Everyone has their first game, and for Shane Battams, it was Crash Bandicoot: Warped. Despite him enjoying multiple generations and genres since, Crash 3 still holds a special place in his heart some 18 years later – while return visits helped him through tougher times.
Crash Bandicoot: Warped is not my favourite game of all time, but it’s one that has huge significance for me.
The year was 2000. I was a mere six years old, blissfully ignorant of the woes of adulthood such as working, dealing with emotional highs and lows, and having to pay for my own games. Ah, good times! Around this time, I was about to start my first year in middle school and our family was lucky to inherit a PlayStation from my sister’s friend.
It’s ironic that the system wasn’t really intended for me, as while I was allowed my turn on the console, my sister was the primary owner of this sleek, grey system. We were gifted three games: Spyro: Year of the Dragon, Monsters, Inc. Scare Island and Crash Bandicoot: Warped. She also ended up buying Dance: UK, which came with a mat peripheral.
In a turn of events no-one could have predicted, my sister grew bored of the console some two weeks after getting it. Not even Dance: UK and the prospect of toe-tapping on a mat could tempt her back to it. On the other hand, I was entranced – hypnotised by the combination of colours, platforming challenges and wondrous sounds.
All three games were enjoyable to me, albeit to varying degrees. Scare Island proved decent but quick fun; it was a game that didn’t hold my attention for too long but was solid enough for my young mind. The real fun began with Spyro and Crash.
Now, here’s a controversial opinion that may switch some of you off: I’ve always thought, and still think, that Crash Bandicoot: Warped is superior to Year of the Dragon.
Before you grab your pitchforks, I think both are sublime examples of their genre. They shared a lot of fundamentals, but also couldn’t have been more different. Spyro opted for larger landscapes and collect-a-thons, while Crash was a series of shorter challenges with collectibles sprinkled throughout, which required repeat plays to find.
I loved both games immensely, and I recommend you give both franchises a look in. And from an objective view, Spyro is indeed more technically advanced with its larger levels. People also tire of Crash’s tendency to be instantly pulverised by anything in the level. The one-hit kills can become tiresome after a few hundred instances of seeing the bandicoot grounded, detonated or pounded into dust.
But, without sounding like a maniac, I always preferred Crash’s time-travelling antics to Spyro’s skateboarding and gem hoarding. I felt that way at the time, and my opinion hasn’t shaken since. Besides, Crash 3 means so much more to me than the initial experience.
Feels like the first time
Year of the Dragon was and still is tremendous, but Warped will always have one personal advantage for me over it: Warped was the first game console game I ever played. I don’t think I could have chosen a better game to start with for my six-year-old mind (after all, I wouldn’t be touching the likes of Tenchu immediately, would I?).
It could have been make-or-break: what if I’d started with a game like Bubsy 3D? Taking the butterfly effect theory into account, I may not be writing this, as starting with THAT abhorrent platformer may have put me off for life! But luckily for me, Warped was the high point of an excellent trilogy. Some feel Cortex Strikes Back holds a stronger place in the hierarchy, but to them I ask this: can you ride a baby dinosaur while avoiding a giant stegosaurus like you can in Warped?
Needless to say, the game blew me away at the time. I was used to a diet of Disney VHSs but suddenly, it felt like I could control a movie unfolding before my eyes. Though words like graphics and draw distance would be years away from my conscious, I was enthralled by the bright worlds and varied locales.
It was like taking a Pixar adventure, but multiple times! Whether it was riding a tiger down something resembling the Great Wall of China, scuba diving while avoiding a plethora of vicious fish, or facing one of Uka Uka’s evil cronies, it was something that I couldn’t put down. Through Warped, gaming had sunk its hooks into me, and as you can probably guess, it has yet to release me.
So I ploughed through the game, despite being completely unfamiliar with console gaming. It helped build my reflexes, as the admittedly trial-and-error gameplay required patience and determination – both of which seemed to vanish in the ensuing years, along with my hairline!
After weeks of playing and eventually mastering the game, I finally conquered my first title. It felt immensely satisfying, and at the time, I thought it’d be appropriate to move onto Year of the Dragon and Scare Island which, luckily, were worthy follow-ups that kept me engaged. But the seed of admiration for Warped had been firmly planted, marking its place as my first completed console game.
As the years passed, a multitude of games came my way. Tekken 3 and its fluid fighting action, as well as the addictive bowling, kept me eager to play for hours on end. WWF SmackDown! and its sequel Know Your Role hooked me with their create-a-wrestler modes, allowing me to live out my dreams of becoming the greatest wrestler ever (and begin my on/off love affair with wrestling as a whole).
