Wayback: Crystal Dynamics – Gex

When’s the last time you’ve played a mascot platformer that wasn’t a Mario or a Sonic? It was probably a Crash or a Spyro if it was anything at all. The genre is dead, and I miss it very much.

Gex, at least to me personally, is the iconic failed mascot platformer. He’s everything bad about the genre: he talks way too much and thinks he’s clever, his world is made of cookie-cutter tropey levels that don’t fit together, he has way too many gameplay gimmicks, and in the grand scheme of things he’s been completely forgotten. These are all the reasons that I find Gex oddly enjoyable, as a game trilogy that just doesn’t really work and isn’t very fun.

Unlike most platformer mascots, Gex was not aiming to be the face of a single console: he was the catchphrase-spitting gecko mascot of Crystal Dynamics, a video game company founded by women in 1992. Crystal Dynamics had a broad ‘a little bit of anything’ approach to making games: they had many platformer games, an action-adventure franchise, a point-and-click, a fighting game, a racing game … you get the idea. I guess they also worked on some series named Tomb Raider.

But Gex was Crystal Dynamics’ thing. He was funny, he was memorable, and he was the face of the company, especially once the substantially more popular sequel Gex 2: Enter the Gecko was released in 1998. In that way, Gex was a fixture of the late 90s, a reminder of what things were like.

And what’s more ‘late 90s’ than a terrible website for a terrible video game?

Today I’m going to the Wayback Machine to see the Gex pages on the Crystal Dynamics website from 1998 to 1999. It’s tail time, as one might say.

Gex

Go ahead and click on the header text for these sections if you want to see the full pages.

So nearly every image is broken on the page for Gex, but I should let you know that the screenshots actually survived if you click through – they’re the three broken images under the header. Neat!

This page brags about a lot of things that mean very little. I had literally never heard of Gex’s voice actor Dana Gould before this game, and I’ve never heard his name again in any other context. I don’t even know if he still has a career or if Gex hangs over his head like a curse.

Maybe I’m the problem here. I was 5 years old when Gex 3 came out. It’s never been clear to me what the intended demographic for the Gex franchise even was, because everyone I’ve met who understood the many, many movie references found them all to be cringe-inducing, but I feel like I must have been too young. The first Gex game begins in a horror-movie themed graveyard level, and probably one of the first quotes you’ll hear from him is “Who opened the can of whoop-ass?”, which shocked my child self beyond description.

If Gex was intended for adults alone, I have to wonder why they chose to start Gex 2 with a Looney Tunes-themed level … which, then again, starts with Gex saying “Note to self: don’t drink tap water at Jerry Garcia’s,” a drug reference that a friend my age told me she didn’t get when she played it as a child. But then again, her parents didn’t get the reference either.

The website does not shed any light on this conundrum.

The game’s “incredible 3D graphics” are a main feature, with “450 frames of unbelievably smooth animation”, neglecting to mention that this game is not actually in 3D – the animation frames are sprites, like how Donkey Kong Country’s characters were made from 3D models.

Gex’s moves are very vague: he has “roundhouse tail attack, gelatinous tongue lash, and tail slams”, along with “suction cup paws” (not how gecko feet work). This blurb does not actually clearly state that Gex can walk on walls, even though that is the main gimmick of the game.

This page also links to Gex’s incoherent backstory, the only opportunity you have to learn that Gex is the way he is because he lost his father and became a depressed television addict. They also randomly drop a racial slur, and it’s also implied he briefly did sex work? If you’ve only played the second and third game, you might be wondering where the hell any of this came from, and the answer is: this is all contained within the manual for the first game. Nothing is ever made from it, and if you’re to take the second game at face value, it might have even been retconned later. Whoops!

Gex 2: Enter the Gecko

Oh boy. There’s a lot more going on here! We get some stats: Gex 2 is available on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. It’s coming soon for the PC and the GameBoy Color. Gex has “3,400 frames of animation” (meaningless in a 3D game), and he also has “125 unique moves”, which … I have no idea what on Earth this could possibly mean. Gex has over 500 voice clips.

Notice how absolutely none of that tells you how the game plays.

