By Matt Ayres
Nintendo had Mario. Sega had Sonic. And in 1996, Sony stumbled across the mascot that would become synonymous with its original PlayStation console: Crash Bandicoot.
This box-jumping, fruit-guzzling creature not only gave PlayStation players their most iconic character to date; Crash Bandicoot was also among the first 3D platform games released, blazing the trail for one of the most beloved genres in gaming history.
It's been almost 20 years since we first met Crash, and rumours are spreading fast about the character's comeback via PS4 - spurred by his brief appearance in Uncharted 4. To refresh your memory about what made Naughty Dog’s zany platformer so brilliant, here are 20 lesser-known nuggets of bandicoot trivia.
Crash Bandicoot was once a wombat
Inspired by the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes, Naughty Dog founders Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin decided that their platform game should centre around the adventures of an obscure-sounding marsupial. Until they discovered bandicoots in an Australian wildlife guide, they referred to their character as Willie the Wombat.
When Crash publisher Universal Interactive Studios insisted that the character should remain a wombat and be renamed Wuzzle to appeal to cute-seeking younger audiences, Naughty Dog opposed the idea so strongly that they threatened to abandon the game mid-development. Thank the gaming gods for that.
Sonic’s buttocks were a big inspiration
Before the likes of Crash Bandicoot and Super Mario 64, platformers were a 2D affair. Placing the in-game camera behind the protagonist was therefore an innovative approach – unlike the side-scrolling viewpoint epitomised by Sonic The Hedgehog, players would spend the majority of the game looking at the hero’s backside.
And thus, the working title for Crash Bandicoot became ‘Sonic’s Ass Game’.
Item boxes were added as an afterthought
The wooden crates that Crash collects on his adventures were added at a late stage in the game’s development as a way of adding complex puzzles to easy levels. The method used to collect these boxes – crashing into them headfirst – gave our titular bandicoot his Christian name.
Crash is capable of human speech (but people hate it when he talks)
Naughty Dog designed Crash to be a mostly-mute protagonist: he’d drop the occasional “Whoa!” or “Yee-hah!”, but never much more than that. In a blog post on his website, co-creator Andy Gavin explains why: “We felt he should be goofy and fun loving, and never talk — on the theory that voices for video game characters were always lame, negative, and distracted from identification with them.”
It was therefore controversial when Radical Entertainment took over the franchise for 2007’s Crash of the Titans and granted Crash the gift of speech. Fans were outraged when he innocently uttered “Pancakes!” in the game’s closing sequence. This YouTube video sums up the general consensus.
Most of the characters from Crash Bandicoot are voiced by the same actor
As well as blessing Crash with his memorable monosyllabic reactions in the first game, actor Brendan O’Brien was responsible for voicing big-headed villain Dr Neo Cortex, stuttering scientist Dr Nitrus Brio and mutant henchmen including Koala Kong and Pinstripe Potoroo.
The only exception is Ripper Roo, whose maniacal laugh is a sped-up sample recorded by golden era voice actor Dallas McKennon. The same laugh is shared by the hyena from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp.
Aku Aku was named after a restaurant
The floating witch doctor mask that follows Crash around, Aku Aku, got his name from a Polynesian eatery that the game’s creators visited in Boston. According to developer Dave Baggett, “it had a giant tiki statue out front and, as I recall, fairly terrible food.” It has since been replaced by a seafood restaurant, and the tiki statue has been turned into a fisherman.
Crash’s girlfriend is based on Pamela Anderson
Crash spends the first game attempting to rescue his girlfriend Tawna from Doctor Cortex’s sadistic experiments. The blonde haired, big breasted bandicoot in question is based on Pamela Anderson, but was axed in the sequels for being too overtly sexual.
Crash Bandicoot’s incredible soundtrack almost never happened
Pounding jungle rhythms, funked-up basslines, bellowing didgeridoos and virtuoso xylophone playing combine to create the perfect soundtrack in Naughty Dog’s original Crash Bandicoot trilogy.
But this mesmerising music almost never happened. Creator Andy Gavin admits that it was cobbled together at the last minute, and that a previous suggestion had involved scoring the game with an “urban chaotic symphony” consisting of random sound effects like bird chirps, car honks, grunts and farting noises.
Naughty Dog had to fight for their recognition
When Naughty Dog founders Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin were offered the chance to work on Universal’s Los Angeles premises, the duo swiftly relocated to begin work on their next game, coming up with the blueprint for Crash Bandicoot during their journey to the west coast.
However, when it came to the game’s big announcement at Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), it became apparent that Universal wanted to steal the credit for Crash’s creation. According an account from Rubin, Naughty Dog’s logo had “mysteriously” gone missing from the prototype game’s box cover and press materials, violating the contract between studio and publisher.
In response, Rubin produced a document entitled “Naughty Dog, creator and developer of Crash Bandicoot” to hand out in front of Universal’s E3 display, politely offering Universal the chance to “review” it before the event. This resulted in the head of Universal coming “as close to literally flipping his lid as a person can come”.
Still, the point had been made, and 20 years later Naughty Dog are one of the most respected games studios in the world.
There’s a reason why Crash is orange and has no neck
Games graphics weren’t nearly as flashy in 1996 as they are now. When conceptualising Crash’s character design, practicality was Naughty Dog’s main concern. His giant face (and resulting lack of neck) ensured that players would be able to make out every whacky expression on their fuzzy ‘90s TV screens.
Likewise, the hero was made orange out of necessity: Crash’s designers had to pick a shade that wouldn’t blend in with any of the game’s colourful environments. This is also why there are no lava levels in the original games.
A whole level was removed from Crash Bandicoot for being too difficult
Even veteran Crash players will admit to struggling through the first title in the series. Thanks to the irregular save points, a single Game Over screen can erase hours of painstaking gameplay.
