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Tawkchitte Tackles: Death to Crash Bandicoot, and other nostalgia-based musings

You want to know what I’m utterly sick of reading about? Probably not, but play along with me here. It’s the idea of a Crash Bandicoot sequel/remake. Forgetting for a moment that the grinning orange bastard languishes in IP hell for a good reason (the games are, at best, average when compared to other platformers of the time, at worst, even Sonic looks on in disgust). Judging by Shawn Layden’s shirt at PlayStation Experience, even Sony think it’s a joke.

crash bandicoot

Shawn Layden wears a Crash Bandicoot top at the recent PlayStation Experience

What real impact could the marsupial have in 2016 beyond some deluded jingoism and wallet-emptying from fans, who last played a decent Crash game when they were six and had absolutely no taste in games? Say, somehow, a new Crash game is announced, you can see where the story will end, especially in the hands of the current holders of the license. Either with furious grown up six-year olds raging at the game being rubbish, despite being exactly the same thing they loved. Or with furious grown up six-year olds raging because the new game is too different. It’s a no win situation, more so for a very popular character or franchise. A considerable gap between series entries can be a death sentence with the speed that technology moves on. Consider this. Crash Bandicoot looks, sounds and plays worse than Knack, and Knack is a festering abscess on platforming’s posterior, but nostalgia paints Crash as a wonderful thing for many simply because the timing was right for it. A sequel would only serve to destroy the good memories folk have of a series that never got better than when it was a half-decent Mario Kart rip-off.

Now, before you get the pitchforks out and sling your 5000 word essays on why Crash Bandicoot is the bestest into the comments, I’m here to say it is just my opening statement on a problem that exists throughout the gaming world. When dealing with mining the nostalgic, the industry struggles to find the balance between giving fans of older games what they want while keeping it fresh and relevant enough to not be accused of phoning it in. Anyway, the real catalyst for this article was EA.

You see, upon seeing the lukewarm reviews for Need for Speed and Star Wars Battlefront; EA’s attempt to effectively bring back two, decade old, fan favourites for a new generation, I was reminded of the company’s previous attempts at capturing nostalgia lightning in a bottle and selling it as new. And from there my mind wandered onto every attempt at rebooting an old or tired franchise for both a new audience and the old. The 2015 Need for Speed screamed ‘I’m a sequel to the Underground side-series! Buy me!’ to every manchild who was a young teen when Underground first came out. With street racing, car decals, the soundtrack and the rest of it being laser-focused (not only on bringing back that demographic, but secretly praying the same trick would work on a new breed of teenagers), ditto Star Wars Battlefront, which also has bonus nostalgia points for being Star Wars. Problem is, if a games developer forgets why the original versions were so beloved (or more likely, nobody currently at the company worked on them) then it really is just throwing the game to the boiling seas of internet piss, leading to a company-wide shrugging of shoulders, wondering what these damned kids want. That is what seems to have occurred with both of these games and the majority of old franchises being revived.

Need for Speed didn’t capture the Underground flavour

At least Need for Speed and Battlefront paid lip service to their progenitors. A rather infamous recent-ish example of an insane revival attempt was once again EA, on this occasion it was the return of Syndicate; an isometric tactical shooter set in a cyberpunk future. In it players could send a four man team out to perform assassinations, infiltration and the like. The game is still highly revered to this day (and hey, it even holds up well), this was EA when they were Electronic Arts; purveyors of Road Rash and Desert Strike, teaming with Populous developer Bullfrog at the peak of its powers, and backed by Peter Molyneux when he wasn’t promising something ridiculously impossible any time somebody so much as spoke to him. So, naturally, when EA returned to the series nearly twenty years later, it was as a first person shooter that felt more like a poor man’s Deus Ex than it did a fresh take on a classic. The problem again was nobody working on the game had a hand in the original, and judging from the way it was handled, no one had any real affinity for it either.

Of course, EA is hardly the only developer to mess up a legacy (though following the seminal Rare shooter Goldeneye with the offensive Tomorrow Never Dies is a big enough crime in its own right, but that’s a story that will die another day). As I mentioned before, it is frequently an issue. Activision drove the Tony Hawk franchise into the ground so hard that on a quiet day you can still hear Bam Margera kickflipping around the centre of the Earth to Goldfinger’s Superman. After TH Ride delivered the blow that sent the series to a magma hell, Activision rightly cooled off making more for a while, until they announced Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 for this year; a return to what people loved about the series. So said Activision. I trust everyone is savvy enough to know what happened there, so I won’t give it any further shoeing. Tellingly, these assurances were made with the knowledge this new entry was in the hands of a new studio and on a budget on par with the original game.

Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5 – a disgrace of a game

Does that mean nostalgia is the bad guy? That we need to push it off a tall building and watch it fall to the ground in slow motion like the Hans Gruber that it is perceived to be? Of course not. All that is really needed is a reality check. You can be excited for the return of Shenmue, Resident Evil 2 or Final Fantasy VII (and I totally am where Shenmue is concerned), but temper that excitement with the knowledge that it won’t be exactly the experience you remembered for a number of reasons (worth remembering in these dark/hilarious times where you get this the volcanic eruption of rage over FF VII Remake being ‘different’). It’s because the industry moves so fast, because the only thing a company knows to do with their property is trade on good memories to push a new selling tactic (hello Battlefront and Rainbow Six’s finite ‘multiplayer only’ experiences) because there’s a need to change to make things relevant, because the people who created that nostalgia are no longer involved in it, and mostly because you yourself are older, probably wiser, and if the internet is anything to go by, a whole lot more cynical about flaws. Then again, people still think Crash Bandicoot is some kind of platforming Messiah instead of what he actually is; Bubsy with shorts and a spray-tan, so the wiser bit might not be a widespread thing.