Crash and Spyro 3

I was prepared to give Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped an hour or two, conclude that it was roughly the same as the previous two entries in the series and move on to Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon. I had already all but concluded that the PS1 Crash Bandicoot games just weren’t for me. I didn’t begrudge the people who do like them, but I didn’t consider them among the cream of the early 3D platforming crop. Honestly, I didn’t really find the first two games worth my time in 2019. I was only sticking with the game to keep up this gimmick of writing about Crash and Spyro in tandem. Then I started playing Warped.

I can’t articulate why or how, but this game just feels better than the previous two. It has all the hallmarks of the third game in a series on a console; the built up junk of repeated iterations trying to make something new without actually innovating. There is nothing I can point to and say that Crash Bandicoot 3 does better than 1 or 2. All I can say is that I really enjoyed playing it. It just feels like the game that all three of the games in the series should have been.

There are things in Crash 3 that should be the signs of an aging series. There are a lot of weird gimmick levels. Some with Coco on a jet ski, some with Coco riding a tiger, a few with Crash on a motorcycle, a few underwater levels. a level with Crash flying a biplane. With only 25 or 30 stages, having a full third of them being something other than the traditional stages should be a point against the game. But most of those stages are fun. They largely don’t completely change the game, they just put it in a different context. I hated the motorcycle races, but otherwise they were a lot of fun. That leaves a dozen or so regular stages. They are the same mix of fun and frustrating as before, though I encountered less of the frustration. The jumps still have that arc that I haven’t quite mastered. I still have a hard time judging distances going forward, though I learned to use the slide more than the spin as an offensive weapon in that context really lessened that problem.

It all just worked for me this time. There were some small frustrations, but I found Crash Bandicoot Warped to be a solid game. Especially considering its vintage. It almost makes me want to go back and give the first two another look. Almost.

While I went into Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped with little in the way of expectations, I went into Spyro: Year of the Dragon a little wary. I loved Spyro the Dragon, but Spyro 2 left me cold in the worst way. It wasn’t that the game was bad, but that it frustrated me in so many small ways that my memories of playing have curdled. It likely isn’t fair to the game, but I went into Spyro 3 scared that it would continue a downward slide. It is one thing to not like three straight games, it is another to love one and have the sequels disappoint. Luckily, Spyro: Year of the Dragon did not disappoint.

The game is not quite as good as the first, but Year of the Dragon was still a delight. It wisely gets rid of Spyro 2’s annoying upgrade system. Spyro has his abilities and those abilities are pretty static. For the most part, stages seem a little more simple, at least the Spyro sections. (I’ll have more to say about that clarification in a second.) Not every dragon’s egg, which are this game’s macguffin of choice, are hidden behind an elaborate set piece. Some are just hidden off to the sides of a stages, in well crafted nooks and crannies. For the most part, it plays just like the previous two Spyro games. You collect gems and find some other doodad.

There are different sections. Spyro meets a handful of allies on his quest and they are are playable at specific spots. They play close enough to Spyro that it is not completely jarring, and some of the sections actually add a fun dimension. The least enjoyable ones, aside from some of the weird one offs with the Yeti, are those featuring the monkey Agent 9 with a sort of proto-Ratchet and Clank style gameplay. Then there are the sections that kept me from 100% this game like I did with the first; the skateboard sections. Yes, I realize that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was popular, but these are out of place and frustrating. They show something that often crops up after a few games in a series.

Both of these games illustrate a problem that often happens with long running series; cruft builds up around the core gameplay and the fun little asides start to overwhelm the actual game. It often starts to appear in third entries, even good ones. Look at Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (And Knuckles). The game adds a lot of complementary ideas and extra playable characters. I choose that game as the example specifically because it shares something with both Crash 3 and Spyro 3; it is an excellent game. The accumulation of unnecessary stuff is there, but it has yet to really hamper the game. With Crash it is evident in all the vehicle levels. There are motorcycle races, jet skis obstacle courses, and bi-plane dogfights. They are not the game you came in expecting, but only the motorcycle stages are bad. In Spyro 3 it manifests itself as extra playable characters. Lots of sections of stages are there for Spyro’s new, and largely annoying for one reason or another, friends. There are some frustrating parts, but they are largely fine.

Both of these third entries show series treading water. They know they’ve hit on something successful and they do not seem interested in evolving that idea, instead the games merely iterate. The extra stuff is here to try to show growth without actually risking messing up a good thing by attempting to grow. The third Crash has softened me on that trilogy, and I genuinely enjoyed Spyro 3 almost as much as the first. Still, I am ready to be done with these series for a while.

