Childhood wasn’t as cool (or difficult) as you remember

Time is really good at defogging nostalgic memories

Crash bandicoot logo over fruit background

When I was younger I was obsessed with a video game—Crash Bandicoot: the Wrath of Cortex. I couldn’t tell you exactly how many hours I spent playing it, but if I was to venture a guess, it would be in the hundreds. If you’ve never heard of the franchise, Crash Bandicoot is one of many mascot platformers: it’s to Sony what Mario is to Nintendo, or Sonic to Sega. I would spend entire weekends parked in front of the TV on this game; its oversaturated cartoon visuals and bouncy soundtrack burnt into my young brain. I remember one summer, jumping around a mate’s backyard pretending to be Crash, shirtless and wearing some cheap green sneakers that I thought were exactly like Crash’s (ironically, Crash never wore green shoes—I’m red-green colourblind and I think my mum wanted to spare my feelings. Fair enough).

The funny thing is that I never beat Wrath of Cortex. I couldn’t get past the second boss battle no matter how hard I tried; the rest of the game’s levels just out of reach. I remember vividly imagining what levels lay beyond ‘Drain Damage’—the manual for the game teased at later bosses and levels, and I felt locked out. This dogged me for ages. Eventually I petulantly traded the game in with a bunch of others my brother and I couldn’t beat for Guitar Hero—talk about a rage quit. But that curiosity never quite died. One of my mates got me another copy of Wrath of Cortex for my 21st so I could have a crack at beating the game I never could as a preteen. I dusted off my PS2… and finished the whole game in an afternoon.

Wrath of Cortex is not a good game. It’s not even a good Crash game. The reality is that it’s a short, simplistic platformer that hasn’t aged well. I beat that second boss with ease. And those myriad worlds beyond it? Not worth the wait. This is what I was dying to see this whole time? Upon replaying Crash as an adult, it’s crazy to think I was once so obsessed with such a trivial experience, and not even the full picture. Getting to the second boss in a video game is like driving to Dreamworld and sitting in the parking lot The ride hasn’t even started yet.

There’s something fascinating about what obsesses us as kids: when we’re young we’re still struggling to define ourselves and our passions become so essential to our identities. Whether or not we’re any ‘good’ at that hobby is irrelevant, in many ways. Crash was important to me, even though my understanding of, and capacity to engage with it, was limited. And there’s something charming about that. As an adult, labels need to come with some sort of qualification. If you call yourself a musician, you better hope you can back that up with some actual skill. If you say you like The Beatles—what’s your favourite album, then? But when you’re a kid you don’t worry about having to prove yourself in the same way.

Little Jamie liked rugby, AC/DC, Crash Bandicoot and the colour orange, and I didn’t need to explain myself. I still do like these things.

I just don’t wear green shoes any more.