And Rayman, despite being so bloody hard that I still haven’t finished it to this day, was another joyous jumping game which kept me happy at the time. Later, my biggest regret was not getting more games for this wonderful system – something I’m thankfully making up for now – but at the time, my gaming life still seemed perfect. Obviously, with school work becoming more prevalent in middle school, my time would dwindle, but once I got home after 3pm, my thumbs would be twiddling.
But eventually, my passion for the PlayStation faded once I acquired its successor.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder?
Unfortunately, much like his platformer brethren Spyro, acquisition by Vivendi and later Activision would send Crash to a new home. And I won’t lie to you, the series dwindled by this point for me. Wrath of Cortex, while keeping many elements from previous games, felt like more of the same but inferior.
Later instalments, such as Twinsanity, lacked the spark and passion of the PlayStation era. After I couldn’t even bring myself to finish Twinsanity at the time, I didn’t even bother to pick up Crash of The Titans or Mind over Mutant. Maybe that was unfair of me, but by this point, it felt as if Crash had spun his last adventure of notable quality.
It probably didn’t help that, by the Xbox 360 and the 2010s, publishers and developers were increasingly uninterested in platformers. The genre, in my eyes, was being cruelly neglected – perhaps I’m being a touch hypocritical as I didn’t bother to play the final two Crash games pre-N. Sane Trilogy – and to demonstrate this, just remember that Rare thought the best way to make a new Banjo-Kazooie was to focus on vehicle building. Not that it’s a bad game in my eyes, but it was a huge departure from what made the Nintendo 64 original and sequel a pair of classics. My love of platformers felt woefully neglected, and suddenly my interests leaned towards shooters, which was a huge market at the time.
A return to the classic
Despite Warped providing the starting point for my gaming passion, it became an afterthought for the next few years. Fast forward to 2011, when I was in sixth form. It started on a high, making new friends and enjoying many a session on Gears of War with them. Despite my clear intention to move into work after completion of sixth form, I enjoyed studying and socialising.
But once 2012 hit, I sunk to a new low. Suddenly everyone had moved on, leaving for their chosen universities for three or more years, while I was stuck in a rut. I didn’t know where I was going in life, and having just lost my great grandfather, who I held close to my heart, I hadn’t exactly been in the best state lately. Couple that with a big fallout with people I considered friends, and I felt completely deflated by the time I hit my 18th birthday.
I’d suffered from lows before, but I’d been able to pull myself out of it. As someone who still suffers from depression, it can be horrible to fall into that dark place. While I often sought solace in gaming, too many of my current games reminded me of something sad. Gears was completely off the table, and nothing else helped. Who wants to spend a dark time in a darker game? I was left almost hollow at the time.
But then, I found something that took me back to a better time: a game which reminded me of the joy from my youth which I looked to recapture. I decided to pop my original, platinum edition copy of Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped into my ageing, yet still working, slimline PlayStation 2. It still functions to this day, outliving most of my consoles!
I booted up Warped and, amazingly, found a memory card with an old save. It immediately flooded my senses with nostalgia. The bellowing announcer listing all the companies involved with production, the wonderful warp room music that’s still is stuck in my head to this day, as well as the simple yet effective opening cutscene which set up the game perfectly.
Then, I took a look at my percentage on the save room, and I was left agape at how mediocre my playing had been. Yes, I’d finished the game and beaten Cortex at the end. But, I was also a million miles away from 100%. And I’m not exaggerating! I owned all 25 Pink Crystals, of course, but barely anything else.
When my now-completionist outlook gazed upon these mediocre stats, I knew something had to be done!
So I got to work. I knew that powers acquired throughout the game would help me get previously inaccessible gems, and thanks to some careful observation, I also ascertained that certain coloured gems would require incredibly difficult runs through different paths on the level.
I began to also crack on with earning white gems, which as we all know, were rewarded for smashing every crate in a level (along with other bonus gems being placed under certain conditions). This part of the game wasn’t too bad, as with a combination of ingenuity and repeat plays, all the gems could be uncovered. But my body was not prepared for the time trials. Good lord, some of those gave me more than a tough time!
Time trials were by far the toughest part of Warped, and not just because instant deaths would send you back to the start of any level (there were NO checkpoints during time trials). The lower grades on time trials were never really that tough for me. But to attain the coveted 105% completion, you had to get gold on every time trial: the second-best time aside from platinum (which, thank goodness, you don’t need to earn for full completion). These continually unlocked secret levels that boosted your percentage with more gems.
