CROC: LEGEND OF THE GOBBOS
Release Date: 1997 (PS1/Saturn)
Genre: 3D platformer
Developer: Argonaut Software
Publisher: Fox Interactive
Available: PS1 (Version reviewed), Sega Saturn, as well as poor ports to Windows & Game Boy Color.
The mid-90s was a fascinating time for gaming for many, many reasons – an age where creaking 16-bit consoles were plopping add-ons on to their systems to drag an extra ounce of blood out of them, the popularity of handheld consoles resulted in the abomination that was the Virtual Boy; a ridiculous concept that amazingly came from the same genius who thought up the Game Boy, and what felt like 10,000 ‘next gen’ machines hitting the market, resulting in ‘classic’ systems like the CDi and the 3DO.
But by far the biggest seismic shift in gaming in this era was the sudden capability to ditch ‘blast processing’ and ‘Mode-7’ and embrace the exciting new world of 3D. Yes, the Nintendo 64, Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn were the future, and the future was three-dimensional. Just like the previous dawn of gaming tech in the 80s, the future was to begin with seminal platforming experiences.
So we got Bug!, Fade to Black and the largely forgotten yet massively important Jumping Flash! – the first fully 3D platformer video game in 1995. Then, of course, the bar was well and truly set in 1996, when Super Mario 64 hit shelves and changed gaming forever… and Bubsy 3D hit shelves the same year and… well, every yin needs a yang, I guess.
As 1997 approached with the free-roaming 3D platformer genre pretty much owned by Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64, there was room for a king to be crowned on the other 32-bit consoles. Thus, after being rejected as a spin-off Yoshi-themed 3D platformer by Nintendo, Argonaut Software were ready to release upon the world a bipedal crocodile with eyes popping out of his skull. Yes, the time was ripe for Croc: Legend of the Gobbos on PlayStation 1 and Sega Saturn (let’s politely ignore the PC and Game Boy versions of this game. It’s for the best.)
Now that the brief historical context is out of the way, what is Croc? Well, it’s one of those cutesy mascot-driven platformers, very much in the vein of Super Mario 64. You play as Croc, an orphan crocodile rescued from a basket in a river by the King of the Gobbos, a furry race of… things that live an idyllic life, presumably keeping to themselves, effectively being the hobbits of this universe until suddenly Sauron- I mean, Baron Dante turns up, enslaves the Gobbos and kidnaps the King. Croc is teleported to safety before setting about getting his not-so-bloody revenge, rescuing the Gobbos and becoming a legend.
I’m not going to claim Croc is an original idea for a game in any way, shape or form. But, just like how Crash Team Racing is on the surface a carbon-copy of Mario Kart 64, Croc avoids the pitfall of copying its inspiration wholesale. I’ll say straight up that Croc is simply not a better game than the one with the Italian plumber, but it does have its own identity and positives that I’ll now bang on about for a few paragraphs.
First of all, Croc differs somewhat substantially in how it controls. Yes, it’s a free-roaming 3D platformer, but the movement is a lot more… flowing, I guess. It’s as good a word as any. The way the titular character moves is not that far away from ice physics, which sounds like a nightmare, but in reality the way it works portrays a fantastic feeling of momentum as you run, swerve and jump your way through the game. This combines with a fantastic one-button ‘turn and face’ action, which lets you switch direction seamlessly and keep the momentum flowing.
Of course, momentum is only a good thing when the level is designed to allow you to move at speed and keep going forward. That’s why the control scheme in this title somewhat falls apart in tight platforming areas – this is where it truly does feel like ice physics, as you desperately fight the controls to try to avoid falling off platforms and land precise jumps.
Indeed, there’s a running theme throughout Croc – for everything that’s good, there’s a little bit of bad about it that tarnishes it a bit. For example, some boss fights are decent and utilise camera lock-on controls and clever AI movement patterns to keep the player engaged; and then others are boring and/or verging on terrible, barely a step-up from a normal mob. The graphics are bright, cartoony and perfectly themed – until you get to the darker themed levels which seem to lack invention in comparison. Yet throughout it all, there’s much more good than bad to experience here.
One area the game truly shines in is with the soundtrack – it beautifully complements the aesthetic of the game and is uplifting, relaxing and charming all at the same time. It’s one of the better gaming soundtracks you’re ever likely to hear, and just listening to it brings back waves of nostalgia.
Two words I’ve just mentioned pretty much sum up Croc wholesale. It is charming – abundantly so, with cute characters, quirky sound effects and fluid gameplay. It is also, for me and anyone else who played it back in the day, very nostalgic – there are plenty of objectively better games than it (because in all honesty, Croc is a very average platformer, even for the time), but it is better than the sum of its parts, as it tugs at your heartstrings and has you reaching for the game shelf every few years to have another go at its cutesy, fun yet flawed experience.
The PS1 version of this game is cheap online and well worth adding to your collection. It’s not Spyro, Mario or Ape Escape, but it does belong to those rare early 3D platformers that do somewhat stand the test of time. A bit. Sort of.
“BACK IN THE DAY” VERDICT: 75% – At the time, Croc was a modest hit, which to its credit is all it could have been expected to be, given it was a cutesy cartoon mascot platformer on two systems that were striving to be cool and aim for the teenage crowd. The gameplay and charm saved it from a Bubsy 3D fate.
“MODERN DAY” VERDICT: 60% – Nowadays, Croc is a hit of nostalgia for those who played it in the late 90s, but I can’t lie; those who haven’t played it before will be wondering why some are so fond of a game that gets its arse handed to it on a plate by Super Mario 64. It’s still ‘OK’ – but I’d be objectively recommending Mario, Spyro, etc. ahead of it to anyone who asked.