This is extra frustrating during the game’s tricky latter half. One level, Slippery Climb, is an excruciating experience for players who mistime their jumping. Naughty Dog originally created an even tougher version of this level called Stormy Ascent, but binned it for being too brutal. Daredevil gamers can still access it by using a GameShark (remember those?).
Crash Bandicoot was one of the first games with ‘dynamic difficulty adjustment’
Retrospectively realising that the first Crash game had been a bit too tricky, Naughty Dog came up with a subtle system to help players who hadn’t yet mastered the act of not dying.
‘Dynamic difficulty adjustment’ (or DDA, as the pros call it) was introduced in the sequels, assisting inexperienced players by giving them bonus hit points after multiple deaths and adding extra checkpoints whenever a certain number of lives are lost. It’s a familiar concept to modern gamers, but the Crash series pioneered it.
One of Crash Bandicoot’s creators reckons Mario 64 was a better game
In the same year Crash Bandicoot was released on the PlayStation, Nintendo unleashed the flagship title for their new console: Super Mario 64. This vast open-world experience for N64 was a formidable rival for Sony’s newest mascot; the only other game around that combined traditional platform-based gameplay with visually stunning 3D graphics.
Crash co-creator Jason Rubin was in awe of Mario 64 when it came out, admitting that he thought Nintendo’s release was even better than his own creation. Mario designer Shigeru Miyamoto repaid the compliment, commenting that Crash’s water effects were particularly beautiful.
The missile in N. Gin’s head was an autobiographical addition
From Crash Bandicoot 2, Neo Cortex’s right-hand man became Doctor N. Gin, an insane cyborg with a tendency for explosive tantrums due to the missile lodged in his noggin.
Supposedly the missile went awry during a disastrous weaponry experiment and remains active, causing the doctor severe headaches. This backstory was inspired by creator Jason Rubin’s own chronic migraines.
Tiny Tiger is not a tiger
Alongside other bosses like Dingodile and Ripper Roo, Tiny Tiger was inspired by wildlife from Australia. Tigers can’t be found down under, so this character was based on a thylacine: an extinct marsupial that’s commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger due to the stripes on its back.
Fake Crash is more than just a bonus Crash Team Racing driver
A buck-toothed, bushy eyebrowed version of Crash appeared in Crash Team Racing. Apparently, Fake Crash is based on a cheap Crash toy from Japan. Naughty Dog found it so amusing that they turned it into a character.
Crash Team Racing wasn’t Fake Crash’s first outing. He appears as a hidden easter egg in Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, and can be spotted dancing in levels such as Toad Village and Makin’ Waves after all the crystals and gems have been collected.
Wumpa fruit tastes like apples
If, like most people, you thought the juicy collectables from Crash Bandicoot were apples, you’re only half wrong.
It’s offically known as wumpa fruit, but during a Quora discussion about what the fictional food might taste like, Crash developer Dave Baggett quickly settled the debate: “They taste like apples.”
You can play Crash demos via the original Spyro trilogy
While developing Crash Bandicoot, Naughty Dog shared their Universal Interactive Studios backlot with another up-and-coming developer: Insomniac Games, creators of Spyro The Dragon.
The two studios developed a friendship and mutual respect for one another, which is reflected in the fact that you can play a sample of Crash Bandicoot 3 on the original Spyro game. Hold down L1 + triangle during the opening screen to access it.
The sequels also had hidden demos: Spyro 2 and Spyro: Year of the Dragon contain sneak peaks of Crash Team Racing and Crash Bash respectively – push L1, R2 and square on each game’s opening screen to play ‘em. Naughty Dog repaid the favour, although accessing the Spyro demo on Crash Bandicoot 3 is a bit more complicated: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, square is the magic code.
Uncharted 4 contains an amazing homage to Crash Bandicoot
After Crash Team Racing, Naughty Dog left the Crash Bandicoot franchise, citing their strained relationship with Universal as the reason for moving on.
The studio has since gone on to develop acclaimed series including Jak and Daxer, The Last of Us and Uncharted. But they haven’t forgotten their origins: Naught Dog’s most recent game, Uncharted 4, contains an incredible Crash reference.
During one of the game’s early scenes, lead characters Nathan Drake and Elena end up booting up their old PlayStation for a retro gaming sesh. Taking over the controls, you get to play an entire level from the original Crash Bandicoot. All the while, you’re treated to a commentary where Nate mockingly refers to Naughty Dog’s earlier creation as a “fox in jeans”. Utter genius.
Sony’s action-packed PS4 ad suggests a Crash comeback
It’s been a while since Crash reared his big orange head on the PlayStation, or any other console for that matter. His last official appearance was in Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 2, a racing game for iOS devices. However, some fans reckon we might be seeing the bouncy marsupial again soon.
Why’s that? One of the biggest hints comes from PS4’s launch ad, which is packed with dozens of references to contemporary games. Amongst all the dazzling graphics and flashy AAA action is an unassuming set of road signs.
The bottom sign features the unmistakable silhouette of Crash Bandicoot. The sign above is an arrow that points towards a third sign: an orange diamond that closely resembles the Sony Computer Entertainment logo synonymous with PlayStation.
Could this be a cryptic clue signalling that Crash will make his comeback on the PS4? It remains unconfirmed, though speaking in the latest issue of Official PlayStation Magazine, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe CEO Jim Ryan had the following to say: "Um...we’re certainly aware of the considerable affection---even reverence---in which the mighty Crash is held. But nothing to update at this stage in that area."
Activision currently holds the rights to the game, but here's hoping an agreement might have been reached that could bring Crash back to E3 this June.