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Crash 2 and Spyro 2

I have more to say about the slightly disappointing Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage than I do about Crash Bandicoot 2. Crash Bandicoot 2 is more Crash Bandicoot. Nearly none of the problems I had with the first game are solved. The game adds a slide/crawl ability, but it doesn’t really change much. The most positive change is that it opens up the level selection, from going one level at a time in a strictly linear path to giving the player five or so to choose from at a time. It is an improvement, making it less likely that a player will get stuck for an extended time on one challenge. My major problems remain. I find Crash’s jump trajectory hard to parse and hard to control. It isn’t so bad in the side scrolling sections, but when going into or out of the screen, I can’t tell where I am going to land. There is some of this problem that is skill, and I am honestly not interested in honing that skill, but I have played a lot of platformers and I would say that I am generally pretty good at them. Crash Bandicoot 2 just feels sloppy. I want to specifically call out the chase segments, which were showstoppers back in the day, but I do not have a lot of patience for the trial and error they require since it is almost impossible to see upcoming obstacles. It feels like the hoverbike sequence in Battletoads. So I got about halfway through Crash Bandicoot 2 before deciding that my time was much better spent elsewhere.

While Crash 2 gave players more of the same, though it did add a new playable character, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage feels like it did more to evolve. The problem is that that evolution did nothing to improve the game. I would argue that the new stuff actually made the game worse than its predecessor. And that more to evolve is only relative to Crash Bandicoot 2, for the most part Spyro 2 is just more Spyro as well.

Without being too harsh on what is still essentially a very good game from two decades ago, Spyro 2 is a bit let down after playing the first Spyro, a game that I am increasingly of the opinion is a masterpiece. Spyro 2 adds gameplay complexity to it simpler predecessor, but that complexity doesn’t make the game better, it only makes it somewhat more tedious.

For the most part, Spyro 2 is the same as the first game in the series. The new stuff is around the edges, clear attempts to make the game deeper and more complex, but they mostly succeed in making the game kind of a drag at times. The first game was mostly environmental puzzles; you explore the worlds and find all the hidden gems, with dragons generally functioning as checkpoints and the occasion egg thief chase to spice things up. Spyro 2 still has the gems, but it replaces the dragons with orbs. Some orbs are simply hidden around the stages. Those are great. They play into Spyro’s strengths, which are largely how enjoyable it is to just explore as the punky purple dragon. More of them are hidden behind some sort of minigame and that is where the game loses me.

It isn’t that all of those minigames are bad; it is that they are inconsistent. Inconsistent in quality and inconsistent in difficulty. That isn’t helped by the new skills that Spyro learns along the way. I was inordinately annoyed at how I earned those new abilities. The fact that those new skills are slowly doled out as the game goes on is as much a problem with presentation as conception. Does it make sense that someone teaches Spyro to swim? I guess so, but why does it have to in such a perfunctory manner. Similarly, why does he need to learn to climb when all he has to is jump on the wall and climb. That is mostly a presentation problem; instead of giving the player a decent explanation for Spyro’s new powers, it treats it as a joke. The minigames work kind of the same way. Some of them work, like flying along a set path or finding lost baby turtles. Others, like playing hockey or a shooting gallery, are less fun. As the game goes on, the frustrating parts start to overwhelm the fun parts, culminating in a final boss battle that feels like it goes on forever.

Spyro 2 is still a pretty good game; all of the stuff I didn’t like is on the margins. You can beat the game without completing many, if any, of the frustrating challenges. But the first Spyro is the only game I’ve gotten a platinum trophy in; I felt compelled to experience everything that game had to offer. With Spyro 2, despite really enjoying it, I couldn’t wait to be done with it by the time I got to the end.

I’ve got another month or so break before I come back to these two series, but I am eager to see how things go in their third outings.

Crash and Spyro

Caught up in a bout of nostalgia and suddenly having a bit of spending money, I decided to buy Spyro Reignited, the PS4 remasters of the original Spyro the Dragon games from the PSX. I remember really enjoying those games, or at least the first one and a demos of the other two, and haven’t really touched them in almost twenty years. Going on Amazon to buy it, I discovered that at that moment it was actually cheaper to buy the Spyro remasters bundled with the Crash Bandicoot remasters than it was to buy them on their own. I played less of Crash Bandicoot back in the day; I borrowed Crash 2 from a friend for a while and had a Crash 3 demo, but I while I remember enjoying them they didn’t leave much of an impression on me. But I still went the route of buying both, and I’m glad I did.