Some levels, admittedly, weren’t too bad. After all, Crash gained several power-ups which were supremely helpful when shaving time off, including a pair of running boots! But for certain gold runs, such as High Time, gold was incredibly tough. This level forced you to time your run with a flying carpet – if you messed up at the start, your entire run could be wasted.
It was so easy to slip up, so easy to get hit by the insane selection of one-hit-kill hazards, or even just drop off the level entirely in your speedy frenzy to reach the end. But this didn’t weigh on my mind at the time – the simple joy of re-exploring a childhood classic was fantastic. It still looked as bright and colourful as it did the first time!
Getting that 105% completion, while certainly not up there as one of my greatest accomplishments, was a genuine joy. It completely took my mind off what was going on around me, and helped me refocus and concentrate on my first job. My passion for retro wouldn’t completely flare until playing Metal Gear Solid for the first time in 2014 via the Legacy Collection on PlayStation 3, but Warped had snuck its way back into my life, much like the bandicoot himself, with a cheeky grin and a pat on the back. It was a pleasure going back through the game once again.
It was also around this time that I joined The Pixel Empire, run by my good friend Tom Clare. We both shared a passion for not just games, but for appreciating them in context; it was good to find someone who enjoyed games for what they were back in the day, rather than harp on how it looks so bad compared to today’s graphics. You might be wondering what this has to do with Crash Bandicoot: Warped, but it would re-enter my life yet again in 2015, some three years later, thanks to a mutually shared appreciation for the game.
In February 2015, I took part in my third duel for the site, against fellow PlayStation aficionado Tom. We did battle on three widely varied levels: Gee Wiz tested our pure Crash skills, Orient Express saw us challenge over our tiger-riding abilities, while Orange Asphalt contested our motor biking talents – which goes to show just how much tremendous variety Warped has.
In the end, Mr Clare outdid me, although I did sneak a victory against him on Orient Express. I have to say it’s one of my fondest memories of contributing for TPE, as it helped us leverage even more fun out of Warped, while being a competitive yet friendly duel. It was just yet another treasured time spent with Naughty Dog’s indelible platformer.
Fast forward to 2017, and life had begun to change drastically for me. My previous job didn’t work out, but I found solace in being able to move to another which was more local, paid more, and gave me more responsibility. After some crushing lows in the years prior, I finally felt like I had bounced back, stronger and sturdier mentally. I’d made many of my relatives proud, and had built a strong circle of friends who I’m still in touch with to this day. In other words, it the complete opposite of what happened to me a few years prior. Things were looking up, and though I probably have even less time to play games now, I still squeeze in as much gaming as I could.
But arguably the most important date of that year was June 30th. That was the fateful day that Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy launched for the PlayStation 4. I tend to gripe a lot about remasters, but this was one that excited me to no end. It was firstly due to how much extensive work seemed to have gone into it, with a complete overhaul of all three games breathing new life into them. It was also such a personal thing for me, coming full circle 17 years later, playing my first-ever game again, but it was even better! Maybe it would look like how my mind perceived it when reliving memories of the game all those years ago.
Needless to say, it was a blast! Despite the odd jumping mechanics between the first two games because they adopted the movement of Warped, replaying these three (or in the case of the first game, actually beating it for the first time!) was amazing. I ended up platinum-ing Crash 2 due to my enthusiasm, but the main event was yet to come.
Warped still played like a dream, featured a varied set of wondrous levels and, despite a few changes in presentation, felt incredibly nostalgic. The violin-laden music of the Medieval stages like Toad Village, the xylophones of Prehistoric World and its subsequent levels, the quiet yet cultured drumming from Hang ‘Em High… it was all preserved in its 90s-chic glory.
It proved that Crash Bandicoot: Warped is a game, whether in its original PlayStation form or N.Sane coat of paint that I will treasure for being a source of joy when I need it, maybe not constantly, but like an old friend you reconnect to. Warped may not be the most expansive or complex platformer compared to its peers, but I think it’s the one with the most heart, charm and replayability, and a game I’ll forever have a close bond with because of how it shaped me into the gamer I’ve become, some 18 years later.
- Fantastically presented trek through multiple time periods
- One of the prettiest PS1 games made
- Lots of incentive to replay levels for that coveted 105% completion
- Instant deaths may be too infuriating for some
- Time trials can be incredibly tough to get gold on
- Not quite as open as the likes of Spyro
Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped may not be the most expansive platformer in terms of size, but it is still tremendously fun and replayable. For helping me get through some of the tougher parts of my life, as well as starting my passion for gaming, it’ll always have a special place in my heart.