The early-to-mid 90s were a good time for 2D platformers. Between the back-to-basics approach of fare like Donkey Kong Country or Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, mixing old-school gameplay with sheer depth of secrets to find and lush graphics, there was fare like Yoshi's Island or Sonic the Hedgehog 3, which pushed their formulas further than ever with fresh gimmickry and strong core design. They weren't all winners, but it was a fun and adventurous era!

On top of that excitement, there was the coming age of next-generation consoles, touting specs that could finally begin to rub shoulders with arcade hardware of the time, and perhaps most importantly: full 3D capabilities! No longer are we stuck with a measly two dimensions! Now we've got a Z-axis to play around with!

Power Drift (1988)

Of course, this anticipation also came with a lot of teething pains and soul searching. How would one even design a game in true 3D space? It's telling that in arcades, where the beefier hardware held greater potential for 3D games, they focused primarily on 'vehicle' games, be it the vector-based space-shooter Star Wars way back in 1983, to SEGA's Virtua Racing.

SEGA had a long history of "super scaler" titles, using a fast flurry of hardware-scaled sprites to simulate forward 3D motion, across shooters like Space Harrier or After Burner, to their long history of driving and racing games. To go 3D was to simply cut out the middleman, to take away the shadow puppetry and just put actual-ass dragons in front of your face. I think I lost the analogy I was going for.

That's fine for vehicle games, which have long fought to simulate the rush of 3D movement (within the confines of a track, of course), but what about all the other genres? Fighting games, platform games, and so many others have managed just fine without the third dimension... but what if, though? How would you translate such familiar left-to-right, hop-and-bop gameplay into a medium that gives you greater depth to explore?
If you want to be pedantic, 3D platformers had already been explored in comparatively obscure PC platforms, perhaps most notably Christophe de Dinechin's Alpha Waves, released circa 1990. Ostensibly an evolution of room-based puzzle games like Knight Lore for the ZX Spectrum, wherein comprehending 3D space with such limited detail was as much a part of the game's puzzle elements as finding keys to unlock doors.

Jumping Flash is perhaps the first breakout 3D platformer on home consoles, hitting PlayStation in April 1995, and a very experimental one at that. Using the 3D presentation to its fullest, the game is not played with a visible avatar of your character on-screen, but instead all of the action is viewed through Robbit's eyes -- not just a 3D platformer, but an even-rarer first-person 3D platformer!

This was absolutely a head-turner, and arguably a key part of the PlayStation's identity in its formative years. First-person presentation was in! Between this, Ridge Racer, and dungeon-crawlers such as King's Field or Crime Crackers, embracing the 3D immersion head-on was the new hotness, viewing everything through digital eyes.

Gameplay-wise, Jumping Flash goes back to the roots of platforming; before Super Mario Bros., but to arcade fare like Bomb Jack, wherein the goal is to collect the items required to open the exit. By virtue of exploring such self-contained worlds via Robbit's viewpoint, what would otherwise appear like a single-screen arcade game becomes an immersive experience, completely reimagining such simple movesets as high jumps or the ability to leap multiple times in mid-air. You'll believe a rabbit can fly! Or close enough!

A lesser-known PlayStation-exclusive arrived at the dawn of 1996, Floating Runner, another striking game with its mixture of chibi anime illustrations and adorable, flat-shaded, low-poly graphics. It takes on a more familiar approach, following a human-shaped protagonist from a third-person perspective, albeit with a strangely zoomed-in camera, and simply tasks you with getting to the stage's goal; this is before collect-a-thons were the name of the game. Coming from the mad lads at T&E Soft who brought you Virtual Hydlide, it's more capable than you might expect.

Floating Runner, Xing's little known and under hyped 3-D platformer has been wisely acquired by THQ. Floating Runner is beyond a shadow of a doubt, the first true 3-D action platformer, including a sense of depth that is totally unique and 100% pure joy to play. The filled poly's mix well with the T-mapped, and, the game is long on both replayability, and fun. Do not let it fly by. 90%
(seven months later)
Two words describe 1: Too late. While this game was somewhat (well, not really...) impressive many months ago, the advent of Mario and Crash render it useless. If you want a charming lil' adventure, perhaps... but I, personally, just do not care. 65%
top: GameFan Volume 4 Issue 4 (April 1996)
bottom: GameFan Volume 4 Issue 11 (November 1996)

Although decidedly lo-fi and limited in scope (the camera certainly did its damnedest to rein in any wanderlust), the game was a simple but earnest attempt at broaching the concept, tackling the concept at its most base level. What sunk its chances of making a splash was... timing. The reviewers at GameFan were incredibly smitten with the game when they imported it in April 1996, but by the time it reached western shores in November, it had already been trumped by the newcomers who'd inserted themselves at the top of the food chain.

The Nintendo 64 (né Ultra) finally hits shelves in Summer 1996, and with it a complete reimagining of a staple of 2D platforming: Super Mario 64. What is there to say? Gone is the linear hop-'n'-bopping of Mario of olde. Gone are the points, the conventional power-ups, and simplistic inputs of the NES titles. Nintendo looked at the possibilities of 3D and tackled it head-on, thrusting Mario into large, expansive worlds to explore in every possibly direction -- up twisting mountains, down dark waters, or even all directions at once with his new Wing Cap power-up.

Ignoring its gummy polygonal takes on classic characters and archetypes, there's very little in Super Mario 64 that resembles its classic games. There are power-ups, but they're presented more as puzzle-solving devices than power fantasies. Each stage technically has a beginning and end, but only if you know where the Power Star is -- levels are open-ended with no shortage of paths to take, and if you don't cotton on to the challenge that's asked of you, you could be wandering around for a long, long time. This kind of explorative approach was by no means new to 2D platformers, but it was pretty fresh to Mario, and a jarring new venture into realms unexplored.

Three months after that on PlayStation, a new mascot hit the scene; developed by a bunch of screw-ups with only obtuse adventure games and a dodgy fighter in their repertoire, a sudden infusion of budget allowed them to set their sights on tackling 3D. Crash Bandicoot is relatively back-to-basics compared to its competition; its mechanics are simple, sticking to the Sonic the Hedgehog or Donkey Kong Country school of thought where jumping and bashing into things are your primary means of interaction.

Rather than wide-open spaces, it focuses on 3D through its iconic visual of running 'into' levels -- levels are linear with a presentation not unlike classic 2D platformers, where everything that's on-screen is all you have to contend with at the present time. It plays with this in iconic setpieces like the boar-riding or boulder chases, forcing you to react quickly to rapidly-incoming hazards, or even run towards the camera, giving a cinematic presentation as you react to dangers moments before you bang into them.

Although hard as balls, this game set a great impression on the new era of 3D. Easy to pick up and play for players of all ages and skill levels, because what's not to understand? The linear levels are easy to parse, and its bevy of secrets harken to the likes of Donkey Kong Country, where there's no shortage of extra challenges to be found down conspicuous pits or platforms. Even the cartoon presentation did wonders for it; the hand-animated 3D models looked like caricatures, boasting great levels of expression thanks to their individually-tweaked polygons.
Even the frustration at dying was somewhat mitigated thanks to its Looney Tunes-esque animations: Crash squashing like a pancake, getting blowing to smithereens, or simply falling to his doom with a trailing whistle. The N64/PlayStation era arguably ushered in a new era in '90s 'tude, and Crash was probably the instigator.

