It’s often the little things about a game that stay with us long after we’ve put down the controller. In some cases, that could be as long as twenty years.
Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy is a hearty collection that’s all about recreating the little things that players loved about Naughty Dog’s original games. It’s about taking them, polishing them and placing them on a shiny pedestal for a whole new generation to see. New developer Vicarious Visions has gone to pain-staking effort to ensure that everything you remember and love about the franchise is intact – and in some places, better than ever.
It’s absolutely fascinating to see Crash Bandicoot, once PlayStation’s lovable – if intellectually challenged – orange mascot at the forefront of gaming conversation once again. The release of Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy has invoked an outpouring of nostalgia among the gaming community and for good reason – the original Crash games were incredible. They combined tight, and often achingly tough platforming with a vibrant, colourful world that oozed personality. Many of gaming’s biggest mascots took a leap of faith when they made the transition into 3D, but Crash was born into that world.
Crash Bandicoot’s past is a tumultuous one and it’s one that I’ve already covered in-depth. To cut a long story short, the short-wearing marsupial was once a powerhouse of the industry – not quite on the level of Mario, but a household name in his own right. Crash Bandicoot helped shape PlayStation into what it is today, as well as marking the first in what would become a delectable catalogue of works from one of gaming’s finest studios. However, after Naughty Dog departed the series, Crash spiralled into mediocrity before finally disappearing almost entirely, remaining only in the hearts of those who wished and waited for his eventual return to glory.
Fast-forward to 2017 and here we are. Crash Bandicoot is back on the scene – developer Vicarious Visions has taken Naughty Dog’s original three titles – Crash Bandicoot, Cortex Strikes Back and Warped, and remade them from the ground up for the PlayStation 4. Sure, those of us who were dying to see Crash make a comeback finally got our wish, but how is the game itself? Can prettied-up PlayStation One games possibly contend with today’s offerings?
I’m delighted to say that not only do the three games play excellently, they provide a valuable insight into a time where gaming was a pursuit of perfection – often punishing, yet utterly rewarding.
Let’s begin with the visuals, as that’s where the clearest and most obvious leap has been made. Despite still running at 30fps, Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy is a wonder to look at. The game is stunningly beautiful, with impressive lighting effects dousing worlds filled to the brim with character and a lush liveliness that many other games can only dream of. Jungle levels are densely packed with leaves, foliage and native ruins, while underground temples are almost pitch-black, save for the flickering of fire torches breathing a warming glow onto bleached rock.
However, it’s with the characters that the graphics truly shine. Crash himself has never looked better, retaining his original Naughty Dog design while sporting a hefty upgrade, including some impressive fur texturing. He looks and feels like he’s jumped straight out of a high-end production value cartoon and the same can be said for the other characters. There’s a gleeful elasticity to them and to their animations and everyone bounces in and out with the utmost fluidity to their movements, lending them real character and personality.
On an individual basis, certain characters are absolute standouts – primary villain Dr. Neo Cortex for instance animates wonderfully, cycling through seemingly endless intricate facial emotions. A similar level of detail has been applied throughout, although Crash can sometimes look strange in certain lighting – say in darker levels for instance, where the game doesn’t appear to know where to shine its light source on Crash, but it’s a minor issue. The entire game is a joy to look at and Vicarious Visions has completely outdone themselves – this is how a remake should look.
So it’s a pretty game, but is it a good one? If there’s one thing Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy has done, it’s introduce a whole lot of unwitting gamers to the brutality that is the first Crash Bandicoot game. Relentlessly hard, the first Crash Bandicoot remains the troublemaker among the trilogy. It’s absolutely a better game this time around – the addition of a unified save and checkpoint system means playing through isn’t a chore down to factors out of your control – but its difficulty can’t be understated.
One thing Vicarious Visions has done in an attempt to mitigate issues persisting between the three games however is to utilise an identical control system throughout. Sure, Crash has less abilities in the first game (by which I mean, he has none outside of spinning), but he controls and more importantly, feels the same as he does in the later games. The game will often demand the absolute best from your platforming skills however and there’s definitely a slight concern that the early difficulty spikes in the first game could turn off some newcomers – if you find yourself struggling, move on to Crash 2! That’s the beauty of having all three titles.
Speaking of which, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is perhaps the best game in the trilogy, and that’s mostly down to its consistently high level of quality stages. There’s a laser-focus on tight, but fair platforming here and Cortex Strikes Back absolutely nails it. For those who care, the narrative has been improved as well and as always production values are high. It’s great seeing new themes being used, such as snow and space levels and each looks absolutely stunning. Cortex Strikes Back is effectively the perfect balance spot in the trilogy and Vicarious Visions has remade the game beautifully. Boss fights are a more interesting step-up from the original game and the improvements to Crash’s movement options, such as introducing the versatile slide ability, are noticeable from the start.
Finally we have Warped, the third game in the series. Fans have long debated whether Warped is better than Cortex Strikes Back or not and an argument can be made for either side. Warped has superior boss battles and the use of a time-travel plot element meant that Naughty Dog could really stretch the limits of level variety, sending Crash and his sister Coco to ancient Egypt, prehistoric times, medieval Europe…you name it, it’s there in Warped.
Unfortunately, that mantra is as much a curse as it is a blessing when it comes to this game – too large a number of levels in Warped are made up of gimmicky vehicle levels, including races and jet-ski stages, most of which control horribly. They only really serve to grind the pace of the game to a halt, but at the end of the day it will come down to personal preference as to whether or not they will effect your enjoyment of the game at all. Personally, I love Warped and think Vicarious Visions did a brilliant job with the game.
Vicarious Visions has added a number of quality of life changes to the game, as well as vastly improving on the replay value by adding time trials to the first and second games. Some of the levels in the first game particularly don’t lend themselves too well to speed-running, but it’s an appreciated addition to the game that helps bolster the overall value proposition – and at £25 (at launch), Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy is an absolute steal and some of the best value for money currently available in gaming.
I stated at the beginning of this review that it is often the little things about games that stay with us. The fact is, for those of us who grew up with Crash Bandicoot, we’ll each have our own thing about the games we remember and cherish dearly. For me, it’s the boss fights and the music – replaying them exactly how I remember, with their often catchy and pulse-pounding themes playing, brought a huge smile to my face. For others, it will be the levels, the chase sequences, the intro movies – everyone who loved Crash Bandicoot can claim a part of it for themselves.
Sure, as a fan, I could find the pettiest of things to nitpick about – for instance, the way the bosses’ names are no longer inside their health bars, or the removal of voice lines from certain characters (why does N. Gin no longer say “Prepare to die Crash!” after you defeat him?) – but the important thing is that Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy absolutely sets out what it tries to do. It’s a pitch-perfect recreation of a classic gaming trilogy, a hallmark of our industry’s history that, as proved here, will stand the test of time for many more years to come.
With its gruelling, yet addictive gameplay, Crash Bandicoot is back on everyone’s lips and that is an incredible, almost unbelievable thing in this day and age. You see, Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy doesn’t just represent what was great about the past – it’s an opportunity to look to the future as well. Its hard line focus on core gameplay has gotten people talking about the orange mascot again and it’s clearer now than ever before that Naughty Dog’s classics remain just as relevant as ever. Crash Bandicoot is back.
- The perfect example of how to do a remake, with beautiful graphics and tight controls
- Colourful worlds and characters make for a series oozing with personality
- Added quality of life changes make the three games more accessible than ever
- Great value for money with a lot of replay value
- The original Crash Bandicoot remains a frustratingly difficult game and could threaten to turn newcomers off