Crash Bandicoot 2 – Cortex Strikes Back

OK, full disclosure here. Sonic wasn’t my Mario, not really. He never stuck around long enough to become my Mario. Crash was actually my Mario. I met him a bit later, but we hung around for a long, long time.

You see, the only mainstream console I owned in my early years was a Genesis (or Mega Drive II over here in Europe). The console was expensive and way above my budget, and so were the games. This is why I only ever owned a single 6 in 1 cartridge and Sonic was the only high-profile platformer I ever got to play on the console. To make things worse, I didn’t even have the console for more than a year. It brook relatively soon and I wasn’t able to fix it.

In the late nineties, though, I got a PlayStation and that one stuck around for a long, long time. The first two games I got were Rascal and ReBoot and both were complete crap, but soon after, I got Crash Bandicoot 2 on a discount. I loved that game and played it to the point of my disc becoming unreadable.

Crash Bandicoot 2, Cortex

Cortex is the big-headed, comical baddie of the game.

So after completing Final Fantasy IX, I started sorting through my PlayStation backups (legal, I swear) and stumbled upon this one. I really, really intended to play Grandia next, but when I saw Crash, I just felt the urge, so I copied it to my PSP and started it up. It’s still just as fun as it ever was. I played through a big part of it in my very first session, but this time, I’d like to write a bit about something I noticed in the design of the game.

First of all, I should probably say there’s a hidden intro level you can get access to if you decide not to skip the starting sequence. This intro level really shows how a game can teach the player how to play, without using tutorials. The game uses this method mostly abandoned in modern games through its entirety, but the intro level really paints a clear picture. Well, it will be more of a series of pictures, with subtext, but you know what I mean.

How Crash Bandicoot 2 handles tutorials

Your sister, Coco, wants you to go get her a battery. Immediately, you see two crates. One of them should be jumped on, while the other can be smashed from any side, as indicated by their markings. You can figure this out now, but you don’t have to. It’s all OK.

Crash Bandicoot 2, Intro, Part 1

The first two crates.

Next up, you see your first pit, but it isn’t a danger yet. You can fall in, but you can also practice jumping over it. In the background, you can see a crate containing your first protective mask.

Crash Bandicoot 2, Intro, Part 2

The pit and the mask.

Now that you got the mask, you see your first enemy. You might not figure out it can hurt you, but that’s OK, because the mask will save you, once.  If the enemy hurts you, you’ll see it’s bad, mask or no mask. In the background, you can see your first surprise crate, which has special goodies – an extra life, in this case.

Crash Bandicoot 2, Intro, Part 3

The first enemy and the first surprise crate.

Here comes the first real pit. This one is obviously way deeper than the last one, so I hope you figured out your jumping by now. Actually, If you haven’t you’re still stuck in your first hole, so it’s all good.

Crash Bandicoot 2, Intro, Part 5

The first real pit.

Wow, this crate bounces me around when I jump on top of it! WOW! This other crate gives fruit if I hit it from the bottom to! Oh, wait, I could’ve hit that other crate from the top to get fruit to. Shame I just destroyed it from the side. Oh well…

Crash Bandicoot 2, Intro, Part 5

The first “up” crate and the second “special” crate.

And that’s it. That was the first intro level and it taught you all the basic mechanics without any explanation, reading, pushing through annoying conversations or anything of the sort. The same thing happens throughout the game. Sure, your main goal is explained to you through the story, but the mechanics are left for you to figure out, with the game designed in a way that subtly guides you into figuring it out.

I’m sad to say that it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen such design. It’s only recently that I started appreciating this, though, mostly thanks to egoraptor, a known youtube gamer and his Sequelitis series, especially the Megaman episode.

In short, Crash is a beautifully designed classic platformer, which I greatly enjoyed as a kid and intend to enjoy just as much now.