Although rarely counted alongside the cutesy animal contemporaries, Lara Croft is very much a mascot of her own making, and also a distinctly modern take on the platforming. Owing more to the likes of Prince of Persia than our plumber paisano, Tomb Raider made an identity for itself on how seemingly 'adult' it was -- although still built on boxy polygonal grids, its moody environments and sense of mystery and exploration created an atmosphere so unlike what could be accomplished in 2D.

That, paired with its somewhat generous representation of a polygonal pinup model, helped usher in the PlayStation's attitude of "games aren't just for kids!", with Lara's busty figure adorning everything from magazine covers to energy drinks. But I digress!

One of the game's biggest standouts was perhaps its unique control style. Rather than Mario and Crash's free-form input wherein the character would move in the direction pressed, Lara would instead be 'steered' and told to run forward or back-pedal, somewhat akin to steering a tank. Although perhaps a bit uncanny compared to the more 'immediate' action of its competitors, it fit the motif.

Its levels were large, sprawling, and often maze-like, where simply figuring out where to go next, be it via complex jumping challenges or solving puzzles, was more key than blindly running forward. With the slower, methodical approach to gameplay and the camera locked firmly behind Lara most of the time, it made a fitting vehicle for its grandiose approach to 3D space, one where scale and verticality played a big part.

advertisement from GamePro issue 97 (October 1996)

And then... there's Bubsy 3D. Oh, poor Bubsy. Released November 1996 and forced to compete against the other heavy hitters that Christmas season, it didn't make a good show for itself. Bubsy already boasted huge, expansive levels with almost outrageous levels of verticality and tiers to explore, so to take that to the third dimension seemed a no-brainer. Just do that but with an extra axis, right?

Unfortunately, the speed and immediacy of that game is chucked out in favour of sluggish tank controls; a necessity given the extremely precise and precarious platforming it demands, but no less of a killjoy. Where Lara's controls were smooth and graceful, Bubsy's were juttery and unpleasant, moving with as much grace as a cat stuck in a letterbox. While it retains a few individual aspects from the classic games, the package leaves a lot to be desired.

Sacrifices have to be made in converting classic 2D characters into 3D space, but it's hard to say whether the changes were worth it. Mario 64 ushered in a new genre unto itself with competitors iterating on its foundations. Bubsy 3D's just kind of abstract dreck.

Had it been released a year prior it could have been remembered as an early formative point in the genre, but to be released after history had already been made probably cut it off at the knees.

Perhaps what Bubsy 3D is best known for ('best' used pejoratively here) is its sheer abundance of dialogue. Anticipating the teething pains in navigating 3D spaces, the game is rife with hint bubbles that prompt Bubsy to vocally explain each of the game's commands and quirks, from the completely arbitrary first-person-shooting mode, to the various collectibles, and whatever the hell else.
Although it lends the spark of life to what are otherwise jarring alien environments, it only makes the game's soundscape even worse, with Bubsy constantly barking sarcastic instructions at you. This, sadly, is an unfortunate omen of gaming to come. Do you enjoy endless tutorials? Do you like your game's characters to be nattering endlessly at you, spewing words without a whit of worth in them? Buddy, you ain't seen nothing yet...!

1995/04 Jumping Flash!
1995/08 Bug!(?)
1996/01 Floating Runner: Quest for the 7 Crystals
1996/04 Jumping Flash! 2
1996/06 Super Mario 64
1996/09 Crash Bandicoot
1996/11 Cheesy(?)
1996/11 Bubsy 3D
1996/12 Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire(?)
1997/02 Tomb Raider
1997/03 Doraemon: Nobita to Mittsu no Seireiseki
1997/06 Willy Wombat
1997/09 Croc: Legend of the Gobbos

If you want me to be extremely anal, I could discuss the also-rans. Cheesy and Bug! barely count as 3D platformers; the latter a maze game with perspective, and the former using it solely as a clumsy level select. Willy Wombat's a gem, though, and I won't tolerate anyone calling it a bad game, however right they may be.

Shadows of the Empire is a fascinating kick-off to the blossoming "kitchen sink" genre, mixing 3D platforming with third and first-person shooting, ground-bound and fully 3D vehicular stages, as well as limited bouts of total aerial freedom... making it hard to discuss without addressing those genre evolutions as well!

I was under the mistaken impression Doraemon on N64 was developed by Hudson Soft (they were responsible for the robot cat's adventures on Famicom and PC Engine), in which case I wanted to draw unfounded parallels between it and late-era Adventure Island titles... but it's not, and I've very little to remark on it otherwise. I'm not sure why I got that idea, honestly.
Nintendo magazines of the day dismissed it as a cheap Mario clone. Is there much truth in that? Who knows! Who cares! This preamble's gone on long enough! Sorry to chuck a beloved mascot under the bus, but we've got a game to dissect!

Come September 1997, a new character hit the Sony PlayStation and SEGA Saturn...



Croc: Legend of the Gobbos is the tale of Croc, a lost infant who ends up adopted by a tribe of fuzzy little critters, the Gobbos. Raised by their humble leader, King Rufus, little Croc learns to walk, run, and tail-whip, and soon grows to become bigger than any of his adoptive family -- yet remains the same gentle creature he always was. Life on the Gobbo Islands is tranquil and uneventful.

That is, until Baron Dante and his band of Dantinis invade. The gang of ne'er-do-wells set about terrorising and kidnapping the Gobbos, for no grander goal than just being mischievous so-and-sos. The Gobbos, fuzzy and adorable as they are, aren't much equipped to fending off such invaders, and Rufus, knowing he's their last hope, calls for Croc's evacuation with the aid of Beany, the magical(?) bird. Though lost and alone once more, Croc now knows what he must do: defeat the Dantinis and rescue his Gobbo family!

Advertised as a "free-wheeling, free-roaming adventure," Croc is charming little romp with a very different scope from its competition. A little zippier than Lara Croft, but not as vast as Mario's worlds. A different branch of "cartoony" than Crash Bandicoot, one with a gentler, more subdued personality. The genre was still finding its footing, and every entry thus far had its own way of speaking the language.

Croc controls very simply. One button is to jump, and pressed again in mid-air to stomp, used to bust crates and flatten the occasional ground-bound baddie. The other is to tail-whip, his primary means of attack. I could lie and claim it's a two-button game, but every single input on the PlayStation controller is taken advantage of, used to sensitively manipulate Croc's position or direction, as well as muck about with the camera -- a new foible developers had to make concessions for in this 3D age.

As the star of a 3D platformer, Croc's capable of more than just running and jumping: under the appropriate context, he can scale walls, climb monkey bars, and in the rare occasions he's swimming underwater, enjoy a full three-dimensional freedom of movement.
By no means a unique set of abilities (Mario had been employing all this stuff since the NES days), but to employ these skills across bite-sized obstacle courses is a charming visual.

The action is presented in self-contained chambers; either walled in by insurmountable terrain, set inside of caves or dungeons, or simply floating landmasses above a pastel abyss.

