Opinion: Market Crash

The only times that Crash Bandicoot isn’t top of the UK game retail charts is when it’s out of stock. Jem Alexander considers what this means for remasters vs fresh, modern games that don’t sell quite as well
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What does it mean when a collection of remastered games from the 90s has one of the strongest opening weeks of the year? Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy has surprised everyone with its fantastic sales figures. No doubt that includes people at both Sony and Activision, who may have seen the remakes as little more than fanservice, rather than an actual money-spinner.

Only in the last few weeks has the game been back in stock on Amazon in the UK and its return to store shelves has seen it hit the UK No.1, once more, blocking Splatoon 2 from the top spot in its debut week. Crash has been tricky to get hold of, unless you’re willing to fork out £50 for the privilege. And I’m under no illusion that there are many that did pay that extra money to get hold of it. Vicarious Visions’ cosmetic overhaul of the three titles is fantastic, sure, but you’re still paying for 20 year old gameplay mechanics. Were games simply better back then?

Of course not. There have been two decades of design evolution since Crash Bandicoot's original release in 1996. In fact, development of the original Crash started before Mario 64 released and established many of our 3D platformer best-practices. 360’ movement? Analogue sticks? Seeing where you’re going? Who needs ‘em. Crash Bandicoot was Naughty Dog’s take on what a 3D platformer could look like, and it looks a lot like a 2D platformer. Just with more edges.

Maybe it’s time to make a triple-A platformer with levels and lives and no cohesive story

My point is that the Crash Bandicoot collection didn’t outsell Horizon Zero Dawn because it’s a better gameplay experience. Nostalgia has a lot to answer for. But can nostalgia alone really fuel such high sales for a game? The fact is, despite the Crash games being so ancient, they still play fantastically. In that super-janky, almost-broken way that 90s games did.

So what lessons can be learnt here? Besides the almost imminent announcement of a Spyro The Dragon HD Collection, I mean? The nostalgia mines will never run dry, because as soon as we’ve spent 15 years re-releasing all of our favourite games of yesteryear, it’ll be time to do it all over again. Crash Bandicoot in 2035 in 8K super-surround VR, anyone? Plus, by then it will be Horizon’s turn for its second go around.

SPIRITUAL SUCCESS

Maybe it’s time to make a triple-A platformer with levels and lives and no cohesive story. Not a remake of an old game, but more of a spiritual successor. Developers have tried it with middling success. Mighty No.9 and Yooka-Laylee sought to recapture, respectively, Mega Man and Banjo Kazooie’s success, but sales of these games were relatively mediocre.

Certainly neither of them hit the UK number one for multiple weeks (which, admittedly, isn’t a fantastic metric to judge these things by). Both titles were developed by key team members whoworked on the games that inspired them. So are the devs the ones out of touch, or are the players? And just how does Crash Bandicoot fit into all of this?

It’s sad to think that publishers might look at HD remakes as more of a sure bet than a freshly designed, modern experience. But at the same time, there must be a decent chunk of those Crash purchasers who hadn’t played it before and bought a copy off the back of the hype. So for those people, it is fresh and new. Nintendo has done similarly with Splatoon. Sure, the Switch version is a ‘sequel’, but many missed it the first time around.

So how many times are we going to buy the same games with slightly sharper graphics? Probably a few more, and maybe that’s okay. Who knows, perhaps some of those modern games that didn’t do so well on their first outing will sell like Crash cakes when they get remade in ten years. Just add nostalgia.

All I know is that we need an Onimusha HD collection. Yes, that’s my big takeaway from all of this.
It’s my takeaway from most things, if I’m honest.

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