Despite the fluffy, colorful appearance of a children’s game, Crash Bandicoot is one of the most punishingly difficult platforming franchises in gaming. With over 20 entries in the franchise and hundreds upon hundreds of levels, there are some obstacles within the Crash universe that will leave you questioning whether you even want to finish the level at all.
Difficulty is a staple of the earliest three Crash Bandicoot games, developed by a pre-Uncharted Naughty Dog. From the difficult-to-master D-pad movement to the perfect timing of jumps, you had to be pitch perfect in every way to finish a level—let alone to obtain the gem for smashing all the crates, or beating set times to get the Relics. It’s a series that relishes in how grueling the journey is—but it makes completing a level even sweeter.
To celebrate 25 years of everyone’s favorite orange Bandicoot, we’re taking a look at the five most rage-inducing, head-pounding and controller-smashing levels in Crash history.
#5. Orange Asphalt (Crash Bandicoot: Warped)
Now, you might see this entry on the list and wonder just how a driving level has managed to earn its ranks among the most difficult Crash segments out there. Orange Asphalt is the second motor-based entry in Warped, the third entry in the series. It totally flipped the Crash formula on its head by introducing a range of new traversal methods throughout levels. Gone were the days of just running and hopping—you could now swim, drive, and even ride jet-skis.
However, Orange Asphalt is nothing like Mario Kart, the other spritely racer prevalent during the ’90s. No, it is a test not only of endurance, but your ability to rapidly switch directions and use your reflexes to keep on going. The level takes place on a barren desert highway, with Crash rocking a leather jacket and racing eight other opponents past diners, roadblocks and wayward cop cars.
Unlike most Crash levels, Orange Asphalt doesn’t reward you just for getting to the finish line. No, that’s far too easy for Naughty Dog; instead, you have to get yourself ahead of all the other opponents. Even if you manage second place, just inches behind the leader, you’ll have to do it all over again to progress. That’s where Orange Asphalt’s difficulty really shines: it isn’t necessarily a challenge to pass the black and white finish line, but rather to have the mental stamina to retry the same race over and over again to claim first place.
That’s even before mentioning the opponents you’re up against. You’re racing Doctor Neo Cortex’s professor grunts, clad in racing gear, in chunky behemoths of cars. Their vehicles are much more substantial than Crash’s lowly motorbike, and as such, they can wipe you off track—and thus out of the race—in an instant. You’ve also got to watch out for construction signs, which will decimate any speed you’ve got going, and navigate the slightly floaty steering that still persists in 2017’s N. Sane Trilogy remaster.
If you want the Relic on Orange Asphalt, you’ll have to do more than just win the race, too. You need to clear the level in 1:21:80, which is no mean feat. It makes for a driving level that’s deceptively more difficult than its nostalgia-inducing layout might suggest. Even if you consistently come first at Mario Kart, Orange Asphalt is a completely different beast.
#4. Whole Hog (Crash Bandicoot)
Next up is a level that’s similar on paper to Orange Asphalt, but even more difficult in practice. The 19th level of the original Crash Bandicoot game places you in control of an unstoppable hog, charging through the jungle. Unlike Orange Asphalt, Crash is merely a passenger here, rather than the driver—meaning you can’t even control the hog’s speed. Yes, Whole Hog is a level where you’ll constantly be on the edge of your seat, aware that one wrong move will send Crash and his smelly partner careening to a fail screen. It isn’t the first animal-riding level in the game—that’s Hog Wild—but Whole Hog is certainly the hardest.
The key difference here is the sheer range and variety of obstacles thrown in Crash’s direction. From hippos cooking on stakes to tribespeople armed with shields, every second of this level of a test of your reactions and quick thinking. In the fervor of panic, it’s very easy to accidentally press jump instead of the D-pad—and such errors can prove fatal. Unlike most levels where Crash can spin or bounce on top of an enemy to take them down, you’re absolutely defenseless here, meaning any contact with a baddie will send you right back to the start.
The only saving grace here is the beautiful sight of checkpoints, something Orange Asphalt lacks. It means that if you die, you aren’t sent back to the start, bandicoot tail between your legs. They’re the one sign of salvation in an otherwise ceaseless onslaught of obstacles. Arguably the most difficult element is the presence of drums throughout, which you need to bounce on to clear gaps in the terrain. As with all Crash platforming, you need to time these to utter perfection, or you’re either going to jump right into them, or over them, to the chasm below. It isn’t a short level either, with twenty-four crates to smash throughout—and that’s on top of the seemingly endless enemies.
#3. Cortex Castle (Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time)
Coming in third is the penultimate level from last year’s reboot of the franchise, It’s About Time, and the final level of flat-out platforming before the climactic boss battle. As expected from the game’s concluding stages, it’s an utterly grueling experience. The most painful part is its length: most runs of the level on YouTube clock in at over six minutes to collect all boxes, and even the developers’ best time is over a minute and a half. As with a lot of Crash levels, timing is key here from the very start. The first obstacle you face involves laser-ridden walls and rapidly disappearing floor panels. If you don’t get your timings right, you’ll be stuck on them for a while.
