Welcome to Halloween! Or as most people like to call it, October! This Halloween, we want to talk about some of the stuff that scared us the worst when we were kids. It’s time to take a retrospective look back into the past with Retrospectacles’ Spooky Edition, Retrospooktacles, where we will be not just looking through our old memories, but the things that made them terrifying!
Croc: Legend of the Gobbos is a Playstation game that was released on September 29, 1997 by the now-defunct Argonaut Games. It was originally intended to be produced for Nintendo as a video game starring Yoshi, but Nintendo declined and decided to produce their own 3D platformer with Mario himself. If it wasn’t for Nintendo declining this offer, Croc could’ve been the first true console 3D platformer ever released.
Croc, to most people, might be a minor footnote in the history of 3D platformers. But to those who have played it as kids, we may just remember something very distinctive about it: it was creepy as heck.
After the jump, we’ll explore why this Yoshi expy had reason to fear for his life.
The game begins in the Gobbo archipelago: home to the Gobbos, a nonviolent society of fuzzy brown creatures with enormous eyes. Things are peaceful and quiet, until one day, a basket washes up in the lake containing the titular Croc (actually an alligator – no promotional material wants to acknowledge this).
Croc, still just an infant, is raised by the Gobbos to be like them: vegetarian, polite, and capable of fending for himself. When his growth spurt finally hits, he’s three times the size of his own adoptive father.
It’s the evil wizard Baron Dante who finally breaks the peace of Gobbo society. With the help of the demonic Dantinis, he imprisons the Gobbos in cages and crates across the archipelago. Putting yourself into the main character’s shoes is more than mildly overwhelming in the case of Croc’s story, because it’s not just your friends or your love interest that has been kidnapped, but your entire family and support system.
Croc himself is just a child, but he’s still tasked with rescuing his caretakers. Armed with only his tail and his feet, he has to take on an entire legion of demons.
Admittedly, it still sounds silly. Can a game about a crocodile saving a bunch of cotton puffs on legs really be that scary? Short answer: yes.
The game doesn’t pull any punches with its creep factor: on the first screen of the Green Hill Zone-esque Forest Island, you can walk a couple feet over, break open the lid on a well, and fall down a hole into a cave filled with bright red lava. Yikes. (Where are these guys getting their water from, anyway?) It doesn’t take long to figure out that if you can tough it out, dropping down these scattered wells is the quickest way to get into caves and find collectible goodies.
In any other game, this would be nice and fun. But this is Croc, and the game designers want you to stay on your toes. For some ungodly reason, seemingly every other well is filled with a giant pink worm that will leap out – complete with a too-loud popping noise – and try to take a bite out of your sweet alligator meat.
It’s easy enough on a replay to figure out which wells are going to have worms in them (they’re generally larger and don’t have lids), but it sure doesn’t stop it from being any less dread-inducing. It’s especially bad because it’s mandatory to approach them – they’re invincible, and the only way to get them to despawn is to lure them into trying to attack you.
It’s often to hear the worms brought up as one of the most dreadful parts of the game. It’s an unpleasant start, that’s for sure, but it’s not necessarily the scariest; maybe it’s just regarded as such because it was relatively early in the game in comparison to everything else.
Still, things do get worse.
On the inside of the wells, the forest caves are bad enough on their own, but they’re compounded by the presence of… rats. Allegedly they’re rats, anyway, though they have no limbs and their faces are covered in randomly-placed protruding teeth. They move quickly and seemingly unpredictably, and they make awful noises when you approach them.
The Ice Island is, miraculously enough, inoffensively bland. It’s no Christmastime treat, and there’s something offputting about the silence inside the frozen caves, but nothing outright upsetting happens. Yet, as the game’s niceness winds down and the platforming gets more excruciatingly painful, things almost seem like they’re going to get better when you enter the third world: Desert Island.
This would not be the case.
Scattered throughout the desert are underwater pipes, consolidated from a Water Island that never made it past beta. Underwater levels in video games are generally disturbing enough on their own, but Croc manages to make it worse than usual, with a lack of music and a fog that covers most of the screen. It almost feels unnecessary, and certainly thematically incorrect: what are some complicated series of tubes doing in the dry caves of an even drier desert?
