16 years ago, in 1996, my great uncle Craig worked for Naughty Dog as a game tester for Crash Bandicoot 2. A fan of the original, I was eager to get my hands on the second installment, and would nag my great uncle relentlessly to let me play some of the finished levels (although this opportunity didn’t arise until a few weeks shy of the official release).
He decided to let me play an old prototype disc he still had (at this point, a several months old prototype, nowhere near completion) while I waited for the official release, just weeks later.
Being 7 at the time, I don’t remember every explicit detail, but there was one vivid experience that I will never forget. The prototype began in what would later (officially) be known as the second warp room (the one with the polar bear). Many of you will remember that said polar bear, (once jumped on or hit several times) would dispense a handful of extra lives. This was not the case on the prototype. In fact, jumping on it did nothing (or so I thought).
After completing all the levels in the second warp room (bar one that was only half-made, and could literally not be completed) I found myself stuck with nowhere to go. There was no elevator in the center of the room, and I had no idea how to progress from there. Naturally, with no other means of progressing, I assumed that the polar bear must have had something to do with moving onto the next warp room (in hindsight, rather than an elevator there was likely a code that was entered by game testers to progress, seeing as the game was incomplete and could therefore not be finished via the intended path).
At a loss, I began jumping on/spinning the polar bear again. Minutes passed. I began to lose hope, when the screen froze and cut to black. Crash reappeared, in an untextured room (similar to those at the beginning of the other levels, but with a hole instead of an automatic door). Upon exiting this room, I was faced with a sea of dark red liquid (which I could only assume was blood) with a line of stepping stones running up the middle. I jumped across the stones onto a long rectangular platform that simply lead to a wall and nothing else. There was nowhere to go, I was seemingly stuck.
Without warning, a crudely modeled severed head fell from above and landed on the platform. I dropped my controller in shock as I continued to stare at the screen. The (messily written) words ‘INSOMNIAC SUCKS!’ slowly began to appear on the wall in the same dark red color of the liquid surrounding me. The screen then cut to black and before I knew it I was standing back in front of the polar bear.
I quickly turned my PlayStation off and ran to my mother, frightened of what I had just seen. I explained what had happened to the best of my ability, but she just chalked it up to me being scared of something that was probably not intended to be scary (as kids do), and that I had mistaken something innocent for a severed head. She took the disc and told me she’d return it to my great uncle, as it was ‘obviously’ too mature for me at the time. Part of me wanted to access the level again in front of her, to prove that I was right, but I was too shaken by the experience and couldn’t bring myself to do it.
The only thing my great uncle ever said to me about it (when I asked him weeks later) was that it was probably just a prank put in by the developers, and intended for only the game testers to see (although he had no proof of this, and was previously unaware of the hidden ‘level’). Since then I have played through the official releases of Crash 2 and 3 and loved both of them (and still do today).
I recently asked my great uncle about the old disc, but sadly his years of game testing are behind him, and all his materials have long been returned to their developers. It’s a shame, I’d give anything to have that prototype again, if not to share with the world, then at least to prove to everyone (that I’ve told this story) that I really saw what I know I saw.