When Crash Bandicoot arrived with considerable fanfare on the PS1 in 1996, he soon proved himself to be the worthy mascot Sony’s fledgling PlayStation console so desperately needed. Created by Naughty Dog, the Santa Monica-based studio founded by Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin, Crash drew critical acclaim for its 3D (though linear) environments, colourful and varied art style, and delightfully pure platforming gameplay.
The game was an ambitious departure from the 2D, side-scrolling structure that made up the developers’ previous efforts, and in many ways felt like the complete package. However, in a literal sense, that’s not quite the case.
Rumours of cut content and lost levels surfaced soon after Crash’s initial release, due in no small part to the existence of a level on the back of the title’s PAL box art that didn’t seem to appear anywhere in the game itself.
Some 13 years after its initial release, veteran Crash Bandicoot games researcher Hacc discovered that very level hidden in the game’s code, astonishingly in an almost complete state. Instructions to access the stage, Stormy Ascent, using a GameShark device were soon issued, and it looked as though Crash 1’s great mystery had been laid to rest.
However, just over two years later, in October 2011, Hidden Palace, a site dedicated to the discovery and release of prototype games, unearthed an early build of the game, dated April 8, 1996 – several months prior to the game’s release. With it, came the discovery of a veritable array of cut and scrapped content that didn’t make it into the final game. It soon became apparent that Stormy Ascent only scratched the surface of Crash Bandicoot’s lost levels.
Today, we’ll be taking a look those stages, and showing all of the wacky orange marsupial’s fans out there what they missed out on.
Level0 / Test Level
The most unpolished of all the unfinished stages discovered with the release of the prototype, ‘Level0’ contains a black background, untextured objects, several crates, a spider and lab assistant enemy, and not much else.
It was originally speculated by fans to be a mini-game of some description, whose development had been abandoned early in production. However, following the release of a YouTube video showcasing the stage, Crash co-creator Andy Gavin clarified that it existed merely as a programming test level that would allow him to quickly experiment with the behaviour and placement of enemies in a small-scale environment before he placed them in the game’s ‘full’ stages.
Although inaccessible in the prototype (even through hacking), the game’s code refers to a ‘Level2’. According to Gavin, the Lava Cave, along with ‘Level1’, The Jungle, were test levels that were scrapped early on in development. He claimed that they were too sandbox-like and put a strain on the PlayStation hardware, due to the number of objects on screen at any one time:
“Our first two test levels, ‘the jungle, level1’ and ‘lava cave, level2’ were abysmal, and neither shipped in the final game. First of all, they were too open with way too many polygons. Level1 had over 10 million, whereas a shipping level tended to have around a million (a lot back then). Level2 was better, but not much.”
Fellow co-creator Jason Rubin later stated that the idea of a lava level in general was abandoned due to the harsh contrast with Crash’s distinctly orange complexion, adding: “It was not terribly dissimilar to trying to watch a black dog run in the yard on a moonless night.”
Flowing Waters, also known by fans as the Waterfall Level, is a primarily side-scrolling, vertical level that features a number of unfinished elements and gimmicks. It is probably most notable for the inclusion of several enemies that were not present in the final version of the game, including a dingo and a skunk that, unlike in the finished game, actually has an attack animation – suitably, expelling smelly gas in the direction of Crash.
Players would have had to dodge falling platforms, slippery slopes and navigate rotating wheel platforms as they made it to the top of the centrepiece waterfall. It is currently unknown as to why the level was shelved so early on in development.
Acid Rain, also known simply as the Cavern level, is one of the shortest, and thus, most incomplete of all the shelved stages. Taking place in a cavern similar to the one found in the N. Brio bonus stages, the level features no enemies, with pools of acid (looking suspiciously similar to the toxic waste featured in later levels) instead being the main hazard – although their programming is incomplete, meaning they have no affect whatsoever on the player.
The crystal-lined walls of Acid Rain’s cavern are also rather glitchy, resulting in almost-certain death should the player happen to accidentally stumble into them. The stage leads directly on to another cut level, Astound The Skunk.
Astound The Skunk
Astound The Skunk, also known as the Cliff Level, is similar in some regards to fellow scrapped level, Flowing Waters, in that it is a vertical side-scroller. This time, however, Crash is descending rather than on the ascent.
Graphically, the stage is a lot more complete than Flowing Waters, although there are a number of glitches including Crash walking in the air, disappearing objects, invisible platforms and the ability to traverse behind the background of the level.
It is apparent that Astound the Skunk, and therefore Acid Rain, take place on N. Sanity Island, as Wumpa Island and Cortex Island can be seen in the distance.
Little is known about the scrapped mineshaft level in Crash Bandicoot, with the only evidence of its existence being some early concept art for the game. Due to its winding track-like layout, it is believed that it may have been similar in style to the later Compactor Reactor and Ghost Town levels, which featured in Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped and saw Crash traversing the stage, and avoiding a number of obstacles, in a minecart.
Similarly to Acid Rain, it also features a number of crystal clusters that appear reminiscent of the Power Crystals introduced in Crash 2: Cortex Strikes Back.
Unlike the other levels featured so far, Stormy Ascent was virtually complete at the time Naughty Dog scrapped it; indeed, as mentioned, a screenshot of it even made it onto the back of the PAL retail release of the game. Not only that, but Andy Gavin has claimed it was “awesome”, and one of his favourite levels in the game.
Why, then, was it cut?
The answer is fairly simple. Stormy Ascent may have been awesome, but it was also insanely difficult. Essentially a harder version of Slippery Climb (itself already a tough stage to overcome), the level was considered too punishing for players, and it was removed shortly before release, with a few minor glitches remaining.
When pressed on the matter, Jason Rubin said: “There was never anything sadder than dropping a level that close to completion. The work that went into making a level like that is incredible. To see it on the cutting room floor was always a tragedy.”
Ultimately, while Rubin and Gavin may have been disappointed at Stormy Ascent getting the chop, Crash Bandicoot certainly wasn’t any worse off because of its removal, nor that of any of the other prototype levels we’ve explored today.
Instead, thanks to the release of the playable early prototype, they serve as a fascinating insight into the development process of one of the seminal video games of the PlayStation era, and highlight the constant iteration required to create a truly exceptional title.
If we’ve not fully satisfied your craving for all things Crash Bandicoot and you can’t wait until next time, you should head on over to Bandipedia, The Cutting Room Floor, Crash Mania or The Making of Crash Bandicoot – all of which served as invaluable reference points when putting this piece together.