handheld titles), it is apparent that making a platformer like this has become far less profitable over time. The so-called mascots of gaming consoles provide an example of this decline. When we think of the PlayStation One we think of characters like Spyro The Dragon, Rayman and Crash Bandicoot, which any committed gamer will tell you are all platform heroes. The PlayStation 2’s mascots were Sly Cooper and Jak & Ratchet; again, all platformers, but with a few other genres thrown into the mix. Moving on to the PlayStation 3, our mascots are Nathan Drake, Soldier Snake and Cole from Infamous. Hopefully you’re starting to see my point here.
The demand for platformers has hit an all time low, and you only need to look at the big blockbuster titles being released this holiday season for evidence. There’s a new Mario game, and Rayman is also making a return, but that really is about it. That’s nothing when you consider the amount of blockbuster shooters we’ve had this year (Call Of Duty, Battlefield, Rage, Homefront, Crysis, Resistance and Killzone being only a few examples). So what’s gotten the humble platformer into this state? Let’s take a look back at the roots of everyone’s favourite Bandicoot to find out.
Crash began life as the brainchild of Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin, the co-founders of the now world-famous developers Naughty Dog. The duo had a few false starts with games like Way Of The Warrior and Rings Of Power, but eventually hit the right note with Crash Bandicoot in 1996, which rapidly became famed for it’s impressive art-style and incredible 3D platforming. The game gained a large fan-base very quickly and this led to annual sequels in Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped. Eventually it was decided that Naughty Dog should work on a new franchise, and they said goodbye to Crash with Mario Kart-influenced kart racer Crash Team Racing.
To many, this was where the franchise died, but to me it allowed it to expand its horizons a bit. Naughty Dog perfected the linear 2D platformer, but there was so much more out there for the Bandicoot to conquer. Admittedly, the series’ return was somewhat disappointing with the underwhelming Crash Bash (who ever thought up that title is a genius…), and whilst Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath Of Cortex brought Naughty Dog’s original ‘style’ to the next generation, it was ultimately more of the same.
However, it was the Crash games a lot of people may not necessarily remember which were, in my opinion anyway, the games that transformed the franchise. As a matter of fact it was only really one game – Crash Twinsanity. For the first time, players would have a far less linear approach to platforming, but inclusions like Crash’s famous ‘spin move’ and other features that make up the Crash universe returned. It also told the best Bandicoot story ever, as well as including all new playable characters, vastly improved boss fights and easily the funniest dialogue in a Crash game by a great distance.
Unfortunately, it all kind of went to hell from there. Crash Tag Team Racing was decent, and was a different formula to the previous kart racers Crash Team Racing and Crash Nitro Kart, but despite some solid platforming sections it was a rather disappointing end to Crash’s second generation. Then came ‘the next-generation’ of Crash games starting with Crash of the Titans. It had some cool concepts, but the art-stlye wasn’t a scratch on previous titles and the game kept repeating itself. For reasons that have never really been apparent Activision then released a spiritual sequel in Crash: Mind Over Mutant, which was essentially more of the same and led to the Bandicoot’s eventual demise.
So, that’s the story of Crash Bandicoot. Three years on an we’re still without an announcement, trailer or even confirmation that the franchise is still alive. But why is it not seen as an attractive prospect to revive one of video games’ best-loved franchises? It appears this is an issue that goes beyond just the Crash Bandicoot franchise. It’s an issue that concerns platforming games in general.
There are several reasons why the platform genre has all but-disappeared from modern gaming, with it often being confined to the less lucrative ‘downloadable games’ market. The first, and foremost, is a massive decrease in demand. The long and short of it is that not enough people buy the games, unless they’re amongst the cheaper downloadable titles.
There have been a few recent titles that have attempted to prevent the complete death of the platformer, but in all honesty a fan like myself can expect only one or two decent platforming titles in a year (this year’s examples being Rayman Origins and LittleBigPlanet 2). It’s a shame, a hell a travesty, that gaming’s heroes of yesteryear have been totally abandoned. Sure, Nintendo have a habit of continuing their best loved franchises, but when you consider just how many excellent platforming games there were around ten-or-so years ago, the tiny number still standing at the moment is pretty much incomprehensible.
And the platformers that are being released at the moment simply aren’t selling well. Rayman Origins, recently named as one of FMV’s Games of the Year, sold only 50,000 copies in its first four weeks on general release. This is particularly shocking as the game received universal critical acclaim, with a rather incredible score of 91 on Metacritic.
These kind of figures make it impossible for publishers to even consider putting platforming games on the market. Even the new Sonic title, Sonic Generations, had to take a substantial price-drop before the studio could achieve anything near the game’s expected sales.
The title of this article may state ‘Bring Back The Bandicoot’, and there’s nothing that would be more exciting for me than the legendary marsupial’s return. But there’s a problem bigger than just one franchise here, and it’s a problem that needs to be rectified.
Do you think that Crash Bandicoot should make a return, and what is your opinion on the state of the platforming genre in general? Leave your comments below.