Video game developer Naughty Dog has a pretty sterling reputation with PlayStation owners. The previous console generation especially has been kind to this Santa Monica based company. As the PlayStation 3 was gaining foothold in a tight market, Naughty Dog came in to deliver one of its earliest hits: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune in 2007. It was a big success, kicking off a still continuing series that became the flagship entry of Sony’s top console. Series protagonist Nathan Drake himself became the official mascot. But while Uncharted showed people what Naughty Dog can do in terms of realism and innovative gameplay, it was their final PS3 game The Last of Us that cemented the developer as one of Sony’s absolute best. Many publications even went so far as to declare The Last of Us the greatest game of the seventh-generation.
It’s amazing how far Naughty Dog has come. When people hear the name, they immediately think of a company well-known for essentially making art. Both the Uncharted series and The Last of Us looked absolutely incredible, with the later games featuring motion capture on par with a major film. Obviously, the rapid evolution of technology has been very kind to them. It propelled Naughty Dog away from what it used to be: a company with action platformers focusing on anthropomorphic animals. Not a lot of realism there, to be sure. Yet despite how much success the developer has had in recent years, it was reported earlier this week that they haven’t forgotten about their past. Notably, they haven’t forgotten about Crash Bandicoot.
Crash Bandicoot is basically Sony’s shining example of a nostalgia trip. Though the series continued well beyond the original PlayStation after Naughty Dog stopped working on the games, the best adventures of the pants-wearing marsupial came between 1996-1999. This was when Naughty Dog just started to get their footing and the first PlayStation needed some more franchises. With unashamedly cartoon graphics and a goofy protagonist, Crash Bandicoot was the answer to both of these problems. Crash’s original journey in 1996 to rescue his girlfriend Tawny from the nefarious Doctor Neo Cortex was one of the best-selling PlayStation games, and the success continued on for two more entries. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back in 1997 was considered even better than the original and Crash Bandicoot: Warped in 1998 was an easy frontrunner for the best PlayStation game of the year. Heck, people loved Crash so much, a spin-off called Crash Team Racing was made in 1999, and it did really well.
In a time when budding consoles desperately needed a mascot, Crash Bandicoot filled a void for Sony. Nintendo kicked off this trend with Mario to unparalleled success, and Sega did their absolute best to do the same with Sonic the Hedgehog. Considering how both characters are talking, uncommon animals, Crash and Sonic are obviously rife with comparisons. But that shouldn’t be a real surprise when you consider how Crash Bandicoot was originally conceived with Sonic the Hedgehog games in mind. Both games are fast-paced platformers, made collecting objects a top priority (Sonic had rings, Crash had Wumpa Fruit), and involved nabbing extra secret crystals to get special things. Obviously the games have a ton of differences though, with Crash Bandicoot being decidedly more “mature” with the prevalence of explosive TNT crates and enemies using machine guns.
Unfortunately both Crash Bandicoot and Sonic the Hedgehog are similar in terms of success. Just like people consider the first three Sonic games to be the best of the best with a few solid follow ups, Crash Bandicoot became a shadow of its former greatness after 1999. This was when Naughty Dog’s contract ended and they moved on to create the stellar Jak and Daxter series. The result of this was Crash Bandicoot being tossed around to a myriad of developers and being pushed to become a multi-platform series. While none of the following games were overtly terrible, they weren’t great by any means. Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex in 2001 by Traveller’s Tales was very similar to the original three games but didn’t set the world on fire like they intended. By the time Crash Bandicoot received a redesign in 2007 in Crash of the Titans under the banner of Radical Entertainment, the general public was relatively indifferent. Now Activision owns publishing rights and there hasn’t been a new installment since 2008.
Like any longtime PlayStation fan, Crash Bandicoot was huge for me growing up. I remember getting the first game for my birthday and going absolutely bonkers. So bonkers that I initially forgot it was even for the PlayStation. My immediate response was running to the family computer. Once my brother so nicely corrected me, I instantly dove right in. I had played the demo extensively so I knew what to do, but I was pumped to finally experience the adventure in earnest. Needless to say, picking up both Cortex Strikes Back and Warped was a must for me, and I loved both. But once the series continued on without Naughty Dog, I lost interest. To me, Crash Bandicoot WAS Naughty Dog, and if they’re moving on, I should too. I followed Naughty Dog to Jak and Daxter and watched Crash Bandicoot fade from the fringes.
So what does the recent news mean for the Crash Bandicoot series? Practically nothing right now, but it’s especially interesting that Naughty Dog talked openly about their continued interest. Most companies don’t say things like this unless there’s actually been some decent discussions, regardless of substantial proof. And in truth, a lot of hardcore PlayStation fans have wanted more Crash. Activision’s ownership prevented Crash from appearing in the recent PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale despite being a Sony icon, and many people felt like that was a huge letdown. However, today’s Naughty Dog that created hits like Uncharted and The Last of Us is significantly different than what it was nearly two decades ago. The company matured and found even greater success in gritty realism. Yet if there is one company out there that should bring Crash back to his former glory, it’s the one that started it all. A delicate balance of Naughty Dog’s refined developing expertise and the nostalgia brought on by even mentioning Crash Bandicoot could make a new installment a huge hit. And boy do I want it.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.