They’re there, regardless, and you have to sludge your way through water that feels molasses-thick in order to get a key that’s inevitably hidden behind an enemy that you have to carefully hit. Then you have to swim all the way back to the door, at which point the enemy will respawn just as you’re about to leave.
Above the water are where the equally unpleasant minigames take place, wherein you are tasked with… racing a ghost. Whose ghost? Who knows. It’s a luckier guess if you can even figure out where you’re going, because the ghost races take place in darkness with a draw distance that only goes to a foot in front of Croc’s face.
As you race, you’ll have to keep a good distance in front of the spectre to keep it from stealing everything it touches. You have to run as fast as possible through the darkness to make sure that you make it to the silver key at the end of the stage, or else the ghost will take it from you, leaving your Gobbo friend trapped permanently in the inky void. Good luck.
As you reach the end of the game, any semblance of hope seems to be lost as you’re plunged into the dismal world of Castle Island. And what a nightmare hell of platforming pain it is…
The very first level is called “The Tower of Power” – hey, tower-climbing is fun in comparison to the rest of this nonsense, right? It’s not too big of a deal, up until the very end. Entering the tower once you reach the top will take you down into the dungeons where the rest of the game will take place.
Most of the previous settings have been very JRPG-esque, but the dungeons are excessively so. There’s chains and shackles on the wall, mystery bones on the floor, and off in the distance you can hear unidentifiable moaning and wailing.
It’s this very area that first introduces the Executioner enemy, which spins very quickly and is very scary. Trust me.
Alright – so it doesn’t sound like the scariest thing in the world on its own, but most of the game has been a breeze compared to a character that thematically outright states the existence of death and murder within the Croc universe.
To add insult to injury, it’s invincible unless you stomp on it, which is kind of obvious for an adult but pretty obtuse for kids. If you’re going to try to kill it like anything else you’ve met in the game so far (by tail-whipping it), get ready to lose all your hard earned crystals.
But don’t let that make you think these guys are still as easy as they sound. They frequently appear in tight, cramped corridors, making it extremely hard to not just defeat them but to get around them at all. It takes a lot of skill working with Croc‘s poor control scheme to navigate around when an Executioner is in the room.
Even scarier, though, comes right before you first meet them. As soon as you enter the dungeons, immediately to your left is a horrifying shackled abomination flailing and moaning in front of three buttons. You can’t harm it, and it can’t interact with you unless you bump into it; it just shakes about and whimpers, seemingly guarding the buttons you must press to proceed.
Possibly the scariest level of the entire game is Dungeon of Defright. Taking place in its entirety in a dank dungeon, you’re forced to play confusing minigames and travel through waves of scary enemies.
But the worst comes at the very end: you’re given a choice between three doors, only one of which you can open at a time. To do so, you must push a small, red, presumably living jelly-blob-person in front of the door, and then pump it up like a balloon (all while it makes disturbing “Whoaaa” moaning noises) until it explodes and blows the selected door up.
If you choose correctly, you’re given a bevy of powerups and the exit to the level. Choose wrong, however, and you’re forced to fight a group of terrifying long-legged monsters! You’re given no warning, and are locked out of all the goodies you could’ve gotten. These enemies don’t move very quickly, but have a huge reach and can quickly cluster around you and knock all of your crystals out.
And if you happen to run out of lives while going through these horrors, you’re treated to an ominously morose game over screen where Croc walks dejectedly into the distance, seemingly having given up on life. (It doesn’t help that the forest-fire-red sunset backdrop is the same one used for several boss levels.)
Croc is one of those games that paints a very vivid image of the days when 3D platforming was a new and mysterious thing, but it comes compounded by the fact that it was actually released fairly late in the PlayStation’s lifespan. Super Mario 64‘s release was over a year before Croc‘s, and it still managed to have the most barest of character interaction and a storyline.
Of course it’s not fair to blast Croc for wanting to take on the attributes of a silent film, but the lack of sentient characters to interact with is just contextually incredibly eerie. Underneath all of the color and pizazz is still a game about being stranded from your parents, fighting hordes of tiny giggling demons and contemplating your own mortality.
We’ll be going over a lot of other 3D platformers in future Retrospooktacles, so hold onto your hats and get ready for some chills.