In the early game, chambers are so small you can scope out the entire area as you enter through the doorway, allowing you to see what challenges lie ahead. At a time when the massive scope of 3D worlds was what excited people, there's something to be said for peering into such charming little toyboxes as well.

Levels are composed of several rooms connected by doors and passages, and the end goal is the Beany Gong; striking it with Croc's tail whip will summon Beany the Bird to whisk you away and complete the stage.

Although levels begin fairly linear, it doesn't take long before they grow in complexity, with branching paths that sometimes intersect, often housing goodies and collectibles. Passages that lead to dead ends are a frequent sight -- wells, caves, pools of water, anywhere that might take you to an optional chamber housing items that you'll want if you're seeking 100% completion.

The true goal of each level is to rescue the six Gobbos hidden throughout it; you don't want to leave your pals behind, do you?! Some are simply sitting in plain view, waiting for Croc to collect them so they can be whisked to safety in a shower of sparkles. Some are found at the end of tricky platforming challenges, locked inside cages that require a key to be opened, or even awarded for completing a mini-game.

Said mini-games usually involve some box-related shenanigans; presenting you with three boxes and playing the shell game, shuffling them and ask you find the one hiding the Gobbo. Guess wrong, and that Gobbo's gone; you'll have to retry the stage to get it right! Other challenges are more physical, like a floating box that actively retreats from Croc's advance, demanding you catch it before it disappears, taking the Gobbo with it.

But only five Gobbos are found this way: the final one is locked behind a Crystal Door, usually found next to the level's exit, and can only be opened if you collected all five Coloured Crystals. This is another challenge, usually themed to the world, ranging from tricky platform puzzles like chasing a ghost before it swallows a key, to any number of mini-games...
... including one where you must step on switches to detonate sheep that emerge from hollow tree trunks. It's the one bit of cartoon violence the game indulges in against undeserving creatures (well, not quite: see below), but we can forgive it just for the amusing cacophony of sheeps bleating mixed with explosions.


that weird freakin' balloon dude

I say Croc holds no ill will against his adversaries and only acts against those who attack him first. The one exception to this rule is... this weird little balloon dude in Dante's castle. You push him towards one of the three locked doors, then step on the pump to inflate him until he explodes, blasting the door open.

He does nothing else. He just stands there. He's got arms and legs and eyes, but makes no objection to being pushed around and subjected to this fate. It's purely a formality; the sort of thing that could easily have been replaced by a box of dynamite and a detonator.
But no. Instead we've got to acknowledge this thing is a person, and then make him perish just to proceed. Dante's castle is full of cruel challenges; who knew taking a life would be one of them?

Of course, he's reformed by the time you re-enter the room, and he regrows from the size of a pea if you biff the demolition. None of the series' villains are ever truly killed off, so it'd suck for this guy to be the only casualty.
Croc's adventure takes him across the four Gobbo Islands, spread across eight levels. Every four stages is a boss fight; after a couple screens of devilish platforming, little Croc is dunked in an arena with a large persistent foe, one that takes multiple hits to defeat.
These exist largely as visual setpieces, both for the bosses' unique designs and exuberant, personality-filled motions, as well as the fun arenas they reside in.
Flibby the ladybug is an early eye-catcher courtesy of her fluid animations, fought in a colourful boxing ring adorned with her own face, and even an unseen audience audibly reacting to either competitor landing a hit.

Of course, the boss fights aren't exactly known for their challenge. They invariably pursue Croc and run through their timing or proximity-based patterns, usually winding themselves after a whiffed attack, during which state you can land a tail-whip on them. They may or may not change up their pattern slightly after each hit, and always go down after three. They're certainly a change of pace, a refresher from the non-stop platforming, though combat is by no means the game's strong suit.

Each of the four islands covers a different biome; grasslands, icy tundra, cavernous desert, and Baron Dante's castle; all with a noticeable uptick in difficulty. Just when you'd gotten acquainted with Croc's abilities, the second world throws a spanner in the works by forcing him to contend with slippery floors and moving platforms.

The desert is rife with perilous jumps and key-hunting, required to open locked doors or gain access to essential switches... and once you enter Baron Dante's domain, all bets are off. Every level, if not nearly every chamber, throws some all-new enemy, challenge or puzzle at you, often seen once and then never again!

Collecting every Gobbo in a world unlocks two additional Secret Levels on that island, and each Secret Level includes a Jigsaw Piece to be found. These stages, as you might expect, get pretty tough, and aren't afraid at throwing stupid amounts of enemies at you right out the gate. Collecting all of the Jigsaw Pieces is essential to achieving 100%, and is how you access the true final battle with Dante and defeat him once and for all... or for now, at least.



Although most visible on PlayStation and treated by many as one of several warring mascots for the console, Croc also made its SEGA Saturn debut on the same date, before seeing a PC release a couple months down the line.

While early prototypes began development on the SEGA Saturn[2], Argonaut seemingly designed their codebase to be easily portable, meaning they're all by and large they are the same game. Gone are the days of the 16-bit consoles where the same game might be wholly different beasts.

left: PlayStation | right: SEGA Saturn
Any differences between versions are largely just visual quirks; fussy things like how they render lighting and transparency, or even their depth of field, the result of each platform's approach to 3D rendering.
Every version has their own font, for some reason, and the PlayStation is host to a couple of unique traits: some of its music tracks feature different arrangements, making for slightly unique compositions, and all other versions are missing its adorable loading screen.

The SEGA Saturn version is best known for its graphical oddities; the game normally modifies the size of objects or the terrain to make cave systems appear larger than they are... but foregoes this formality on the Saturn, making them a little more snug by comparison.

Its biggest claim to fame was perhaps a hardware glitch where untextured models wouldn't render, meaning Croc's head was prone to just... not appearing.

What gets less attention are its more benign quirks, like showing the title screen before the intro cinematic, its variety of altered menus, or even hiding the password function behind a button combination -- without that knowledge, it's battery backup or bust!
On the bright side, its shows the end-of-level tally after the "boss defeated" cutscene, mitigating the awkwardness of the boss just standing inanimate, and it even has a unique animated HUD; Croc blinks and the Gobbos move around when their icons display. Isn't that cute? Given the notorious difficulty developers had in working with the Saturn's unique architecture, Croc makes the leap pretty well, all things considered.

left: PlayStation | right: PC (software rendering)
The PC version was designed for the standards of the era, meaning various options for screen resolution (from 320x200 to 800x600), three different lighting settings (none as vivid as the PlayStation, sadly), and to render 3D either in software mode or via DirectX6.
It has zero support for analogue controls, though, and it's also a dickens to get running on modern computers; running it without DirectX means it's limited to only a 256 colour palette. You don't know how much you appreciate colour depth until it's shrunk a hundred-fold...!

This version has since been supplanted by crocguy0688's Definitive Edition, a fan-made reworking which updates the game to include widescreen support, both versions of the soundtrack, as well as other quality of life changes.
If you want to play Croc, this is the easiest way of going about it. It's not without its quirks, including occasional issues with the lighting and a bug where the sound effects get jumbled after extended play, but it's a darn sight easier than the alternative! And you can run it on Linux!
And that, basically, is Croc. A dry run-down of its features and bulletpoints, a description for those not in the know. It's a 3D platformer starring a crocodile. What more is there to say?
Lots, actually! Its ups and its downs! Its strengths and its weaknesses! Its identity!

