Secrets GalorePosted by HP Zoner on
Uncovering secrets is some of the most fun you'll have with a platformer. Or it'll be the bane of your existence. It all depends on how these secrets are handled — Are there any hints on how to get to them or do you have to do something cryptic? Do they unlock anything or are they just optional easter eggs? Crash Bandicoot games are ripe with secrets of all kinds, so bring your detective hat and let's talk about what it truly means to go for 100%.
Thinking Outside the Crate
I believe in a simple rule when it comes to secrets: If you can't find them fairly, they should never be required for completion. Secrets that are needed to get 100% in a game should have some indication on how to find them. This can range from a pattern (or a strange lack thereof) to an apparently nonsensical sight. Take Crash 1, for instance. There are a couple of levels with platforms that remain invisible until you step on them, but there's always a lone Wumpa fruit hanging precariously over what seems to be a bottomless pit. You'll apparently fall if you grab it, but the developers would never place goodies where you can't grab them, so this is just one of many ways of telling you: "Pssst! There's something over here." It rewards players for paying attention.
Although Crash 1 has its fair share of secrets, most of the time it's a matter of revisiting levels once you have the appropriate gems to open up certain pathways. Still, labeling these as secrets seems a bit inappropriate, given that they're always in plain sight (despite requiring a bit of work to access). There are some genuine examples like the aforementioned invisible platforms, but those are few and far between. No, it wasn't until Crash 2 came around that secrets, in the true sense of the word, became prominent.
Crash 2 is a unique beast when it comes to secrets. No other game in the series has come close to replicating the amazingly satisfying "a-ha!" moments that Crash 2 provides. This is because, despite remaining particularly well hidden, the secrets in Crash 2 place very subtle clues right in front of your nose, and you probably won't even notice them in your first playthrough.
The first example of this is secret passages. This game features a lot of spots and platforms where, when stepped on, will unlock a secret passage or an extra level. To the untrained eye, these platforms look the same as all the others, but they're always placed where it doesn't make sense and seemingly serve no purpose. Sheer curiosity will be your first indicator of their existence, and once you find your first secret passage, you'll probably start paying more attention to these elements. I mean, why would the level Bear Down feature an empty iceberg near the end? Doesn't that make you want to investigate?
The hidden gems are even more interesting, and they're one of my favorite things about Crash 2. These will have you defying common sense and questioning the presence of certain things that aren't necessarily tied to object placement (the red gem is kind of an exception, but we'll talk about this one later). For example, when searching for the blue gem, you'll notice that the crate counter is still there even after you've found all the crates once, which is an oddity in and of itself. It also tells you that your new crate objective is zero for some reason. So guess what happens if you don't break any crates?
The purple gem is one of my favorites. I mean, who'd ever think about jumping on a specific bunch of nitros, right? That is, until you realize there's no point in them being there, or the fact that, unlike real nitros, these fake ones don't move at all. And what about the green gem? Why is there a room with nothing but hazards in it? Could it be concealing something?
The clues are all there, and that's what makes the secrets in Crash 2 so special. This game teaches you to pay attention and defy a lot of conventions established early on. The fact that it conceals almost every single one of its secrets so well while providing you with hints is a testament to their ingenious design, and I think it's a shame this aspect was never brought back. Speaking of...
Starting with Warped, most gems that aren't tied to crate-busting are just sitting pretty in delineated routes, thus removing the challenge of finding them in the first place. The same goes for the extra levels, which are simply unlocked when you beat enough time trials. In fact, ever since Warped came around, there's been little in the way of secrets in the true sense of the word. The challenge is still there, but now it's strictly about platforming skills rather than deduction and exploration, and that's kind of a bummer. The game becomes less creative and interesting for it, and it doesn't tickle your brain quite as much.
When Logic Takes the Day Off
Unfortunately, not all secrets in Crash games are found with sensible thinking. Some can only be found through trial-and-error, some require blind luck, and some are just misleading altogether. Depending on what these secrets are and how much you need them, they can very easily turn into a source of frustration.
Crash 1 suffers from this at times. Invisible platforms with gaps between them (have fun falling into them), crates hidden behind the start of the level Fumbling in the Dark with no indication thereof (something that would be repeated in Warped's Sphinxinator), and even a Cortex icon you're likely to miss unless you avoid spinning into a certain snake. These are the exceptions that prove the norm, but they're frustrating exceptions nonetheless... And they wouldn't be if they were simply optional rewards not required to unlock everything in the game.
I also mentioned earlier that the red gem from Crash 2 is a bit of an oddball. As opposed to the other colored gems, this one is found through a secret passage in another level, rather than having you do something crazy where you're at. This is both disappointing and potentially misleading. Worse yet, you can actually see the gem floating just out of reach, so you further get the impression that you're supposed to do something in that level.
Case in point: When I was a kid, I somehow got the red gem by bouncing off the nearby seal and doing a well-timed belly flop (after an unhealthy amount of tries, that is; I wouldn't find out about a much easier exploit until much later on). I actually got the second ending with 99% in my inventory because I hadn't found the passage leading to it. But I digress. The point is that this gem's kind of a blemish, since using logic to find it becomes your worst enemy. Not because it's cryptic (the passage that leads to it still falls in line with the rest), but because the way the game is structured can mislead you.
But that's actually just one of two secrets in Crash 2 with that problem. If the words Cold Hard Crash are enough to send a chill down your spine, chances are you had trouble finding a very specific crate. You know the one I'm talking about: It's hidden off-screen in the bonus round (of all places), and since you're never told how many crates there are in a bonus round, you're left assuming you're only ever getting 30 out of this one, when in reality it has an awkward total of 31. In a game where everything can be found through logic and deduction, this crate stands out as a very annoying prank by the developers.
100% and Beyond
Illogical secrets aren't necessarily a bad thing. If they're not required to beat the game and are limited to optional goodies or easter eggs, the developers can and should get away with hiding things through cryptic methods. The reason for this is that secrets of this kind give you further incentive to explore even after you've achieved 100% completion, and since you don't really have to find them, there's no harm done one way or another. Think of it as the developers' way of thanking you for playing even after you're technically done.
For example, did you know there are hidden platforms in a couple of bonus rounds in Crash 2? And what about the two lives inside the Cortex sphinx's nemes in Warped, which you can only get with the bazooka? Many people will never even learn of these secrets, but those who find them will come out thinking: "Wow, I can't believe I still haven't found everything in this game!" I mean, just the other day I saw people talking about things I hadn't yet discovered after two decades, which just goes to show how much fun the developers had making these games.
The most famous examples of cryptic (yet optional) secrets in the series are the two hidden levels in Warped. Who would ever think of knocking down that one alien sign or running into that very specific pterodactyl? There are no hints that doing such things will yield any rewards, and yet, they actually net you two more levels to plow through. Once again, the only reason this works despite the lack of hints is because both levels are completely optional, and in fact, finding them can get you over 100%. That's pretty cool.
I can't talk about optional secrets without mentioning that one easter egg that everyone loves, Fake Crash. So you've completed Warped, have you? In that case, you may now find a weird Crash lookalike busting moves somewhere. He looks butt-ugly, his dance is atrocious, and there is no reason for him being there at all. How can you not love that?
Check Every Nook and Cranny
So what else can we say about secrets? They extend a game's longevity and hone your deductive capabilities while rewarding you with something nice. Sure, not all of them are fair, and some are downright counterintuitive, but at the end of the day, it feels nice to look back and think about how far you've come and all the things you found. You never know what's still out there waiting to be uncovered!