It was almost the dawn of the new millennium. Such an exciting time it was to be a gamer, but it was also a time of great uncertainty. With Sega and the Dreamcast kicking off the new console generation, some would come to wonder if the company can still maintain its relevance in this rapidly expanding console market. Apart from their long-time rival Nintendo and the newcomer Sony, who has proven to be quite a contender, they are set to find themselves yet another competitor, with Microsoft expressing their desire to make a console of their own.
But none of those mattered to me, my sister and two of my cousins. We didn’t even know about all those stuff going on as we sat on their living room floor and clumsily scuffled around with the first five levels of Crash Bandicoot 3.
This right here remains to be one of the most iconic and memorable imagery in all of gaming to me. This is where it all began. Five numbered buttons on the floor. Stand on one of them to open a portal. Run (or jump) into said portal and get whisked away to another world. Sometimes, I would jump over the buttons or carefully walk in between them to reach the center without opening a portal. It made me feel like I’ve outsmarted the game or something.
That entire setup was very much symbolic of what videogames essentially are: a portal to other worlds, with its own distinct sights, sounds, characters and experiences to offer to its visitors. This game alone has several of them.
To this day, one thing that still amazes me about Crash 3 is the amount of variety it has. Just looking at the first five levels, our giant orange bandicoot (and his little sister) have gone to medieval times, underwater, ancient China, prehistoric times and somewhere in the middle of the ocean I dunno but there are pirates in it. The variety extends to the gameplay as well, with none of the first five playing exactly the same. 3D platforming, side-scrolling, on-rails vehicle (baby tiger) segments, chase sequences and jet skiing. Even more worlds and genres are introduced later on, including boss battles, aerial combat (where I was first introduced to the standard health bar) and racing (which required near perfect execution just to win a race).
I probably just learned how to read at the time, so I would often mispronounce "Toad Village", the name of the first level, as "Toadillage" or "Tutelage". Looking up what that word means, I'm surprised at how fitting it was given the situation, tutelage. In a way, I really as under the teaching or guidance of that game. It's almost as if it was trying to tell me exactly what videogames are and what they could be. Here are some of the worlds you can explore, some of the types of games possible in this medium. Needless to say, it captivated me right away. I wanted to see more of this. It was unlike anything I've ever seen in this world (which, to a five year old, isn't really saying much).
To the five (or was it six?) year old mind, it really did feel like an otherworldly experience. Eyes glued on the screen, it’s almost as if I was there. Look at this place! Look at the colors! I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It felt so alive. Butterflies flying around. Boxes you can smash. Apples you can collect. A chicken you can chase around. Walk to the flock of birds and they fly away. Oh look, a goat! I wonder if I can touch it…
…I died. And died some more. On the first level alone, I was rammed by a goat, sliced in half, kissed by a frog(?) and fell on holes that weren't even blocking the way.
It was quite fun witnessing the various, comical ways that Crash would meet his untimely demise. The death animations helped a lot in establishing a funny and lighthearted tone for the game. But you know what wasn't funny? The first time I saw that game over screen.
Soon enough, I learned how to play better, perhaps motivated by the fear of seeing that game over screen again. My friends? They got better too, way better than me even. It became a real team effort among us, taking turns trying to beat each level. Some would have their own specialties, one would be really good at certain types of levels and whenver that kind pops up, we hand the controller to him/her. As much as I sucked, I was particularly good at one of the boss stages where you fight a giant robot.
"We really should have one of these”, were some the words uttered by my younger self (or a loose translation of it, at least) the deeper we got into the game, the more I played; almost demanding in tone, as if we’re dealing with some sort of necessity, an integral part of living.
Eventually, we did get one. The PS2 was brand new at the time. And we went in the store and bought a PSone. With a console of my own, I was now ready to venture off into other games at my own pace, whilst breaking the console several times because I would store it in a lunchbox when I brought it to my grandparents place to play. I would soon discover a brand new kind of genre and have yet another long set of adventures with the same group of friends, and even get another one of my cousins into gaming. But Crash 3 is still the one I remember the most.
I remember all the levels by name. I know of all of the game's secrets and how to get them. I would recognize the similarities between most of the game's music and how it takes several cues from the main theme. I remember how you can "start a new game" by going to the load game screen and exiting without loading a save, bypassing the opening cutscenes (which you could skip anyway). I remember how the game's framerate would drop in the load game screen when you press triangle to look at your stats. I remember that the level buttons pop out once you get halfway through the bridge leading to each warp zone/"time travel area". And I remember that the wizard enemy leaves behind his underwear when you kill him and you could crouch down to make it look like you're picking it up.
For the sake of this blog, I tried going back to it again, mostly to take some screenshots. Then I suddenly realized that I've never actually finished this on my own! Breezed through it in a couple of hours. It's hard to imagine now that it used to take me several hours across several days just to finish one set of levels, and some I could never even finish myself. It was quite an experience, playing through it again after all these years. It was like catching up with an old friend. It's nice to see how well it has aged, and as I sit down and the hours go by, all of those fond memories start flowing back, not only the ones between me and the game, but with the people I've played it with.
A lot has changed since I first picked up that controller 15 years ago. My cousins & sister who I played games with for most of my childhood have long moved past the hobby in pursuit of other things. My cousin's house where it all started? It's ours now. Without going too much into the details, we swapped houses several years ago. The spot where the TV and PS1 used to be? It's now a couch that I often fall asleep on. Too often...
I keep a list of all the games I’ve finished through the years and looking at it now, it’s slowly closing in on 200 games. While not exactly the most impressive number to some of you, within those games, I got to experience some of the very best the medium has to offer. So many memorable moments, accomplishments, characters and stories; gaming not only served as my link to other worlds and experiences. It also became my link to other people. Some of my closest friends I initially got to know by playing games with them. I wouldn’t even be here, in communities like this, making dumb comments and sharing a part of myself through blogs like these, if it weren’t for games…
…if it weren't for this game…