I'm of the (possibly foolish) belief that Croc is a good game, one that approaches the 3D platforming genre from its own unique perspective, and one that goes unappreciated in many circles. It offers insight into the building blocks developers were using to bridge the gap between 2D and 3D, and the accommodations required to usher in this whole new venture.

Its cute, easygoing setting is a refreshing change from the increasingly raucous stuff that was becoming the norm. Every barb slung against the game at the time ended up becoming a trait that set it apart from the crowd, for better or for worse, all elements I want to sing the praises of in some form or another.

This might just come across as saying we're only after the second introductory preamble, and the real article hasn't even started yet -- in which case, yeah, pretty much. Look, tackling things in big ungainly chunks is just how I do things, alright? If I haven't gotten my point across after ten thousand words you can ask for your money back.


One of the most common complaints lobbied against Croc are its controls. Having begun development before analogue input was rolled out for its two consoles, the game is controlled entirely with the D-Pad (by default, at least -- see below!). Unlike the directional control of Super Mario 64 or Crash Bandicoot, wherein the character moves in the direction you press relative to the camera, Croc's controls are what folks dub "tank controls".
Press Up to make him run forward, press Down to make him pedal backwards, and Left or Right will steer him in that direction relative to where he is facing. I addressed this when I was talking Tomb Raider! Should the camera wedge itself in such a way that it's no longer centred behind Croc, pressing Up will still make him walk forward in the direction he's facing, which could be off to the side or even towards the camera.

That's a lotta words to say it's a bit funky from what you might expect! It's a perfectly reasonable method of control, though. To change a directional orientation on the fly relative to where the camera is facing is probably a lot of code, and in itself requires you give the player control over the camera as well.

Nintendo anticipated this, naming and dedicating four entire buttons to camera manipulation, except when devs said "nuts to that" and used them for toggling weapons or whatever.

It takes some getting used to. Croc has a wide turning circle when he runs, and turning on the spot can be slow; his 180-degree quick turn comes in handy for such an occasion.

Lining yourself up just right for a tricky jump can be hard when, rather than simply moving straight into position as Crash or Mario would, Croc needs steered and reversed like a car. This is likely where the sidestep functions come in, to better line him up on platforms and reduce the need for three-point turns, but its usefulness is iffy at best. Cute animation, though.

What's unique is that Croc has full 3D movement while jumping -- pressing left or right will move him in that direction while airborne. To steer in mid-air would be too tricky, so this is a welcome change. Jumping is perhaps where Croc is at his most manoeuvrable, and jumping on the spot is sometimes the quickest way to position yourself on a platform, rather than manually turning and moving him.

The sidestep buttons change function in mid-air to rotating Croc, seemingly for lack of anything better to do. This has very little use, but does come in handy in later stages where Croc must run across a collapsing bridge:

To steer after you've hit the ground is tricky, but to hit the ground running in a new direction saves valuable time. It's extremely situational, otherwise a footnote more than anything, but if you've got the buttons to spare, you might as well use them...!


analogue controls

If you're using the PlayStation DualShock or SEGA Saturn Analog Controller, the game has a new control scheme to accommodate them. Just plug it in, confirm it in the options screen, and you're no longer beholden to the using the D-Pad!

... unfortunately, it's not a great alternative. The feature was shoved in two weeks before going gold[1][2], and it shows. Croc is very much designed to be steered and manoeuvred, and without that formality, moving him with the analogue stick is a lot like throwing him around the place. Nuances and safety measures like his slow back-pedal are gone; he'll just turn and zoom in the direction you press.

Your directional input is based on where the camera is facing, and given your minuscule control over it and its penchant for pointing strange directions even just going through a door, it's hard to get a handle on the squirrelly character.

It also completely disables the "Croc-cam" function for some reason, meaning if you want to scope out your surroundings, the only way to do it is to turn Croc around. Now that rotating in place is no longer an option, that's easier said than done...!

Of course, this is twenty-something years of muscle memory talking, and to play the game by any means but tank controls is sacrilege to me. While I can appreciate the attempt, it's clearly not what the game was designed around, and a very imprecise way to play. What wounds me the most is when it gives first-time players the wrong impression: "are the controls really this bad?!" They're not! I mean, it's debatable! Just play on the D-Pad!!

What's doubly frustrating is that Croc 2 would then back-port these controls to the D-Pad, eliminating the rotational controls entirely; holding any direction but forward will make Croc run in a circle. In a game with tiny platforms and little to no camera control, you really, really don't want that!
Designing controls for 3D movement is a tough endeavour, and for D-Pads is another difficulty on top of that. I can see why they sought to ditch them, few games but Tomb Raider humouring the control scheme as the new millennium approached, but the replacement just wasn't great...!
The umbrage over this control scheme likely arose because of the competition. Mario and Crash had set the standard, why should we settle for anything less? Well, the developers probably didn't consider such alternatives until its final year of production. The point I've been trying to make is every studio approached 3D platformers in their own unique way, working almost entirely in the dark, with annual trade expos the closest they ever got to sizing up the competition.
To go blindly chasing after such things that late in the dev cycle would have been foolish, especially when Croc's tank controls are, once you get used to them, pleasantly smooth and tactile. Better to work with what you've designed, than upheave it all at the last second; they would have Croc 2 to go chasing that notion, to questionable avail.

Amusingly, while players and reviewers were bemoaning the lack of directional controls, there's at least one instance of gaming executives believing rotational controls were the way to go. According to Traveller's Tales founder and programmer Jon Barton in a GameHut video, Rascal (released on the PlayStation six months later) boasted controls similar to Mario 64 in an early prototype...
... which were changed at the insistence of publisher Psygnosis to tank controls, claiming Tomb Raider's success as their reasoning. It's hard to judge without a hands-on compare and contrast, but given how all reviews of the game slammed its controls and its camera (the latter gimped to accommodate the change), we can safely say it was probably a bad move.

The point is, a game's controls should be what best suits its style of play, and Croc's control scheme is one of many facets that helped serve as its baby steps into 3D. It may have arrived a little late to the party, but it treads carefully into the realm of three dimensions, and designs its early worlds in such a way to ease players into the fundamentals. Whether you were new to all this or a veteran of 2D platformers, this was a lot to take on board, and Argonaut wanted players to enter with as much built-in familiarity as possible!


One of the daunting elements of early 3D was expectations: do people know what they're letting themselves in for? It had "Mario" in the title, but Super Mario 64 was nothing like any of its predecessors, to the point of being extremely daunting to an idiot youngster who played it in 1997. On the contrary, new franchises on PlayStation perhaps felt more welcoming because they had no such baggage; they may have had fleeting similarities to game design of olde, but for the most part they were fresh new experiences.

Legend of the Gobbos is very much a game built on the formula of 2D games, more than it is reinventing the wheel for the new 3D medium. For their expanded scope in the third dimension, levels are still largely linear -- get from point A to B, with the gong serving as a very clear end point.