In case you can’t figure out that it’s a platformer game (because it’s not said anywhere else on the page), the highlighted quotes from magazine reviews will clear that up. A PSExtreme review quote claims “As much as I love Crash and Tomb Raider, GEX: ETG is now the game by which all future action games I play will be judged.” It’s a glowing 99% review, but it’s fun to read it as snark. None of the review quotes, nor the ‘key features’, bother to clarify that the game is now a 3D platformer.

Gex 2 also has its own backstory page, which is considerably more connected to the actual events of the game than Gex 1, and does not directly acknowledge the depressed Gex plotline. We also get the introduction of “Special Agent EXTRA”, Gex’s hotted-boobs coworker who does not appear at all in Gex 2, but keep her in mind because we’ll get to her in a bit.

The rest of the pages tragically did not survive archival. We have several pages of broken screenshots and even some lost gameplay footage.

We also have a page of E-cards. It looks like you could have chosen one and e-mailed it to a friend, which seems like it would have been a great way to spam people. Tragically, none of the images survived, and there is no way I will be able to send Gex cards to my friends, which means I’ll have to continue having friends for a little while longer.

Secret Gex

Hey, cheat codes! Y’all remember when games had built-in cheats? Ahh, those were the days. I’m surprised that Crystal Dynamics actually hosted Gex 2’s cheat codes on their own site – I can’t recall if this was common practice, I only ever found them redistributed onto cheat code websites.

Bafflingly, the codes have a ‘key’ you must consult in order to decode them. There’s actually a twisted logic to it: Triangle, X, and Circle are what they look like (AXO); the directional buttons correspond to the first letter of their direction (UDRL) as well as their corresponding cardinal direction (NSEW). This is not communicated in any way on the page, and I only noticed this after decoding the cheats and inputting them one-by-one into the game, so there is no way in Hell that any child dumb enough to play Gex would have figured this out.

  • Infinite Lives: Up Up Down Right Triangle Down (UNDEAD)
  • Invulnerability: Left Right Triangle Down Right Left (WEASEL)
  • One Liners: Triangle Left Circle Up Down (ALOUD)
  • Rambling GEX: Down Right Up Down Right Left Right Down Down (SENSELESS)
  • Level Timer: Right Triangle Right Left Triangle X (EARWAX)

One Liners is the most interesting cheat: once it’s enabled, Gex will be quiet, except for when you push the Select button. That’s right, not only is this another verbosity slider, this cheat also gives you a whole button on your controller just for dispensing Gex’s famous funny phrases whenever you want. If you press it enough times, you even get lines from the villain Rez, which I found … fairly strange, because they’re animated as coming out of Gex’s mouth … oh well.

Rambling GEX, as you may be able to guess, is the worst cheat code ever made. It is a form of torture and I do not know what I did to deserve it.

Infinite Lives and Invulnerability are fairly standard. I enjoy the Level Timer, which I’ve actually seen utilized for keeping time in speedruns.

An interesting piece of lost lore is that this is actually missing some codes with their own translations: the debug menu is ‘WONDERLAND’; the level select is ‘RELEASE’; the level statistics menu is ‘RELAX’. In the progress of deducing this myself by hand, the banality actually started growing on me. I was reminded, vividly, of the Dexter’s Laboratory episode with the secret decoder rings.

The other highlight of this page is a Gex “theme” for Windows 95, which contains a wallpaper, sound effects to replace the default sounds, and icons to replace the default icons. The link is broken, which is probably the one part of this archive expedition to genuinely crush me. I’m sure I would have loved the pixel art and very tinny sounds.

Speaking of sounds, though …

Sounds

Here we have a couple of Funny! curated Gex voice clips. Most of them are gone now, but a few actually survived archival, and they’re all incredibly low-quality.

Since most of the context clues here have been destroyed, it took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out why there was a second “Have you met Mr. Tongue?” clip in a deep British accent. Turns out that’s Gex’s voice actor in the PAL version! I get why they dubbed him (the references are very regional), but I don’t know why they had to make him so sultry-sounding. Yeesh. Also, I thought he sounded kind of familiar, and that’s because … he’s voiced by Leslie Phillips, AKA the goddamn Sorting Hat from Harry Potter. Great.

A puzzle to puzzle over: Gex 3 actually features a British actor, Marc Silk. He plays Gex’s butler, and also a bunch of other ‘generic British voice’ characters in other video games. They could have had him dub Gex’s lines for the PAL version of Gex 3, but they dropped Gould and Phillips for a third Gex voice: Danny John-Jules, a lead actor in Red Dwarf. Even more bizarrely, I think John-Jules plays a funnier Gex than Gould ever did.

