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How can crash bandicoot innovate himself for this generation?

Posted by Jason on July 8, 2017 at 11:30 AM

When Crash Bandicoot broke onto the scene in 1996, it was the right game at the right time. Its high-octane titular protagonist was instantly appealing to a generation of hyperactive X-Games enthusiasts, and its immersive new take on the old platform game setup was certain to wow kids who were still used to plodding horizontally across the screen.

Certain games age well while others do not. Though the Crash Bandicoot franchise evolved over the years and expanded to cover a variety of platforms, it wound up losing much of the initial appeal that made it such a mainstay among gamers of the 1990s and early 2000s. Like many franchises of its generation (including our dearly beloved Mario), the near-ceaseless barrage of sequels and superfluous sidekicks seems to have slowed the game's momentum and watered down much of its original substance. Whereas the Mario franchise has been able to endure and even thrive in spite of this overabundance, Crash Bandicoot as a character and the games that portray him have come to seem dated, especially in an expansive modern landscape of characters, franchises, gaming styles, and gaming platforms.

The developers of Crash Bandicoot seemed to take a hint when they put the series on hiatus in 2011. In 2016, Bandicoot's creators expressed nostalgia and guarded optimism regarding the possibility of a reboot, with Jason Rubin remarking that Bandicoot is "still very dear to fans between 18 and 49 years" of age, and Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg saying that he "would love to bring [Bandicoot] back, if we could."

What followed were a series of remasters of the original titles and some lackluster Bandicoot cameos as playable characters in other Activision vehicles. As yet, there has been no move by Activision or any of Bandicoot's creators to bring the franchise back in full. But we hate to let a good character die, so here are our humble suggestions about how to refresh (and perhaps even rebrand) Crash Bandicoot so that a new generation of gamers can come to know and love the character that we grew up with.

For starters, it's worth noting that Crash Bandicoot not only became less popular over time, but the series earned worse and worse critical reviews from its inception to its demise. The first widely reviewed installment of the series -- Warped (1996) for PS1 -- garnered a sterling 89.07% rating from GameRankings and a 91 from Metacritic. Those numbers slowly declined for each subsequent release until they cratered with Crash Boom Bang! (2006), which earned an appalling 42.45% from GameRankings and a 37 from Metacritic. These reviews strongly suggest that what dogged the Crash Bandicoot franchise was not the character, the premise, or even the gameplay, but a lack of originality, and a kind of staleness that made each release feel like a cash grab instead of an improvement or an innovation.

The problem is that while the Crash Bandicoot universe has stayed in place, the rest of the gaming world has changed. Gamers might turn back to the original Crash Bandicoot games for a hit of nostalgia, but if they're out for a cutting-edge experience or a new gaming thrill, they're looking elsewhere.

Savvy developers have discovered that the modern gaming arena needn't spell the death knell for their beloved old franchises. There are plenty of ways of adapting classic characters to the needs and expectations of the modern gamer. One tactic is to firmly embrace the old, and another is to veer wildly off into the unknown and to steer the franchise in a totally new direction. My humble suggestion is: why can't it be both?

Consider the release of Sonic Mania in 2016. This Sega-sanctioned project started as a grassroots effort by gamers to return the Sonic franchise to its origins. By collaborating with fans, Sega was able to seize this momentum and put out a product that captured the magic of the original game while enhancing its appearance, streamlining its performance, and livening up gameplay with a few new playable characters, some new movement capabilities, and a whole host of brand new levels. On the original game's 25th anniversary, Sega successfully marketed Sonic Mania to its loyal base of classic Sonic diehards at the same time that it reached out to a younger audience of gamers who may have never heard of Sonic as a character. This sort of cross-marketing gives a franchise leverage, and leverage enables a franchise to plumb its history at the same time it weighs its options for a full-on reboot.

When id Software rebooted Doom in 2016, they made sure to include all the classic elements and aesthetic touches of the original game while embracing the online multiplayer capabilities that weren't readily available in 1993. Fans of the franchise applauded the reboot for being true to the series, while new players were able to enjoy the game without feeling weighed down by its history.

As the developers of Crash Bandicoot consider their reboot options, they should seek to pay tribute to the past while remaining mindful of the future. A Sonic-style tribute to the original games might be an effective way of reaching out to both loyal fans and new gamers alike. The trilogy of Bandicoot remasters were a step in the right direction, but didn't quite go far enough. By enhancing the game the way Sega did with Sonic Mania, Bandicoot's creators would encourage more excitement among supporters of the franchise. Then, by enlisting modern game designers and examining trends in game development, they could work toward a product that injects new life into the old storyline.

The problem with previous installments of Crash Bandicoot was a lack of depth. Modern gamers don't just want bells, buzzers, and whistles; they want characters with fully fleshed-out personalities, backstories, and quirks to set gameplay apart. While Crash Bandicoot as a character may seem a bit outdated, that should make it all the easier for a team of good writers to capitalize on the camp factor that we now associate with the 1990s, and to utilize that in the construction of a narrative that will appeal to young gamers with its freshness and verve. By releasing an update in stages, by holding up the achievements of the original game, and by updating the old narrative with the lexicon of 2017, Crash Bandicoot can go from a signpost in gaming history to one of the twisting tornadoes that paves the way.

Categories: Gaming and other topics, Game design rehab