Crash Bandicoot is a simple 3D platformer starring a spinning, orange, crate-smashing marsupial. It's the first entry in an ongoing series that joins cartoony antics with solid and memorable gameplay. The game was developed by Naughty Dog, the team behind Crash's conception and the first four games in the series.
The gameplay is simple and straight to the point. You control Crash in linear 3D paths as you spin to defeat enemies and break Crates. Spinning is Crash's basic form of attack. Jump across gaps to make your way through and reach the end of the level (marked by a glowing yellow whirlwind). Level design sometimes swaps from a behind-the-back perspective to sideways, with some levels being almost entirely in 2D. In addition, there is a couple of levels where you'll be running into the screen as you flee from giant boulders (chase scenes are an element that would become a staple in the series). Crash will die if he comes into contact with an enemy or hazard, or if he falls into a bottomless pit. Like everything else in this series, Crash's death is handled humourously, and it sometimes varies depending on what kills him. For instance, if Crash touches fire, he will burn into a pile of ashes in cartoony fashion.
Levels are accessed via a map screen. The map shows you the 3 islands Crash will have to go through, and you can revisit levels you've beaten previously. Every now and then you'll have to fight bosses. They all follow distinct patterns, so try to memorize these if you want to beat them. You can't just harm bosses directly, so you'll either have to figure out a weak spot, a strategy or the time interval in which they become vulnerable. They're not overly complex to figure out, but they'll be significantly challenging the first time you play the game.
Crate-smashing is an important activity in Crash Bandicoot. Not only do Crates offer you goodies but breaking all the Crates in a level also awards you an important prize. Also keep an eye out for Checkpoint Crates. In case you lose a life, you will respawn at the last Checkpoint you've opened, which makes these Crates very important and hard to miss.
All Crates meant to be broken can be spun into, and most of them can also be jumped on, which has a double purpose - breaking them and bouncing on them to reach greater heights. To get maximum height, hold the jump button when bouncing off a Crate. Arrow Crates send you even higher and they can be jumped on for as many times as you like (so spin them when you want to break them). Watch out for TNT Crates, as they will explode if you spin them. To get rid of them, jump on them and get clear before the timer reaches 0.
Gems are the most important items in the game, and each Gem allows you to save your progress. They're the prize for breaking all the Crates in a level. Most Gems are clear and colourless, with a few coloured ones waiting to be found. Coloured Gems unlock secret passages in levels, which usually contain hidden Crates (necessary for yet more Gems). This means you'll have to backtrack sometimes, because more often than not, you will not have the required Coloured Gem to open a secret passage at first. Collecting all the Gems in the game unlocks an alternate ending and the epilogue.
Wumpa Fruits are the most common pick-ups in the game. Collecting 100 of these will offer you an extra life. Other pick-ups include the Witch Doctor Masks, which summon the good spirit Aku Aku. For each mask you possess, you gain an extra hit point (up to a total of 2). By picking up 3 masks, you are granted a short burst of invincibility. Aku Aku will follow Crash around until he only has one hit point left again.
Character icons are found inside certain Crates, and they're usually rare. Icons that depict the titular hero give you extra lives, one for each you collect. You can also find icons of Tawna (a blonde she-bandicoot), Brio (a bald scientist with a long head) and Cortex (a scientist with a large cranium and an "N" on his forehead, and the main villain of the game). If you pick 3 of either of these in the same level, you'll be promptly transported into a Bonus stage. Bonus stages are short 2D segments filled with Crates, and these range from sweet and simple to just plain crazy. Tawna's bonuses are important because completing them offers you a chance to save your progress. Completing a Cortex bonus gives you a special key, which unlocks a secret level (very important for 100% completion). There are only two Cortex bonuses in the entire game. As for Brio's bonuses, they're the only ones that can be replayed as many times as you like, and serve merely as a way to stack up extra lives. In any of the bonus stages, you will not lose a life if Crash dies.
3D was the all rage at the time Crash Bandicoot came out. With the improvement in hardware, consoles soon began sporting games with full 3D graphics, and Crash Bandicoot was one of the first platformers to make use of these capabilities. This game had amazing visuals for its time, including charming backgrounds, textures and animations, as well as characters with different facial expressions and moving lips (this aspect was practically non-existent back then). This all makes Crash Bandicoot a game that was much ahead of its time in this department.
The Australian-themed sceneries that are filled with beaches, jungles, temples and giant stone idols have since become associated with the series. The music is stylistic and recognizable, and you can't hear it without thinking of Crash. The tribal themes and the frequent use of xylophones and didgeridoos quickly become one with the game. The soundtrack was arranged by the Mutato Muzika, who would stick around for all the Crash games developed by Naughty Dog.
Crash Bandicoot is a memorable classic and the beginning of something big. Truth be told, its occasional frustrating moments and dated mechanics haven't aged as well as its two direct sequels, but that might just be because they vastly improved the formula used here, which was already fun to say the least. Definitely worth your time if you're a platformer lover.