Crash Bandicoot: N. Sanity beach level design


It’s hard to think that Crash Bandicoot was released over 20 years ago. Many young gamers might not know about it (since it has been out of the gaming picture for about 6 years), but it was the game that put Naughty Dog on the map, and one of the first platformers to make the translation from classical 2D to 3D graphics, alongside Mario 64 (they shipped within 3 months from each other). Thanks to the “Nsane trilogy” announcement and my particular fascination with the original trilogy, I decided to make a small analysis to the level that started it all.


Starting Zone of N. Sanity Beach

N. Sanity beach starts with Crash waking up on the beach shores, he stands up and shows his signature tornado move, hinting his most famous ability. Afterwards, the player is left in a pretty open field where 3 boxes of clearly different types are placed. If you (like me) press every button to see what your character can do, you will most likely break the first striped box with a tornado move, which gives you nothing, however, if you go after the interrogation sign box you will obtain a life; it shows you that not only can Crash destroy boxes, but he can also be rewarded by breaking them.

With the second stripped box you can face two scenerios: you break it with your tornado move, or you jump on it and find out that you can jump on it multiple times for extra goodies, if you don’t jump on it the level will provide you with multiple ways to figure it out afterwards.


The first levels are all inspired by a beach-side jungle

After the initial zone we find a crab, our first enemy, which poses no particular threat to Crash unless he walks into him, providing an easy way to understand that you can use your tornado or jump to eliminate enemies. Following a pit which forces you to Jump, you will find a maskbox, which makes Uka Uka, a flying mask-deity, follow you around.

After getting around some gaps, an arrow box intended to help you learn how striped boxes work and a second crab (if you get damaged by it, you learn Uka Uka protects you from damage once), you reach a stair where you can practice and determine how high Crash jumps, in this short climb you also get a second mask box, your floating mask will change colors if you already have him hinting that grabbing multiples copies of the mask will grant you extra powers.


Different sizes in the stair’s steps let players familiarize with the Crash’s Jump

When you are done climbing, the checkpoint box is introduced, you will also find a mask box, which will likely be your third, as the level is almost void of danger to this point ; if it is indeed your third box of this type without getting hurt Crash will put it on and he will get immunity which is signaled by the clear change of music and a Jump animation.

It’s nice to see that Naughty Dog thought this would be the perfect spot to introduce characters that can actively hurt you: some turtles show up, they move towards you but thanks to the immunity you can check their patterns as you plow through them.  This section of the level doesn’t particularly offer many dangers, the power up helps you bulldoze through everything in your sight. Next portion of the level brings us to a fork on the road, one of my favorite places in the whole Crash series.


Whoever designed this deserves a special place in hell

What makes this place interesting is that you can go either way to finish the level, but if you want to complete it fully, you will need to go one way and return to finish the other one: the left side takes you through a super easy road, where you can test your skills against turtles without Uka Uka’s power up. On the other side, you will be able to learn about the switch boxes which enable previously disabled (sometimes visible) boxes, in this case a bridge made by boxes in front of you; that bridge right there is one of the things that made the first entry known as one of the hardest ps1 platformers, getting all boxes is quite complicated and requires for you to know with precision how much crash needs to move in order to break every single box.

After reviewing the level and seeing a couple of videos I’ve come up with a couple of reflections:

  • You might have a good level design, but people will always find ways to ignore everything, shortly after writing most of this article  I saw this video about teens playing the game and I almost erased the damned article. (I know people dislike the Fine Bros. and all their associated brands, but I like watching people play games and see their reactions)
  • Crash might’ve not been the most innovative game around, but it managed to be a technically good which didn’t have any particular flaws, a great achievement for one of the first games of that generations that transitioned from 2d to 3d.

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