There's still exploration with lots of items to collect, but when levels are split into a variety of rooms, it's easier to mentally segment them. Later stages add a marginal amount of complexity with the addition of keys and switches, yet areas are so compact that you can usually keep things straight in your head.

The pacing of Croc feels perfect for its controls. Everything is gently paced and deliberate, to account for his tank-like turning. His jumping arc has a pronounced 'lull' at its peak; his ascent and descent are fast, but that brief pause makes it easier to calculate his airtime. Even his tail whip is slow because in 3D space, it can be hard to measure distance -- hence why the tried-and-true method of jumping on enemies has been downplayed. By making the attack last longer, it turns him into a walking hitbox, allowing you to navigate him towards enemies in that time.

Stomping on enemies had become a staple of 2D platforming, with some games relying heavily on the big ups you'd get from bouncing off foes. That simple act suddenly becomes a lot trickier in 3D space! Jumping Flash, with its first-person perspective and aerial manoeuvrability, made it a snap, but it also allowed you to shoot foes with bullets and missiles if you preferred to keep your distance.
Floating Runner offered the same tools, though with less range on both fronts; with no way of tilting he camera, that probably explains why everyone's so big and blocky. There's no missing a target that big! Given Mario's weighty momentum, stomping is a little inelegant in his game, hence his various ways of kicking, punching, and otherwise clobbering enemies at close range. Later instalments would just tighten up his controls and make the enemies bigger. Sometimes there's overthinking the solution, isn't there?


gobbo no densetsu

Croc also made the leap to Japan, appearing on both console skews under the new title, Croc Pau-Pau Island (クロック!パウパウアイランド). The game's already incredibly light on text and dialogue, so it should be no surprise there was very little for publisher MediaQuest to translate, but it's not without its own changes.

Alongside replacing individual level names with a new graphic to denote each world (the only in-game source that actually names the individual Gobbo Islands, apparently), the intro and ending cinematics are now narrated by TV and music personality Chiaki Fujimoto (千秋), the only intelligible voice in the game!
It's also the only version to not translate the manual's irreverent story (see the "Attitude" aside)... but is just a dry description of what happens in the cutscene anyway. No juicy deets, no fresh take, just the same premise in another language!

Speaking of the manual, Croc is the only character to cross the pond unchanged, as every single character in his rogues' gallery has seen a name change! The title clues us in that the Gobbos are now the Pau-Pau, and Baron Dante becomes Sachertorte XIII, named after a Viennese dessert for some reason.
The original names are steeped in British-isms, the kind of nonsense words that populated children's media of the era, so it's understandable a lot of that would just be gobbledygook in katakana, and are now Japanese-flavoured gobbledygook instead.

What's interesting is the other new material; the manual features new illustrations of Croc to demonstrate his moveset; a rare sight when all promotional material was strictly of 3D renders.

Even the Japan-exclusive strategy guide, the "Pau-Pau Sightseeing Book", features new illustrations by Twinbell (ツインベル) for all of the enemies and bosses, rendering them in adorable Muppet-esque 2D.

Argonaut are said to have made new 3D renders for Japanese publication (according to Croc fansite Hero of the Gobbos), and the manual illustrations are very much the work of level designer and artist Simon Keating.

His concept art perfectly exemplifies the kooky, wobbly art style they were going for, and before the release of those documents, this was perhaps the only insight we had into Croc's design before he turned 3D!

The level design also ties into this tone of learning how to walk again. The game begins with each room feeling like a self-contained challenge -- let's navigate narrow spaces by walking across this log! Now let's try some platforms, and then some climbing -- before throwing the veritable kitchen sink at you as the worlds progress.

It's aware these are simple challenges, both because this is a children's game, but also because something as simple as jumping between platforms is a totally different kettle of fish when you only had two dimensions to worry about before.

The environments are simple partly because it's memory efficient, populating a small pool of pre-made terrain with traps and obstacles, but it has the unintended side effect of making it feel cozy, y'know?

The game plays by old-fashioned rules: selecting levels via its overworld map screen, not unlike any Mario game in the past nine years, and the White Crystals function similarly to rings in Sonic the Hedgehog; carrying one is all it takes to survive an attack, scattering any in your possession, allowing you to reclaim them before they vanish.
It feels like a friendly way of stepping into the third dimension; all the splendour of a brave new venture, but with familiar trappings to keep you grounded. You have 3D space to explore, but it's never too daunting on account of how compact everything is.



With its cuddly main character, its cutesy aesthetic, its twee premise and promotional art, it's hard not to perceive Croc as a kids' game. Indeed, the game is pretty breezy for its first couple of worlds, before ramping up considerably in short order. Between treacherous gimmickry like the firefly-lit caverns or just how long stages are, it can become a bit of a gauntlet!

While the level layouts become more difficult as the game progresses, the 'true' challenge is in collecting the six Gobbos in every stage... and if you completely ignore them, you can play over half the game with very few hurdles. Each level usually has a half-dozen screens dedicated to it, but booking it straight to the exit means you might not even see half of them!
While this is perfectly valid -- you'll still get an ending if you reach the final boss this way -- it almost feels like the wrong way to play? As if refusing to engage with the real meat and potatoes at its core. When it takes over half the game for a rush-to-the-exit playthrough to start putting proper challenges in your path, it almost feels like you're cheating somehow...!

You can speedrun the game if you so want to, but there's not the same level of nuance and dynamism in Croc's controls to make it compelling. Compare that to learning the ins and outs of Mario's moveset in SM64, or keeping Crash's momentum at its peak in his games.

That said, watching speedruns is alluring in how they barely engage with the levels at all. Croc is at his fastest when jumping, and a frame-perfect exploit will allow him to float through the air, maintaining his vertical position for up to two seconds as he glides forward. This allows him to sail over pits, under monkey bars, and practically ignore every major platforming challenge for half the game.

It's a fascinating new way of seeing the game, and admittedly makes me wish the game had more intentionally designed speed options... but Croc is very much designed to be taken slow and steady. It wants you to explore, to sightsee, to savour these worlds, and jumping with abandon is as reckless as it wants you to get.
Compare this to Super Mario 64, which comes across like an almost totally unbroken experience -- outside of choosing a star at the beginning of each level, you are always in control of Mario. You are never whisked away to an overworld map screen to select a level like previous titles; the expansive multi-tiered hub is your level select!
All of Peach's castle is a safe zone (unless you choose to kill yourself on the cavern's torches or by flinging yourself down the stairs), so there's no danger in loitering between levels. It helps serve as an excuse to acquaint yourself with Mario's moveset, using the central staircase to experiment with the heights of his various jumps, but it's still a shocking foray into non-linear progression, compared to how railroaded the map screens of his prior games were.

Croc, by contrast, sticks closer to 2D Mario conventions folks had grown acquainted with... of course, this is likely down to the game being conceived as a vehicle for Mario's dinosaur pal, Yoshi. Before Nintendo gave Argonaut the heave-ho, the two companies seemed relatively chummy, and the British studio were keen to push their 3D capabilities as far as they could go; what better challenge after a variety of space-shooters than a platformer in the third dimension?

So much of Legend of the Gobbos' iconography can be linked to Yoshi's Island. Croc's ground pound is nigh-identical to that game's, mid-air stalling and everything, and the various collectibles, even unlocking the additional bonus screen after collecting all coloured gems, seems very in line with its design ethos as well.

