By Harold Goldberg
It’s the 25th Anniversary (!) of Crash Bandicoot. The cheeky marsupial is often overlooked as an essential part of game history, so much so that I devoted a chapter to its creation in my narrative history of games, All Your Base Are Belong To Us (How 50 Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture). Leading up to its release in 1996, the game created by Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin of Naughty Dog would end up as an attempt to mascot-ify the original PlayStation by young, smart marketing types like PlayStation’s Andrew House. The hope? Crash could be their Mario killer.
Nintendo and Sega already had the 64 and Saturn consoles on the market at that time. Certainly, the ability to compete was on the minds of everyone at Sony in the U.S. The commercial created to promote Crash was bold and bossy. Crash stood outside of Nintendo’s HQ taunting, “Hey Plumber Boy, Mustache Man. Your worst nightmare has arrived.” The spot helped to launch a franchise that keeps on going with memorable music and intricate platform play. Even more, its initial success made Sony Japan realize that the savvy North American crew was going to be the go-to team for launching PlayStation systems in the future. The Americans knew games as well as Tokyo did.
I don’t think I’ve every disliked a Crash game, although I much prefer Mario Kart over Crash Team Racing. I even enjoyed the Crash/Skylanders mashup of 2016. (In fact, I miss Skylanders, the detail in level making, the humor, everything except Kaos. He bored me after the second iteration of the toys to life game.)
The new Crash Bandicoot On The Run, out today from King, looks deeper than most runners I’ve seen – and they’re going to update it frequently to keep it fresh. That’s rare for a mobile game, but this is a big one. I enjoyed On The Run on my iPhone 12 Pro Max but it should work well on any lesser phone with iOS 11 – or Android 5.0. Since it’s a King product, I found On The Run riffing on the signature Candy Crush-style map. This Crash also has a cornucopia of varied skins, which I didn’t think I’d like. I do. For instance, DJ Crash looks more like a hippie with his colorful specs, and for 200 purple crystals, he gives you a hipster look. Most of the skins give you some sort of power upgrade, adding a slight RPG element to the game.
What don’t I care for? Early on, there’s too much tutorial from the brilliant Coco (you can play as Coco as well). I understand the need to learn the ins and outs because On The Run will be played by gaming neophytes, the bug eyed folks who play on busses and subways and don’t indulge at any other time. Even those who’ve played runners will need to figure out how to, say, mix serums to beat bosses. But the tutorial interfered with me trying to go to my base and don new skins for Crash – and disturbed the flow of the run. Early on, the running seemed repetitive. That changes and the paths become more far compelling about a half hour in.
If you’re a longtime Crash fan, checking out rare, semi-forgotten enemies on a cell phone allows for a sweet dose of nostalgia. But pausing during a boss battle is also a treat. Musing upon the details of, say, Nitro Pink Elephant with his goofy cap and tauntingly nerdy dance is a joy. A bonus for me: when I leave the game on the home screen, you hear a relaxing mix of birds chirping and waves washing against the show.
Crash Bandicoot On The Run is a free to play game. But soon enough, you have to buy purple crystals to move ahead without waiting. A subscription of 30 days gives you 25 crystals daily and a 100 crystal bonus. That package runs $10. Crash is already a big hit, but the question is how many will drop cash into the game or just check it out without purchasing. In any case, Crash Bandicoot: On The Run is worth downloading if only to see the wondrous state of the art of runners circa 2021.
Author/journalist Harold Goldberg is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle and the New York Game Awards. The nonprofit’s goal is to bring games and journalism to undersevred students in New York City and beyond.