The late 90’s were the 3D-platforming Golden-Age. I, and just about every other television-belaboured child I knew of was quite familiar with the progressive, polygonal leaps of the PlayStation. My weekend timetable school-less, I divvied my cyber-exploits up between the PS1 and PS2. I woke to clamouring Bandicoots, lunched in weird puzzle-caverns, and spent my evenings audibly lamenting each and every one of Spyro’s bloody flying levels. For some inexplicable reason, I even fancied Scooby Doo and the Cyber Chase. And, time to time, I take a cross-millennial excursion to this ’32-bit era’ to have a good ol’ catch-up with Crash. Apparently he’s had two existential crises and struggling with working the tumble-dryer. There’s early twenties for you.
Revisiting that era is a blast. Recreating it ain’t so easy. As the middling Back in 1995 and the genre’s threadbare contemporary catalogue might suggest, it’s difficult to capture the essence of a title so ardently admired, while filtering out the restrictions we like to convince ourselves never existed. The balance between familiarity and modernity is no achievement to be sniffed at, and honestly, it’s something Ginger: Beyond the Crystal pulls off well, if with a few scrapes.
Sprung from newcomer Drakhar Studio, Ginger employs many of the narrative isms of its pre-millennial ancestors. After a godly crystal (somehow, there’s always a precious stone involved) is shattered by an explosive gem, a world is shrouded in chaos, leading an all-powerful deity to whip up a timely fix. More specifically, Ginger: a bluish fellow who looks like the Pikmin’s second-cousin. He also dons a Gryffindor scarf, just ‘cause.
Beyond the Crystal is sprawled across three main worlds, which act as Spyro-like ‘hub’ lands to house further mini-stages. There’s even a host of glowing mini-crystals to find to buff your magical power, which’ll enable you to take down the Red Chaos Crystals that’re sending things awry. The overarching hub-world’s a welcome inclusion; one that’s sorely missed, and it nudges well the themed-level structure employed by our spritely purple dragon back in 2000. Ginger even includes a simple building element, allowing you to cobble together settlements to rebuild your society. Don’t get excited, though, it’s not exactly Fallout 4.
The world our blue hero inhabits is a thankfully charming one, evoking the rounded, cartoon goofiness of an era in which my jewel-cases didn’t sport quite so many battle scars. It does it with distinctively modern flair too, allowing the homage some dance-space while remaining grounded within the 21st century. Much of its nostalgic appeal is aesthetic, and from the woodland’s chillier resemblance to Tak, to the Ratchet-and-Clank-like techno labs, to the airborne, Mario-esque hover-platforms it’s evident Drakhar had a smile on its face when it drafted up Ginger’s dimensions.
While the sensibilities of its influencers seem mirrored in its toonish world, however, Ginger isn’t completely devoid of those frustrations we’d sooner see buried with ET. It’s riddled with glitches. Indeed, during my induction into the game, I was greeted by a lovely revolving camera, which continued to circulate around me as I dumbly tottered about a forest. After a few moments pondering whether or not this was merely the work of Ginger’s dastardly chaos-stirrers, I quickly aborted-mission, and needed to reboot several times before I could run things smoothly. Sure, I can harp on about adorable visuals and retro-references all day; if you’re prevented from starting the game, that’s an un-ignorable issue.
There’s also the odd clunk in framerate, but thankfully it’s mildness amounts to little more than a shame amidst the game’s visual allure and platforming focus, and doesn’t aggravate too much during some of the faster-paced segments.
The platforming itself taps the sensibilities of some of the run-n-jump giants. Across its timed side-scrolling trials, precision-based location puzzles and pulsating airborne segments, Ginger falls head-over-heels for Crash Bandicoot 2, Spyro the Dragon and Super Mario Sunshine – all while retaining a sense of puckish humour that remains true to Ginger’s amusing, woodsy tale. Very occasionally, you’re treated to a jetpack. Let’sa go indeed.
Ultimately, the nostalgic titles of our past will remain unmatchable by any contemporary re-dub. But on the whole, Ginger’s enchanting world and familiar level-structure shuffles forth in a hearty, promising throwback, that’ll likely give the heartstrings of the 90’s platformophile a friendly little nuzzle, even if its framerate occasionally jabs the ribs.