Last week a popular rumor swept across the internet that a new Crash Bandicoot game was on the way. The news came from a “leaked” screenshot of an online countdown to the game’s announcement that an eagle-eyed fan had managed to see ahead of time before it was promptly taken down. The screenshot turned out to be a ruse, but the topic sent a ripple of interesting conversation through the gaming community: what would be want in a new Crash game?
Naturally everyone’s first port of call is simply to declare that a re-make of the older games is in order, but complete with HD graphics and some new gameplay elements. This is where we hit the snag with revisiting a franchise after so long: the old/new balance. Players want the game to be recognizably the same as it always, but distinctly different enough to be fresh, and crafting this delicate balance can prove challenging.
A few recent games have undergone this transition, notably Rockstar’s latest installment in the Max Payne series. Almost ten years separate the second and third games in the series’ main collection, and the gaming industry changed a lot in those ten years. Back in 2003, the big hitting games of the time were things like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker or Star Wars:Knights of the Old Republic. Jump forward to 2012, and we have Call of Duty and Madden dominating sales with their latest releases. More importantly, however, is a stark shift in tone during that time. Games have gotten less and less wacky as of late, with a strive towards realism, something I spoke about in my piece a few weeks ago. As such, Max Payne 3 took a grittier approach to an already dark story, and the result was a spiraling, alcoholic descent into depression. Some players found the new shift to be overly melodramatic, but that was perhaps the price that Max had to pay to play with the big boys of today’s market.
Max Payne managed to stay relatively true to itself, which is not true for all games. The recently re-branded Syndicate went from being a strategic game that focused on carefully planning attacks in its initial release in 1993, to a run of the mill first person shooter upon its reboot in 2012. This was an example of a game leaning too heavy on the “new” side of the spectrum, almost entirely abandoning its roots to fit in with the perceived wants of the current average gamer. The same can be said for the clumsy inclusion of needless multiplayer modes in some games in recent years, especially in games where it is not needed at all (like in Spec Ops: The Line.)
Crash Bandicoot is naturally unsuited to a huge tonal shift, as a gritty platformer about a mostly mute cartoon bandicoot is far from appealing. It’s more likely to suffer from being to similar to the older games, if a sequel were to be made. How well would Crash’s old-style, wacky, fun-loving gameplay translate into the modern market? A handy example is the Rayman series, which recently made the same move. Excluding their rabbit-themed spin offs, the Rayman games returned in 2011 with Rayman: Origins, a game whose sequel, Rayman: Legends, is set to his stores in September of this year. Despite solid reviews from critics, the game received sub-par sales, selling only 50,000 copies in total across all platforms in the US in its first month of release. The reviews would suggest that the game’s actual content isn’t necessarily at fault, but rather the context: people just don’t want to play those kinds of games anymore.
The cartoony platformers of yore appeal to our nostalgia, there’s no doubt about that, but nostalgia doesn’t affect the younger gamers that make up a sizable chunk of the market, nor does it necessarily incentivize us older gamers enough to go out and purchase the game. This makes us question whether a Crash re-boot would work at all, or if it would leave a lukewarm splash like the new Rayman games did.
It is important to note that Crash’s developer Naughty Dog have gone from strength to strength since abandoning their bandicoot IP, publishing the hugely successful Uncharted series and currently looking set to release the equally-successful The Last of Us. As such, if we were to get a Crash reboot, assuming the Santa Monica developer handled it, the game would be in capable hands.
All in all, the greatest fear for the Crash Bandicoot series, or indeed any older game that wants to make the leap, is that the current market simply isn’t interested in them anymore. We all say we’d love to have another bandicoot romp, but would we really? Games nowadays offer richer experiences, from transporting us to the minds of centuries-old assassins to immersing us in violent and visceral jungle environments. Would we really want to go back to the older formula of the previous generation’s platform games? Don’t get me wrong, games like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro and Rayman will always hold a special place in my heart, which I’m sure is true for many gamers, but perhaps they should stay there. Any new attempts may tarnish the memories we have of them, so it may be best to keep them preserved in our medium’s history.