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A brief history of Crash Bandicoot
It all started when two game developers hit the open road with thoughts of Hollywood, 3D gameplay, and anthropomorphic animal backsides on their minds.
If you think playing Crash Bandicoot is a wild ride, then get ready to strap in—because the game’s chaotic twists and turns have nothing on the character’s real-life adventure.
Long before he called Activision home, Crash was a conceptual “what if?” kicked around between two buddies on a cross-country road trip, a mascot for a then-fledgling game console, and—at one point—a wombat.
As you can see, there’s a lot to unpack here.
In the early ‘90s, Naughty Dog studio founders Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin struck a deal with Universal Studios’ new gaming arm and hit the road from their base in Boston to Los Angeles. Before even broaching characters or storylines, the pair focused on how they could flip platform gaming on its ass—literally.
“The other thing we were thinking about is, ‘How do you get a 2D game, like Sonic or Mario or Donkey Kong Country, into 3D? How do you do that?,’” Rubin told Polygon in 2017. “The game we designed for ourselves we called ‘Sonic's Ass,’ because it was turning Sonic into the screen, in which case you'd be looking a lot at his ass.”
Honestly, would you expect the Crash story to start any other way? We won’t get to nearly all of it, but here are some other key things you should know about everyone’s favorite orange marsupial.
Once they got to figuring out who and what their new game’s hero would be, Gavin and Rubin used the Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil as a touchstone. Keeping things Down Under, they called him “Willy the Wombat.” (Other names bandied about were apparently “Wez,” “Wizzy,” and “Wuzzles.”) They then discovered the existence of bandicoots in an Australian wildlife guide.
The name “Crash” wouldn’t come until later in the game’s development, with the introduction of smashable crates. The character would literally “crash” into things and, well, there you go.
Artist Charles Zembillas (along with artist Joe Pearson) was hired to do initial concept designs for Crash. Zembillas’ geek cred is mighty, having not only done character work for Spyro the Dragon, but also the original She-Ra: Princess of Power animated series and the Ghostbusters animated series.
Side note: No, not those Ghostbusters. The other ones. The series Zembillas worked on was based on a 1975 live-action TV series called The Ghost Busters and featured a couple of bumbling paranormal investigators and a gorilla. Hence the animated series based on the popular 1984 movie having to be called The Real Ghostbusters.
Why doesn’t Crash have a neck? Blame the ‘90s. Concerned that the graphical capabilities of gaming consoles combined with the not-quite-hi-def state of television technology at the time of the original game’s release in 1996, all involved felt a bigger face would allow gamers to see and enjoy Crash’s expressions more easily.
He’s also bright orange because the designers felt he’d get lost otherwise against the chaotic jungle background. (This is also why they steered clear of lava levels in early versions of the game.)
The PlayStation was just two years old at the time of Crash Bandicoot’s release, and Sony was concerned the new console didn’t have a mascot like Sega (with Sonic the Hedgehog) and Nintendo (with Mario). Crash came along at just the right time and planted his flag as the PS1’s “face.”
While with Universal, Naughty Dog would develop the first three installments of the Crash Bandicoot series (Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, and Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped) as well as Crash Team Racing.
Another side note: The music for Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back was produced by Mutato Muzika, which featured former Devo frontman (and film score composer for Thor: Ragnarok, The Lego Movie, and most of Wes Anderson’s movies) Mark Mothersbaugh.
In 2006, the publishing rights for Crash transitioned to Sierra Entertainment, which was then owned by Vivendi, which in turn merged with Activision.
While there were a few more installments between 2004 and 2008 (all of which abandoned chronological numbering), the release of the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy in 2017—featuring remastered versions of the original three Crash games by Vicarious Visions—hit the nostalgia button hard and kicked off a huge wave of renewed interest in the character.
In 2020, developer Toys For Bob picked up the continuity baton and released Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. This was followed up with another innovative twist on the platformer concept, 2023’s Crash Team Rumble.
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