The island map screens, the humble monsters transformed into larger bosses, even Croc's design itself... so much of the game looks like a spiritual successor to the Yoshster's latest outing! We'll assume features like eating enemies, throwing eggs, and transforming into vehicles were just asking a bit much for a 3D platformer still finding its feet.

The gaming landscape was undergoing a dramatic metamorphosis in this console generation, and as exciting as it was to see exciting new IPs and genres flourish, it was also refreshing to know there was something quaint and familiar as well.


What was quickly becoming apparent in the new era of 3D platformers was that "attitude" was getting a second wind. Mario, already no stranger to moments of slapstick and pratfall, gained a whole new depth just with the addition of a voice. These huge, sometimes lonely environments felt that more approachable with the friendly plumber hah-ing, hoo-ing and wahey-ing his way through them.

Crash Bandicoot, for its comparatively simple gameplay, boasted worlds that were rich with detail, its premise and bevy of colourful characters making an instant splash on fans. If a mascot was to make an impression, a sassy idle animation wasn't enough to cut it anymore. For the extra effort and cost of voiced dialogue and cutscenes (or an in-your-face marketing campaign), they added an instant depth to their worlds... if done right, of course. In the wrong hands they tended to elicit instant revulsion. I hate to slam the Bubster like this. Love ya, Bubs! But gosh if he ain't an ideal whipping boy.



While the game itself is pleasantly twee and low-key, ancillary media tried their hardest to give this world of fuzzy-wuzzies a personality injection. This is most evident in the game's own manual, where the story is interpreted through an extremely irreverent lens. The Gobbos are depicted as a cute, kind-hearted, if extremely dim-witted race, whose own cutesy qualities are what've kept them alive for centuries. Their history and customs are rife with footnotes that explain them further, silly jokes on top of sillier jokes.


It all started one morning in the third month of the Year of the Soupspoon [1]. King Rufus the Intolerant [2], ruler of the Gobbos, was down by the riverbank watching the sunrise. He had just finished breathing a sigh of relief that, once again, the sun had returned, when suddenly a small basket floated ashore. He and a group of his Gobbo subjects huddled around it. Peering inside, they saw a baby crocodile. Naturally, they assumed he must be the early leader in the Annual Midget Crocodile Basket Race. Not that there had ever been such an event, but you never know about these things, and many of the Gobbos placed bets just to be on the safe side. After a couple of hours, when no other baskets had come by, the Gobbos decided that perhaps there was no race, or that it had been called off the night before by crocodiles who shared their concern that the sun had gone away for good.

[1] At the start of each year, the Gobbo high priestess would announce the kitchen utensil that, when put down their pants, would bring good luck. Gobbos took this very seriously, although some began to question the practice during the Year of the Electric Can Opener.

[2] People far and wide had heard of King Rufus the Intolerant and feared him for his name alone. Of course, the Gobbos knew his full name was King Rufus the Lactose Intolerant and therefore only feared him after a big bowl of cottage cheese. According to fansite Croc: Hero of the Gobbos, the Argonaut staff were never that enamoured with this take (series lead designer Nic Cusworth remarking "Yup - it sucked... but Fox probably paid a load of money for it :)"). Neil Alsip was responsible for writing the story (credited in the manual for his "Ph.D. in Gobbology"), and as a Fox Interactive employee, it should be no surface his irreverent style of writing gave him a home as producers' assistant on The Simpsons for two seasons, as well as its various comic and video game tie-ins.
It is a fun read, one that gives the otherwise dry instruction manual some much needed life and character, though how emblematic it is of the game is another matter. Just think of it as the last bastion of batshit copy editors. Konami had that stuff on lockdown during the NES era.

It was the '90s, and it was time for rude dudes with 'tude. Every game, no matter how tame, tender, or tepid, had to be advertised with qualities that can only be described as "in your face". How do you promote a game as cuddly as Croc? "You see a new adventure hero. His enemies see a new set of luggage." How dare you make me even think about Croc being skinned alive! Ghouls! Barbarians!

"How did Croc find the competition? Delicious!"
advertisement from GameFan Volume 5 Issue 11 (November 1997)
The most infamous print ad depicted Croc, in no uncertain terms, devouring his platforming rivals, with only their trademark apparel left undigested. In fairness, munching people is among the top 10 croc qualities a croc could have, but it's not really in Croc's wheelhouse, y'know? He's just a widdle baby! Whether he'd make friends with these characters is a question only fanfic could answer, but surely he'd try! But it was the '90s, and every game character, no matter how cuddly, was promoted as if they had bite.
Where those games leaned towards classic and contemporary American cartoons, Crash in particular owing a lot to the Looney Tunes catalogue, Croc instead goes for a far more gentle approach. Its cutscenes have no intelligible dialogue, and are wholly pantomime affairs. What we insinuate of Croc and Baron Dante's personalities, or those of the characters they briefly interact with, is simply through their actions and babbling verbalisations.

Even the character design feels different from the norm. Arguably the same brand of cutesy, glassy-eyed approach to characters common among British games, apparently -- look at Banjo-Kazooie! -- yet even Croc's approach feels different. The Dantinis bear closer resemblance to Muppets than anything found in nature, and I would argue that the art design owes more to British stop-motion like The Trap Door than anything else!

The use of painterly textures across flat planes, although a technical necessity at the time, casts a similar impression to that show's painted backdrops, and the various kooky critters found throughout evoke the shapeless charm of Berk and the lads. Croc himself is an outlier by virtue of being immediately identifiable. Croc's a croc!! Goodness knows what Baron Dante is meant to be, though. A toad?

This did make the game an easy target for unwarranted dunks, dismissing it as a game for babies. What's the point of a mascot if they don't got attitude?! But I'd argue there's merit in that. Croc stands out from the crowd by being so placid and gentle by comparison. He himself is only an adolescent gator, thrust into a hero role since he's the only biped left standing after the Dantinis' rash of Gobbo-napping.


Baron Dante

Video game villains were a bit of a crapshoot around this time. You could say the same about video game stories as a whole, honestly. Why are we doing this? Somebody's kidnapped, you say? Look, I'm just here to hop on things or click through battle menus, don't bore me with the semantics.
But villains have an automatic appeal. What's the deal? Why are they doing this? By virtue of helming all the challenges you face, you end up reading into their motives, leading to iconic nemeses like Bowser and Ganon evolving from simple monsters to nuanced characters more complex than their heroic adversaries.

Baron Dante's just kind of a bully. He's the biggest bozo on the islands and he's wearing pauldrons, so that can only mean he's a bad egg. The esoteric manual is the only source to give him a motive: he just can't stand the Gobbos, especially the way they have fun. Those furry little bastards have got to go. He's definitely the sort to be cruel for cruelness sake, as seen by his penchant for turning harmless critters into violent colossi, or strapping some poor asshole to an out-of-control jetpack.

The final world is set in and around his castle, and implies some oddball details about his living establishments. Besides attractions like the slime-infested dungeon or rooms full of swinging axes, there's portraits of his favourite henchmen on the wall, and even what's assumed to be his dear old mother. Would Mrs. Dante be shaking her head in disappointment, or does she approve of his behaviour? How far does the apple fall from the tree in the Dante lineage?

