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In an effort to create a bunch of anthropomorphic, hyper-intelligent animals to serve as an army to lead them to world domination, Dr. Neo Cortex and Dr. Nitrus Brio create the Evolv-O-Ray, a device that can mutate any animal into a super-strong, hyper-intelligent warrior, and the Cortex Vortex, a brain manipulation device that can make anyone and anything a blind follower of Cortex's orders. One of their first experiments with the Evolv-O-Ray is Crash, a bandicoot snatched from the local island wilderness and chosen to serve as the leader of Cortex's army. However, the Cortex Vortex fails on Crash, and he is discarded as a failed specimen while Cortex and Brio prepare to experiment on Crash's love interest, Tawna. The next day, Crash washes up on the shores of N. Sanity Beach and vows to defeat Cortex and rescue Tawna from his fortress, with the help of a native mask spirit named Aku Aku who wants Crash to take down Cortex so he'll stop polluting the islands.
This game contains examples of:
1-Up: Video Game Lives are provided by icons of Crash's mug, each accompanied by a *cha-ching* sound.
Back Tracking: Levels, like "N. Sanity Beach" and "Cortex Power", require backtracking if the player wants to break all boxes, and some levels can't be cleared of boxes at all without earning gems from later levels first.
Blackout Basement: Levels "Lights Out" and "Fumbling in the Dark" barely have any light in them. For extra challenge, Aku Aku masks act as temporary lighting in them and If the player gets hit, they really are stuck fumbling in the dark.
Bonus Stage: There are three kinds of bonus stages; The Tawna stages that are mostly easy and act as save points, Brio stages that are much harder but provide plenty of of one-ups, and Cortex stages that are even harder but require to be completed for 100% Completion.
Boss Arena Idiocy: Sure thing Ripper, just jump in that exact same pattern so we can blow up the TNT right next to you.
Button Mashing: Pressing Square (the spin attack) too rapidly causes Crash to stall and make an odd noise. You have to wait a couple seconds before you're able to spin again. This was presumably put in so players couldn't just spin their way through everything. This feature was also present in the next two sequels.
Damsel in Distress: Tawna is abducted by the scientists and about to be experimented upon. Crash has to rescue her.
Difficulty By Region: The first boss, Papu Papu, has five hit points in the Japanese version (instead of three) and after the third hit, he starts attacking faster. Also, the password system was removed, forcing you to rely on saves (which were limited to the Tawna Bonus Rounds and after getting gems).
On the other hand, part of the level "The High Road" was removed, "Sunset Vista" was moved later in the game (switched with "Slippery Climb"), and Aku Aku sometimes gives you hints.
Aku Aku's hints also appear in the Japanese versions ofthesequels.
In the PAL version, Ripper Roo jumps more slowly, but "The Lab" has only one checkpoint instead of two.
Dummied Out: "Stormy Ascent", the harder version of "Slippery Climb", was taken out at the last minute for being too difficult. It still exists in a mostly complete form (everything but the bonus level) and can be played with a Gameshark code.
Saving is rather non-standard, involving collecting three of a certain type of token.
The game features tokens leading to bonus rounds.
The game features passwords largely overshadowing the save system.
Keys never reappeared.
As for more minor differences, the following two games use a completely different character model for Crashnote except for certain death animations. Crash also moves somewhat slower, and he didn't have his slide and belly flop back in the day.
Fake Difficulty: Of the Leap of Faith variety when dealing with Gems. "Road to Nowhere" and "The High Road" both involve making jumps onto invisible platforms that only appear when you touch them to get some out of the way boxes. Due to how Crash's shadow doesn't vanish when jumping over a bottomless pit (as you would expect), there's no way to tell where the platforms are. More invisible platforms appear elsewhere (of the iron box and falling varieties) that at least have the decency to be marked by some Wumpa Fruit, and there's at least one instance where a box is stashed away behind the background, where by all means it seems you should die by trying to go there.
Full Boar Action: Boars appears as unkillable enemies in the bridge levels. You also get to ride one in "Hog Wild" and "Whole Hog".
Giant Enemy Crab: Very first enemy that you come across in (and only in) "N. Sanity Beach".
Giant Spider: Appears as enemies in the dark temple and castle levels.
Man-Eating Plant: Encountered in the early jungle stages, river stages and in one secret underground path.
Maniac Monkeys: Encountered in "The Great Gate" and "Native Fortress" levels.
No Death Run: One way to earn a gem is to break all the crates and not lose a single life. Alternatively, you can get the gem after dying in a level - as long as you don't respawn from a checkpoint. Because the checkpoint doesn't remember the crates you broke.
Non-Lethal Bottomless Pits: There are some seemingly bottomless pits that actually contain hidden crates, available after the proper colored gem is acquired. Frustratingly, you die if you fall into the pit without physically touching the gem platform, even after you have the gem.
No OSHA Compliance: The factory/machinery levels look too dangerous to be manned. Even worse with "Cortex Power" and "Toxic Waste", with crazy-shooting and toxic barrel-tossing gangsters guarding the places.
"Boulders": while Indy Escape is used in later games too, this is the only time where the reference to Indiana Jones is this clear.
"Boulder Dash": aside from the aforementioned Indy Escape thing, the level's name isn't just a pun on "balderdash" by itself; the fact you're running away from a boulder makes it a reference to the actual Boulder Dash game, too.
N. Brio can choose to keep throwing exploding beakers and yet he still throws his slime monsters that depletes his health if Crash beats them. Turning into a Hulk-like monster makes him vulnerable as well.