Contest

Apparently throughout the Crystal Dynamics website you could find 6 pictures of Gex – I have found zero. You could click on them, and then in “the toolbar at the bottom of the page” Gex will “move one space to the right” – I have no such toolbar, I can only assume it’s an iframe that got lost in archival? Once you found all of the images, you would gain access to the “Media Dimension Trivia Challenge”. The what?

I can find no information left online about this trivia challenge. The only clue the page gives you is that it was obscure TV trivia (once again, Crystal Dynamics did not realize children would want to play Gex). The fine print states to wait 6 to 8 weeks for delivery of ‘prizes’, but at no other point does it even say there are prizes to be won. What prizes? Did anyone win this contest?

Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko

This is their page for the ‘upcoming’ Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko, which was released in March 1999, and at the date of this page’s archival would have already been out for 2 months. As far as I know, Gex 3 was the best-selling game in the series, so I have to wonder why they couldn’t even bother to give it a proper multi-page section on their website like they did for Gex 2.

This page surprisingly contains some teasers for cut material. The first-level miniboss ‘Evil Santa’ was originally Santa’s evil twin Satan. Likewise, for years now I have wondered why Humpty Dumpty was on the level select art for the Fairytale level but not present in the actual level – turns out he was going to be the ‘breakdancing Dumpty Humpty’, a phrase that may have taken away some of my brain cells. I get why they couldn’t get away with Satan, but I’m not sure why they couldn’t put together the hip-hop egg.

This same bullet point reveals that the oddly-themed pirates level was based on Pirates of the Caribbean – the original Disneyland ride, long before the movies were released. Why is it a TV channel in the Gex universe, then?!

They place a lot of emphasis on the different kinds of vehicles and animals you can ride, even though all of those were limited to specific areas and nowhere near as fun as Link’s horse or Spyro’s skateboard. We have “over 1,000” one-liners from Dana Gould now. There is an “all-new simple, more intuitive” 3D camera.

The most egregious bullet point is them advertising “the beautiful Agent Xtra”, played by Baywatch’s Marliece Andrada. It’s great that Special Agent EXTRA (I guess they changed the spelling) gets to be an actual character now instead of a manual bimbo. Not so great that she’s played by an actor only horny people would know about, in order to advertise to horny people.

Wait, were hornies the target demographic?

Cool Jobs

This page cold opens with a bold list of “the best teams in history”, all of which I had to look up: 1972 Oakland Athletics, an obscure baseball season; Ronald and Nancy Reagan, despised political figures; Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, a horrifyingly abusive relationship where Sid may have murdered Nancy; and finally, Smith & Wesson … a firearms manufacturer. These are all of their best examples for what the ‘great team atmosphere’ at Crystal Dynamics is like.

It’s interesting for me as an adult to look at these “now hiring” pages, because I know I never looked at them as a kid, but they were basically everywhere. Now you’re hard pressed to find stuff like this immediately available on company websites, since there’s far more professional outlets to find potential employees.

It really makes me process just how alienating tech spaces are today. I feel like I could have applied for one of these jobs. I sure wouldn’t have been qualified, but I could have applied anyway. And what if I did get a job on a game like Gex? What stories would I have to tell nowadays about their great team atmosphere? Would they have murdered me? Would I have murdered them? It’s things that I wonder about.

Hot Links

This is the last page on the navigation bar, and there isn’t a lot left to see here, but I just wanted to remark on how interesting it is that they had a link to Happy Puppy – a site founded by maybe the first trans person to contract online poisoning, Jennifer Diane Reitz.

We also can see links to the websites for every major broadcasting network that existed in 1999, just in case you wanted to LARP being Gex.


There’s a couple other game pages in this archive that I haven’t covered: Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Akuji the Heartless, The Unholy War, Pandemonium – I know literally nothing about these games, and honestly Gex is just funnier to me. If you have experience with them I fully encourage you to share your findings in the comments. As always, if you enjoyed this, consider donating to the Internet Archive – and if you find anything interesting on the Wayback Machine you’d like me to cover, send it to me and I’ll credit you!

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