Where Croc was taught kindness and gentleness by his adoptive family, Dante's motto is just being a big bully bastard because it's fun, so the contrast is immediately apparent. Media's recent penchant for understanding its villains could have led to Croc trying to redeem the dictator, or maybe showing the Dantinis abandoning him after getting his butt kicked.
Instead Dante turns into a crystal sentinel and shatters into a million pieces. Look, if he's going to transform himself into a form that's begging for hubris, then Croc can't take responsibility for what happens.

With the advent of dialogue (so... much... dialogue...!), Croc 2 would offer more insight into Dante's mindset, as well as the various Gobbo tribes and what mischief the Dantinis get up to on the reg... but you know what? I liked it better when I had to read into this stuff, not literally read what they were thinking. No harm thinking it's what the people wanted, though.

Where so many games chose to focus on carnage, the violence in Croc is abstracted -- enemies simply puff away in a shower of sparkles, and all of the bosses are simply innocent creatures corrupted by Baron Dante's machinations. Once Croc has defeated them, they return to normal and simply go on their way, neither party actually upset at one another.

Croc's innocent, inquisitive nature shines through when he looks curiously at the newly-reformed beasts. The game wears its heart on its sleeve, a pleasant change from the new norm; even standing apart from Super Mario 64, where fighting silly bosses hits different when they all spout defeatist monologues seconds before they explode into collectibles.

However, Croc's gameplay lacks the same sense of immersion other heavy hitters had achieved. Its room-based nature makes the world feel particularly disparate -- you'll enter a doorway in a tree trunk and find yourself in a stone cave, or suddenly underwater.
Despite the illusions cast by the short cutscenes, you never feel like you're truly exploring the island of the Gobbos, so much as playing on little dioramas floating above a skybox. Even the fictional realms inside of paintings in Princess Peach's castle felt more convincing than the real world Croc is meant to inhabit.

While the grasslands and ice world maintain some semblance of coherency, so much of the desert realm and Dante's castle are but blocks and towers floating above a never-ending abyss.

The skyboxes serve as the only semblance of context for the terrain, be they one of many structures on the moonlit plains, or merely within the confines of Dante's expansive fortress. These faraway textures are beautiful in their own right, and prone to imagery that stirs the imagination.

One of the ice stages features a moody blue night-time sky, the horizon depicting sights to come like cacti and castle spires, as well as oddities like mountainous mushrooms, Stonehenge, low-flying planets, a washing line connected to what looks like a giant crooked hand...

It's the kind of visual gags that fit right at home in a daft British comic strip, though perhaps out of sorts without the usual brand of irreverent humour to make them feel at home. It's a charming demonstration of the game making a lot from a little, if also strangely disorientiating in its own right.

Because of this, there's a certain dissociative vibe to playing Croc. The abstracted connection between the 'rooms' in a level feels like a jumble, as if seamlessly slipping between locations in a dream. The total lack of spoken dialogue, or even the relative dearth of new features introduced throughout the game, make it shockingly easy to coast through purely on auto-pilot. These elements (or lack thereof) do make the game stand out from the crowd, but ultimately result in a somewhat detached experience... one that ends up feeling like an integral part of the game's off-skew charms.

All this, and the music plays a big part in it too. The soundtrack by Karin Griffin, Martin Gwynn Jones and Justin Scharvona is a delight: a light synth orchestra vibe with enough bounce and lift to give the vibe of a child's first adventure, with enough breaks for pep and jazz to spice things up. And yet... there's a strange air of melancholy to many of the tracks.

The soundtrack has a recurring motif that lends it a shared identity, something to tie it all together... yet also a sense of wistful longing. The ice world in particular has an underlying flute melody that, paired with the endless void surrounding you, invites a strange sense of ennui.

Part of it is a strange, almost misplaced sense of nostalgia (a lot of the soundtrack reminds me of Sonic Robo Blast 2's early builds for some reason?), but it's the closest the game comes to striking a mood and eliciting an emotion, albeit an unexpected one.



No matter how small a franchise may be, it can enjoy a surprisingly robust life among passionate fans, be they discussing its finer points, creating their own works to celebrate it, or just regarding it with fond memories. The strangest things can sink their emotional hooks into people, leading to inexplicable fondness for media that's seemingly undeserving, fuelled only by nostalgia or focusing solely on the bits that resonate.

The only meaningful fandom presence for the series was Croc: Hero of the Gobbos, a fansite run by Forte Wily from 2004 until 2014; a simple overview of the series with what little news there was to offer. Its biggest draw, to me, was its delightful "random facts" page, featuring no shortage of trivia from what way Croc spins with his tail attack, to occasional nuggets of behind-the-scenes knowledge from Nic Cusworth and other Argonaut staffers.
It wasn't a big site, lacking the technical data of The Mushroom Kingdom or the sheer deluge of multimedia gubbins that Sonic HQ was host to, but it was such a delight to see the series get its own little shrine on the web.

While the site was effectively dormant a year after its launch, its Proboards forums remain up as of this writing, although understandably inactive on all fronts. It served as the hub for a number of fan projects; a lot of fanart on image hosting services that have since expired, at least three fanfic with their own twee takes on fleshing out Croc's backstory, and a couple of 2D fangames that seemingly never left the proof-of-concept phase. All that and the usual forum discussions, among them debates on which game was better and people sharing their Croc collections.

Croc, as aforementioned, certainly exudes some kind of personality, but one that's hard to engage with in conventional fandom means. While there's a healthy roster of characters in the form of bosses, enemies and allies, there's little to no meaningful interactions to mine from them, nor even a coherent universe to world-build from. Where some fans "keep the series alive" by continuing the story and holding deep personal attachment to it... there's little of the sort for Croc to offer.

For some franchises, captivating as they may be, there's only so much you can say about them. I love Croc, but my love only extends to the original; every other instalment loses something vital.

You could argue the same for Rayman, which seems to change drastically between every game, from its art style to its tone to its game design. As someone who found the original so endearing, what is there to hold onto when the series is in conflict with its identity?

Sometimes a series has so many warring elements that making sense of them is half the fun, (like my ongoing feud with the Bomberman series), but sometimes it's just too disparate for it to make a meaningful connection. So much of my feelings for these games are steeped in the aesthetics, the atmosphere, the vibe they convey through those elements. Am I invested in their fictional universe, or do I just like the presentation?

I like that, and I hate that. I wish I could represent my love for Croc in more ways than just gushing about melancholy and nostalgia. I'd love to engage with its subject matter, but heck if I know what I'd write in a fanfic. A moody illustration of Croc looking at skyboxes is the best I can think of, and the SEGA Saturn version beat me to the punch. But sometimes the best a piece of media can offer is a building block.

If you love it, you'll learn from it, and apply those lessons to other creations, or seek out those elements in other works. It stinks to acknowledge the finite lifespan of something, to know the work and care that went into it will not stand up forever, but so long as it leaves an impression of some kind, it can't have been for nought. Somebody loves ya, baby.