I’m not glad because it turned out the Crash Bandicoot games are better than I expected. I’m glad I did because it was simply fun to relive some teenage experiences. Honestly, I think the PSX/N64 generation gets short shrift. For the most part, the games don’t seem to hold the same nostalgic charm as their 2D predecessors and the limitations of the consoles make it hard to go back to them at times. There are exceptions. The idea that Super Mario 64 and Zelda: Ocarina of Time are all-time greats is etched in stone. A lot of PS1 RPGs are still well regarded. Every system has classics; what I am looking at are the also rans. Sure, people love Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man 2 on the NES, but you’ll also find people who love games like Shadow of the Ninja or Power Blade. People seem to have a lot of time for mid-list 8-bit and 16-bit games and I don’t see that same affection for early 3D titles. No one is singing the praises of Syphon Filter or Tenchu: Stealth Assassins.

Honestly, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon fall closer to the classics than the also rans in people’s memories, at least in my circle. But they also don’t get a lot of mention. There is a gap. I am guessing a lot of this is my subjective experience, if people really didn’t remember Crash or Spyro, why did their games get remasters? They were kings in the late zenith of the mascot platformer. Sonic ushered that age in, and 16-bit systems are littered with colorful animals having adventures. They didn’t really go away until well into the PS2/Gamecube/Xbox days. I remember Microsoft trying desperately to find such a mascot, attempts like Blinx the Time Sweeper, before realizing it was unnecessary. For four or five years, while the PSX ruled the gaming world, Crash and Spyro were on top, facing off against Mario and Banjo from Nintendo.

I remember those days fondly. I was definitely a Nintendo kid, though I did eventually have both a PSX and a N64. I was adamant that my mascot games were better than those on the other system. I told myself that while salivating over all the jrpgs that were hitting the PSX. Sure, they have Final Fantasy VII and Wild Arms, but I’ve got Banjo-Kazooie. It was nonsense, and it really only lasted until I got my own PSX and could play those games. By that time I was a little late for the early action adventure games, but I still played them some and was familiar with them from studious reading of EGM.

So while I didn’t play a lot of the games, I remembered Crash Bandicoot fondly. Here’s the thing: speaking only as to the first game in the series because I haven’t gotten to the others yet, Crash Bandicoot isn’t very good. Or at least, the remaster is not. It is colorful and charming and intermittently fun, but it is also sloppy, imprecise and limited. I am not sure the sloppy controls were part of the original game, but it feels like they were. When in the console wars trenches, I would poo-poo Crash Bandicoot for not really being 3D. Honestly, that is one of the games strengths. When everyone else was trying, and mostly failing, to be Super Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot carved out a smaller, more manageable niche. It puts everything in a tunnel and while still polygonal, does away with any sense of exploration. That is fine. I actually really like that about the game. It is the closest to being a classic platformer done in 3D around. The problem is that the game isn’t actually all that good. It is hard, especially when jumping in and out of the screen, to tell where you are going to land. Also, it is hard to tell how the game is going to interpret how you are going to land. Sometimes, you bounce on the turtle, sometimes you land directly in front of the turtle and are immediately killed. I gave up on the game at the Road to Nowhere level. The game is just not equipped to deal with the precise jumping that level requires, which means tons and tons of frustrating deaths and I don’t have time for that. I might go back to Crash Bandicoot eventually, but not until after I finish the other five games in this collection. I still have some fondness for Crash Bandicoot, but sometimes the past belongs in the past.

Counter to that is the first Spyro the Dragon. I know it is a game that came along a little later than Crash Bandicoot, but Spyro is a classic worthy of canonization. It is clearly taking a lot of cues from Super Mario 64, but also not just trying to be Super Mario 64. The quadrupedal, winged protagonist is one way the game has its own feel. Spyro holds up, largely I think thanks to its simplicity. While it Spyro the Dragon is clearly following in the footsteps of Mario 64. Spyro has an effective but not particularly expansive moveset. He can breathe fire and he can charge. Those two skills set up the bulk of his options when dealing with obstacles. Some enemies must be burned, some must be rammed, others can be dealt with by either. The game slowly starts layering these together, with rooms filled with a mix of enemies, some that need to be dealt with one way and some the other. It adds in enemies that change form. It really taxes the player’s ability to recognize the threat and deal with it.

The only other skill in Spryo’s arsenal is the ability to glide. A second press of the jump button allows the little winged dragon to glide around, greatly expanding his mobility. This is where a lot of Spyro’s tricky platforming comes in, with much being tied to his ability to get somewhere high up and float to a place he could not reach before. There are also supercharge lanes, which propel Spyro to ridiculous speeds with his charge, and using those to launch him to distant, otherwise unreachable hidden areas. That is essentially the one expert technique in the game. The rest of them are just the moves that you have at the start continuing on.

