The 1996 original was the right game at the right time. The PlayStation was a console without a real mascot, and Crash Bandicoot was able to fill that spot. It helped that the game he starred in was great, as its 3D platforming was innovative at the time of release.
Since Cortex Strikes Back released only a year after the original, it was hard for the sequel to break new ground. That was absolutely fine by gamers, though, as PlayStation fans couldn't get enough of Crash Bandicoot at the time. While there weren't huge changes, it did feature more polish than its predecessor, and managed to be a better game overall.
It's truly incredible what Naughty Dog managed to do with just 10 months of development time, as Crash Bandicoot: Warped managed to introduce three new gameplay mechanics (airplane, jet-ski and motorcycle levels). This led to a game that still featured the 3D platforming that fans had come to love, while also feeling fresh thanks to the many new ideas. It was a great way for the trilogy to end.
After starring in three well-received platformers, Crash Bandicoot took an unexpected turn into the world of kart racing. Despite the sudden shift in genres, 1999's Crash Team Racing actually ended up receiving a better critical reception than previous titles in the series. It showed that developer Naughty Dog had the chops to do more than just platformers, and would be their final Crash game even if fans didn't know it at the time.
Considering that Crash Bandicoot was essentially Sony's answer to Mario at this point, it made sense that he'd challenge the mustachioed plumber in another genre. This time around it was party games, as Crash Bash was the closest thing that PlayStation gamers had to Mario Party. Developed by Eurocom Entertainment Software, it ended up being a solid collection of mini-games, filled with the series' signature charm, but wasn't up to the same level of past games. It also has the distinction of being the final Crash game published by Sony.
Crash Bandicoot's return to platforming was originally meant to be a free-roaming title designed by Mark Cerny, but that project never saw the light of day due to the end of Vivendi Universal's deal with Sony. As such, Traveller's Tales was contracted to create a new entry in the series. As they only had a year to develop The Wrath of Cortex, the game ended up going back to the original's gameplay style. This made it feel like more of a knockoff than a true step forward.
After a rocky start to the new era of Crash, Vicarious Visions got the series back on track by releasing two very solid platformers on Game Boy Advance. They then developed the next console game, Crash Nitro Kart, which was a sequel to Crash Team Racing. While it wasn't a bad game, it once again failed to live up to the expectations of gamers, who expected another top-notch racing game.
As Vicarious Visions went back to working on handheld Crash Bandicoot games (this time working on a crossover with Spyro), Traveller's Tales was ready to give the series another shot. In order to compete with modern platformers, Crash Twinsanity was set in a free-roam environment similar to games like Jak and Daxter. While this evolution of the gameplay was probably the right move, Traveller's Tales once again failed to deliver a top-notch product. Instead they created a forgettable 3D platformer that couldn't compete with a genre that was rapidly evolving.
After another disappointing outing, Vivendi looked to developer Radical Entertainment to breathe some new life into the series. This resulted in a new racing game called Crash Tag Team Racing, which added new mechanics such as being able to fuse together with an opponent's car in order to take control of a turret. Despite some cool ideas, the game once again failed to be something special.
Two years later Radical Entertainment would create their first Crash Bandicoot platformer. Called Crash of the Titans, it took the series in a new direction as combat became the core focus. This decision met a mixed response, but even those that liked the combat recognized that the series once again failed to reach its past heights.
Radical Entertainment's third and final Crash Bandicoot game ended up being the last title in the main series to be released. Building upon Crash of the Titans' combat, Mind over Mutant now allowed players to take control of Titans, and took place in a free-roaming environment. Despite these enhancements, it was yet another mediocre entry in the series, and was the final console entry for nearly a decade.
Crash Bandicoot made his long anticipated return to gaming as a character in Skylanders Imaginators. It wasn't exactly what fans were waiting for, but since they knew remakes of the original trilogy were in development, they were able to enjoy the guest appearance for what it was.
After all these years, Vicarious Visions is finally getting to work on a Crash Bandicoot platformer for consoles. It's fitting that the studio finally gets a shot, and if done well, the remake could signal a great comeback for gaming's most beloved bandicoot. People are excited for the N. Sane Trilogy, and it's shaping up to be one of the year's most anticipated games.