Despite its cutesy, happy-go-lucky visuals, the game winds up having a strange sense of loneliness to it. With no tangible world to connect with or meaningful interactions with other characters, it almost feels isolating both for Croc and the player, if not outright alienating. "Teetering on the edge of being connected to reality," as aptly described by Cuteosphere on Tumblr.

It's a feeling some have begun to hold towards these old games, having seen the years of advancement in player engagement or world-building. What was intended as a cheery old romp somehow ends up triggering a "wide palette of emotions", to lift another quote from Kyle Labriola's haunting take on Super Mario 64.

If it's not dissociation and zoning out, it's subdued shades of despair. What are we fighting for? What world are we trying to save here? Is it really worth navigating past these giant floating cogs?

It's certainly not the intended effect, but it gives Croc a unique vibe of its own. Where everything else was competing to be Maximum Cartoon, this little game was off doing its own thing; a quiet, unassuming little adventure with an uneasy sense of ennui despite its cutesy demeanour. It stood out, like a re-run of The Magic Roundabout sandwiched between a full block of Taz-Mania, to make dated '90s references.


So much of what defines Croc is the specific conditions in which it was made. The changing of the times, being among the first 3D platformers to make it out the door, before a unified language had been established. No developer was quite sure what they were stepping into or how to approach it. It was only by the time the genre saw more entries that there came a better understanding; how to address common faults, and the players' wants and needs.

Many of the design choices Croc pursued were ultimately left by the wayside; the compact room-based levels, the tank controls... and it's all the more interesting because of it. A true relic of the discovery period of 3D games, something that carved a fascinating niche for itself, one that no other game was ever able to truly emulate, not even its own sequel.

It's a true combination of factors, from its gameplay to its presentation to its aesthetic, that to miss one part just doesn't land the same way. To even hunt down other platformers with tank controls doesn't scratch the same itch! Believe me, after realising the love I hold for this game, I've thought I could extend the same courtesy to that accursed bobcat. Maybe one of these days.


sales figures &
cultural impact

In the middle of 2021 there was suddenly a Twitter Discourse involving this game, as is wont to occur on a platform always in search of an argument. Croc: Legend of the Gobbos sold in excess of three million units on the PlayStation as of a 2003 press release [src], putting it alongside Banjo-Kazooie and Spyro 3 in terms of sales figures... but also barely a blip on the radar of games discussion.

@LaidbackStrat's argument is a sound one, if not without its own biases: historical coverage of video games tends to have a slant to it. Essays and thinkpieces in this era of the internet are often from a Nintendo-centric perspective, and talk of gaming's evolution is usually from a North American viewpoint, where the 1983 Video Game Crash was a pivotal event that moulded the market for years to come... except everywhere that totally didn't apply. Is the lack of Croc discussion actually the result of not giving PlayStation users a voice?!
I say nah.

It's important to consider that Croc was among the first 3D platformers (why do you think I wrote an introduction fifty paragraphs long?!), and there wasn't a lot of competition! Folks had to take whatever they could get, and before there came games that could match what Mario 64 was offering, Croc had to suffice.
Croc could be seen as our training shoes, our baby walkers, and by the time fare like Spyro entered the market, consumers' wants and needs had changed.

Modern reflections on gaming yesteryear definitely has a Nintendo slant, but it's important to consider when games aren't talked because they're seen as evolutionary dead ends.

Banjo-Kazooie is lauded because it was a robust game on a platform that was aching for more Mario, and maintained its legacy through its memorable personality and continued franchise. It's an important component of how collect-a-thon platformers have evolved and were perceived; Rare built their reputation off its quality and goodwill.

Croc's window of relevance was limited, and all of Argonaut's follow-ups stumbled on how to iterate upon itself, so of course its relevance to the grander discussion of 3D platformers is diminished. Even nostalgic reflections on the game are hindered on account of its comparatively muted personality. Y'gotta stick the landing!

Not that "evolutionary dead end" is a bad thing; more often than not they make for fascinating insight into the expectations of developers and players, and where that tends to clash. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link has little to no bearing on its first instalment or its follow-ups -- even changing and removing a lot of the original's iconography...!
... but it remains a curiosity in how sequels were designed at the time, and what one expected from them. It has since inspired a number of games, free to expound upon its design choices without the incongruity of being the series' black sheep. Surely we can extend the same mercy to Croc?

If we really wanna drum up discussion about sales numbers: you're tellin' me Rayman sold four million units on PlayStation, got multiple reprints and even educational spin-offs, and nobody realised maybe there's a market for cuddly 2D platformers? We had to wait 'til the Game Boy Advance for another side-scrolling entry, huh? Okay then. Cheers, mate.
Ultimately, Croc feels like an early step into 3D platformers that never got in line with the advancements other games were making. Where they were making bold new ventures, our little guy stuck with what was familiar and comfortable. And in that regard, it's something special.
It's comfort food.
If all you want is a basic level-based platformer where you're free to take all the time you want, then Croc's here for you. Want to play a game that makes you forget you even exist, to make you oblivious of the mortal world our flesh and minds are tethered to? That's what Croc excels at!

render from the Pau-Pau Sightseeing Book

Even by the time it was released, Croc felt a bit of a relic, but there's a charm to it perhaps because of that. By the following year, 3D platforming had somewhat homogenised, adapting to a set of unspoken standards... and yet here was our little crocodile boy still horsing around with tank controls and the like.

As much as people grumble about those facets, where would the game be without them? They're as much a part of its identity as Sonic's speed or Bubsy's persistent airborne momentum. It plays by its own, possibly archaic rules, but it's a simple, perfectly functional little game.

Just like baby Croc learns the way of the world from his Gobbo adoptees, Croc the video game is a platformer taking its first formative steps into 3D, taking lessons directly from its 2D forbearers.

It might stumble over itself, it might do it a little bit backwards -- heck, it might be late bloomer and only do it after its peers have already taken strides -- but the important part is it's going places, and the journey's all part of the fun. You've got to walk before you can run!

And if we're continuing this hackneyed infant analogy, sometimes looking at old baby snaps is fun too. How far we've come, eh? That little guy's you, so full of hope and promise...!

Woulda been nice if the sequel learnt from any of this, though. Croc 2 saw what its peers were up to, and thought: forget walking, why aren't I cartwheeling and handstanding instead? All the cool kids are doing it! And in doing so, it not only lost everything that made the first game distinct, but failed to live up to the competition as well. How's that for hubris?
But that's a rant for another time.

I think Croc's a good game.
It might just be the nostalgia speaking, though.
Appreciate it, won't you?


Thanking the folks and resources that made the last ten thousand words possible.

Pulse Commander: For being a listening ear and lending their own thoughtful insight on Croc.

Cuteosphere: Whose great Tumblr post got me thinking about how freakin' melancholy the game is.

EsbyLion: Whose reply to that post then got me mulling over Croc's standing among its peers.

Forte Wily: Shout-outs to fansites made nearly two decades ago. Somebody appreciated it! For making magazine research a snap (even if it was probs ganked from RetroMags)

Born slippy: the making of Star Fox: An article by Damien McFerran with insight into Argonaut's work.


[1] Official SEGA Saturn Magazine #24: Published October 1997. Interview with Jez San.

[2] Retro Gamer #154: Published April 2016. Interviews conducted by Mitch Wallace.