Wisely, the game makes almost none of the difficult sections of the game mandatory to getting through it. That is in contrast to the strictly linear nature of Crash Bandicoot. In Crash, you have one level in front of you and the ability to replay the levels you’ve previously beaten. In Spyro, new stages unlock as you cross completion barriers. Sometimes you can’t go on until you rescue 50 dragons, sometimes it takes a certain number of found gems. It effectively gates the player without ever forcing the player to bash their heads against a particularly tough challenge until the player decides to walk away from the game instead.

With both Crash and Spyro, the remasters look great. They do that excellent trick of looking like you remember the games looked rather than actually looking like the games did look. Because your memories are not accurate. Nintendo did this with their 3DS Zelda remakes; they still look like N64 games without actually looking like N64 games.

The PSX/N64 generation was a time of great experimentation, as everyone struggled to understand how to make polygonal games. Some took to it like a duck to water, others struggled themselves out of existence. The great disparity in quality of games I think has lead people to discount a lot of games from that era. The small handful that are recognized as classics still get love, but most of the rest are ignored and forgotten. Spyro and Crash are right on the edge; I don’t see people sing their praises with the Ocarina of Times or the Metal Gear Solids, but they aren’t really forgotten; they did get modern remasters. But if games that were as popular as these were are as little thought of as they are, it does not bode well for the mid-tier stuff behind them. I’m done with Spyro the Dragon (and got my first platinum trophy with it) and probably done with Crash Bandicoot. I’ve got two more of each. After a few weeks off I’ll revisit Spyro 2: Ripto’s Revenge and Crash 2: The Wrath of Cortex to see how these two series evolved after their first outings.

Now Playing June 2019

Beaten

Yakuza 6 Read about it here. Goodbye Kazuma Kiryu

Spyro the Dragon – I’ve got the Reignited Remasters. Full post coming soon.

Ongoing

Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth – I hate to say this, but I am not really feeling this game. It kind of feels like the worst of both worlds when combining SMT/Persona and Etrian Odyssey. They tried to jazz the map making up with some of Persona 5’s style, but they succeeded only in making the whole process infinitely more tedious. The game starts you with the Persona 5 crew, understandably, minus the characters you’d actually want to play as (meaning no Makoto) and one strange, atonal addition. The game also just inundates the player with pointless text. Everything is over-explained and every character feels the need to pipe up at every opportunity. I don’t see how adding two more games’ worth of cast is going to fix things. I’ve just unlocked the Persona 4 crew and this has not improved. The battles at this point, when I don’t really have a lot of skills to work with, have been slogs.

Crash Bandicoot –

I gave up on this about halfway through and I have a sizable post about it in the pipeline. I was playing the PS4 N-Sane Trilogy remaster. I hope the sequels are better.

Horizon: Zero Dawn – This is very much a modern open world game. Strong shades of Assassin’s Creed. It is also, apparently, a modern WRPG. Experience levels, skill trees, the works. The only thing that differentiates this from Bioware’s stuff is in how it is presented. I am liking it; I just cleared the first chapter and the world has opened up. I could see myself losing a lot of time in this game.

Judgment – I think I’ve made it perfectly clear that I love the Yakuza series. A game in that world, but you instead play a lawyer turned detective who is investigating crimes sounds like the best thing in the world to me. And maybe it is, I haven’t played enough of Judgment to decide one way or the other. I will say that it doesn’t make the best first impression. I just finished playing Yakuza 6, and this game clearly shares a lot of DNA with that one. However, in putting in the new investigation elements, it feels like it has fractured the experience. Things just feel a lot less fluid than they do in Yakuza. The most obvious example is running. In Yakuza you hold a button to run; in Judgment you push a button to essentially toggle run on and I have yet to find a way to stop running outside of stopping moving altogether.

Upcoming

Sword Coast Legends – I enjoyed the time I spent with this last year and I’m tired of it taking up space on my PS4 harddrive, so I think I am going to rush through it before I really get into Judgment.

Wii Game – I had Epic Mickey on here a few months ago and I might make another attempt at that. I’ve also got a solid list of games I have either never played or barely played.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West – I was long intrigued by this game, but when I finally bought it I barely got started on it before kind of just giving up it up. I want to get back to it. I have several other PS3 games I’d like to knock off my backlog, so I might try something else out.