Crash Bandicoot is back. Following decades of party spin-offs, surprisingly satisfying kart racers and a bizarre cameo in Skylanders, the Playstation One icon is set to return to his own games in 2017 in a remastered collection of the first three titles in his series. While fans of the topless, bear-riding marsupial such as myself are grinning with nostalgia and practicing the precise L2+O combination to perfectly execute a slide jump, Activision need to be wary of falling into the traps of the current-gen remake established by the year’s other big childhood-invoking remaster, Insomniac’s Ratchet and Clank.
The 2016 edition of Ratchet and Clank is a great game; aesthetically gorgeous, sharp-witted and a joy to play. Yet the facelift did more to highlight the intrinsic problems of a cross-generation reboot, rather than provide a groundbreaking, current-gen title. In a period where interactive narratives and player choice are not so much popular, but necessary to the point of inclusion in sports titles, in games, the linearity of Ratchet and Clank is jarring; similarly, as in-game worlds stretch to ridiculous scales, the handful of locations in Ratchet and Clank feel linear, minimalist and glaringly isolated from one another. That is not to say that these newer features define what is a ‘good’ game, and that the Ratchet and Clank formula is somehow intrinsically flawed, but transplanting a game from the culture of the early noughties and slamming it into that of the late 2010s is at best cripplingly awkward.
I fear a similar fate may be in store for the Crash Bandicoot remake. Being even older than Insomniac’s flagship series, the original Crash games are, in hindsight, fun titles with a very basic skeletal structure. The first game’s plot is only made apparent if the player leaves the start menu idle long enough to trigger one of the game’s two cutscenes; the narrative of the second title requires leaps of logic and suspensions of disbelief that were hard to make in 1997, let alone the cynical, gritty gaming world of 2016; and the powers introduced in the third game actually made very little changes to gameplay, being used simply to clear required paths in later levels, rather than to reveal hidden secrets in the player’s replaying of earlier ones.
Indeed, much of the appeal of the later Crash games was the motivation to collect every gem and discover every secret level; surely that feeling of bumbling discovery, finding an entirely new level by accidentally running into a street sign on an existing level, will be dulled by our current culture of perversely detailed Wiki articles and completionist Lets Players.
Ultimately, Crash worked because it was simple, yet hugely entertaining, yet the gaming world is no longer one of simplicity. Even giants of periodic, relatively simple games, have had to adapt: Nintendo can’t get away with yet another New Super Mario Bros. title, they have to rework the formula with Super Mario Maker; EA can’t crank out an identical sports title every year, they need to incorporate narrative and player choice just to fit into the current gaming climate.
Of course, should Activision stray too far from the original formula, there will be trouble on the other end of the spectrum. Would a dialogue wheel really fit into a Crash game? Would there be a way to shoehorn some kind of bizarre competitive multiplayer into the title? Would there be DLC, or more voice acting, or touchpad controls and VR potential? For me, the Ratchet and Clank reboot demonstrated that, even if done supremely well, as the game was, fun, quirky games simply look out of place when pumped out by big-budget studios. If an indie company were to release a tongue-in-cheek platformer about an obscure Australasian animal searching for gems to foil some generic evil plans, we’d all fund it on Kickstarter; but more is expected of a company like Activision, and it is unclear if they can deliver more without diluting what made the games genius two decades ago.
Image credit: Sekai Wissen (via YouTube)
Ratchet and Clank review