Crash Bandicoot dev explains how the series kept its identity separate from Nintendo's 3D platformer: "When Mario 64 came out it shifted everybody's thinking"

Crash Bandicoot PS1
(Image credit: Naughty Dog)

Super Mario 64 defined 3D platformers to such a degree that its influences are still being felt now, 28 years later. The original Crash Bandicoot debuted more or less simultaneously with Nintendo's classic, but ended up taking a much different path with the concept.

Dan Arey spoke in Retro Gamer 256 about his time working on the Crash series at Naughty Dog. In 1996, Arey was at Crystal Dynamics, a studio that was at the time known best for the platformer Gex, where the influence of Mario was still impossible to shake. "When Mario 64 came out it shifted everybody's thinking," Arey explained. "We all realized that 3D platforming was amazing, but also that you had to do it in a controlled way."

Super Mario 64 explored 3D platforming by offering open-ended levels that nonetheless presented its objectives in such a way that you were gently encouraged into occasionally linear challenges to meet your goals. In contrast, Crash kept a more old-school, level-based structure even as it added depth - literally - to its platforming challenges in 3D.

"If you think about it, Crash Bandicoot was going down 3D roads with occasional 2D side-wave elements," Arey explained. "But everything was very focussed in terms of mechanics, and that was really the brainchild of Naughty Dog founders Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin."

Even before he moved over to Naughty Dog, Arey was blown away by that first Crash game on a technical level, too. "We saw some early demos when I was at Crystal Dynamics, and we were asking ourselves how they were getting so many polygons on the PlayStation. What they had done was pre-calculate the polygons you couldn't see from a fixed-camera viewpoint, so it looked like there were many more polygons being pushed on the system than ever before."

Arey would end up working on Crash 2 and 3, as well as the Jak series, so that keen eye for platformer design was clearly put to good use, even as Naughty Dog moved further and further toward the more open-ended structure of Mario 64 over the years.

There's a reason Crash Bandicoot remains on our list of the best PS1 games.

Dustin Bailey
Staff Writer

Dustin Bailey joined the GamesRadar team as a Staff Writer in May 2022, and is currently based in Missouri. He's been covering games (with occasional dalliances in the worlds of anime and pro wrestling) since 2015, first as a freelancer, then as a news writer at PCGamesN for nearly five years. His love for games was sparked somewhere between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, and these days you can usually find him splitting his entertainment time between retro gaming, the latest big action-adventure title, or a long haul in American Truck Simulator.