The cleverest element of Cortex Castle is how downright slow it sometimes appears to be. Platforms will move at a snail’s pace at times, and floating pads will move at just the right speed. However, it’s a level where you’ll need to take full advantage of all of the special abilities Crash has unlocked throughout last year’s time-hopping adventure. The ability to slow down time will be your best friend throughout Cortex Castle, as it reduces lightning-fast obstacles to a much more manageable speed. Slowing down time will also make it a lot easier to defeat Cortex’s scientist goons, who ride on hoverbikes to take down Crash wherever they can. You’ll be able to send them careening off-course with relative ease, and it makes strafing past obstacles that bit less terrifying.
However, even the most weathered Crash fan will let out an exasperated sigh at Cortex Castle. The overbearing presence of invisible boxes, which will disappear and reappear on a whim, means you never truly know if you’ll land a jump—even if the floor is currently there. Rather, sometimes you have to quite literally leap into the unknown, to an area where the floor is currently invisible, but will (hopefully) return by the time you land. If the spinning discs seen throughout It’s About Time put you off a level, then you’ll hate Cortex Castle, as they’re absolutely everywhere.
Easily the worst part, though, is the bridges made up entirely of obstacles. Seeing an endless run of TNT boxes and green Nitro explosives is nothing short of terrifying. If you don’t move quickly past these, you’ll end up plummeting to your demise faster than you can say “bandicoot.” That’s even before considering the completionist approach: if you want to 100% this level, you have to smash a staggering 170 crates. Considering so many of them are full of explosive contents, it’s far from a walk in the park—or castle. Cortex Castle will force you to unleash your full range of Crash 4 abilities without a single error, and that’s why it hits #3 on our list.
#2. Slippery Climb (Crash Bandicoot)
In many ways, Slippery Climb is the polar opposite to Cortex Castle. Gone are the time-slowing, gravity-defying feats of Its About Time: instead, this is a traditional Crash platforming level at its most punishing. The level takes place towards the end of the very first game, as Crash climbs up Cortex’s lair to rescue his girlfriend Tawna. Sadly, it’s far from that simple—nothing ever is with our favorite bandicoot. Even more insulting is that this level comes directly after The High Road, which doesn’t make our list, but is widely known among Crash fans for its difficulty. If you managed to get past The High Road and thought Naughty Dog would give you an easy rest with the subsequent level, you were very wrong.
Here, the platforming is ramped up to extraordinary levels, with obstacles that move so fast that you’ll struggle to time your jumps to start with. Most painful are the stone platforms that shift left to right, but in opposite directions to the ones next to them. Getting across those requires immense timing, jumping at the exact point where the blocks are at their closest point to one another. As always, if you mess up on even one of them, it’s all the way back to the start. Other types of block move forwards and backwards, but at a pace so cleverly off-kilter that you’ll end up jumping just a millisecond before you should. It’s the sort of precise level design that forces you to throw away all your previous experience, and totally focus on survival.
That’s even before talking about the other range of obstacles there to catch you out, from hulking hawks to disappearing staircases. Mixed with a seemingly endless series of spikes—and the constantly looming threat of falling off the course entirely—it’s side-scrolling at its most frustrating
#1. Stormy Ascent (Crash Bandicoot)
Yes, the hardest level in Crash’s twenty-five year history is so grueling that Naughty Dog actually removed it from the game. It was slated to take place between the level The Great Hall and the final boss fight against Dr. Cortex, and it had been completely finished, ready to ship with the game. However, extensive pre-testing determined that, even for Crash Bandicoot, Stormy Ascent was too difficult to keep in the game. As such it was removed from the original 1996 release, only accessible by using cheat codes to unlock it.
Luckily for contemporary Crash fans, Vicarious Visions released Stormy Ascent as a DLC level for 2017’s remastered N. Sane Trilogy. The developers had totally revamped the level in the same vein as the base adventures, and finally unleashed Stormy Ascent into the wild—and nothing could prepare players for the mammoth task they had waiting for them.
Visually and design-wise, Stormy Ascent is a very similar level to Slippery Climb. It takes place on the exterior of Cortex’s lair, with the same rainy environments, disappearing floors, and forsaken eagles bouncing to and fro. The difference here was just how much harder it all became: spikes lurked just under floorboards prone to moving, obstacles moved purposefully out of sync, and faster than they ever did before. It takes a true Crash mastermind to complete this level within half an hour, let alone the seven minutes required for a Blue Relic. It took this writer a painstaking six hours to complete just this one level, in a Crash session that cemented the series’ status as gaming’s most punishing platformer.
There you have it: the five Crash levels that will leave you slamming down your controller, taking deep breaths, and desperately wishing you could yank yourself away from the screen. Crash’s enduring legacy comes from its ability to challenge you with some really tough sequences, only to reward you with an intense feeling of satisfaction once the job is finally done. Happy 25 years, Crash Bandicoot—we love how hard you make us work for victory.