Release Date: June 30, 2017
Platform: PS4 (reviewed)
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Despite having played through the Crash Bandicoot trilogy when I was young, I harbor no nostalgia for the franchise.
Back then, I saw Crash Bandicoot as Sony’s attempt at apologizing to PlayStation owners for all the brilliant N64 platformers they were missing out on. I would play the games, enjoy them for a time, and then play Super Mario 64 at my neighbor’s house. When I went back to play Crash again, I was left with the nasty feeling that I was settling for something less.
As such, the opportunity to revisit the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy via developer Vicarious Visions’ recently released Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy collection wasn’t something I necessarily looked forward to.
In many ways, I’m glad that I didn’t leave my muddled memories of the Crash Bandicoot trilogy alone.
As a quick bit of historical housekeeping, the N. Sane collection was developed by Vicarious Visions because original developer Naughty Dog no longer retains the rights to the historic franchise. Having said that, Vicarious has developed Crash games in the past such as N-Tranced, Nitro Kart, and Huge Adventure.
Try not to hold their previous endeavors against them, though, as the N. Sane trilogy is a flawless remaster of the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy from a purely visual perspective. The popular sentiment is that this colorful HD upgrade of the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy makes it so that the games look the way you remember them looking, but Vicarious Visions’ technical achievements deserve more than just “Ma nostalgia!” praises.
Instead, the true gift of these visual upgrades is the way they really allow you to appreciate the tremendous art design of the original trilogy and how early PlayStation games were just as artistically ambitious as Super Nintendo titles even if rough early 3D technology hasn’t allowed their design to age gracefully.
N. Sane’s rich visuals afford gamers like myself who only vaguely recall the Crash trilogy to truly view it from a new perspective. Because of this, I now appreciate that Crash was not a lesser Mario 64, but rather a 3D reimagining of classic 2D platformers. In fact, there are times when I was struck by the realization that Crash Bandicoot often plays out like a psuedo-3D take on the Donkey Kong Country trilogy.
That comparison is strengthened by the trilogy’s technological ambition and surprisingly brutal platforming challenges. I’d really like to go back in time and examine myself playing these games for the first time because I certainly don’t remember them being this difficult. Let it be known, though, that I’m glad they are so challenging. While the near pixel perfect jump and attack requirements do lead to many moments of frustration, it’s always refreshing to play a platformer that pays homage to the roots of the genre by ensuring that the perfect run feels like something you earned.
While it turns out that my memories of what the Crash Bandicoot games were trying to accomplish were indeed inaccurate, my memories of how these games measured up to the genre’s best sadly hold up better than the Crash trilogy’s core gameplay.
Actually, the biggest problem with these games isn’t so much the concept behind the core gameplay – jumping, breaking boxes, and spinning through enemies can be a fun time – but rather the way that gameplay fails to bolster the sometimes repetitive design of the game’s levels.
The original Crash Bandicoot is certainly the biggest victim of this particular fault. Many of the levels in that game don’t stray far from the largely linear nature of what you may consider being “classic” Crash Bandicoot stages. Attempts at mixing up the levels with 2D and object escape sections are certainly welcome, but the game too often relies on the belief that the player’s desire to achieve 100% completion of the game’s increasingly challenging levels will cover-up for the fact that the majority of the stages adhere to a familiar design rotation.
To be fair, Crash Bandicoot 2 and 3 do feature some interesting gameplay additions such as vehicle sections and a wider array of obstacles that do help liven up the frustratingly straightforward design of the basic Crash Bandicoot level. These additions sometimes work as intended – Crash Bandicoot: Warped’s time travel setting actually results in a few creative areas – but the overall results are decidedly mixed. Many of the vehicle/animal levels feel clunky while the majority of the areas in each sequel still rely too heavily on that constrained path level formula that really starts to wear you down.
These issues do inspire an interesting design dilemma. Was Vicarious Visions obligated to fix some of Crash’s more meaningful inherent flaws or did they simply need to enhance the original experiences as much as possible without compromising what the original experiences offered?
While Vicarious Visions ultimately decided to only clean up some of the original’s roughest edges, even Crash purists will likely be able to identify a couple of areas where the game’s adherence to the past results in new faults.
The most interesting example of this is the game’s hit detection. There’s almost no “magnet effect” in the game, meaning that you must touch every item you wish to pick up. While this is true to the original titles, it does result in some unnecessarily frustrating moments where a single pixel can determine if you pick up that extra life or not. Meanwhile, the enhanced visuals seem to have resulted in some slightly altered hitboxes which may infuriate those who have mastered the original experiences.
Still, N. Sane sticks to the originals close enough to ensure that true Crash Bandicoot fans will get the most value out of this remastered collection. At the same time, N. Sane isn’t necessarily one of those “for the fans” games made by a studio that knows the game’s biggest fans will rush to the defense of those who dare to attack their fond memories. A lot of work went into making sure that those who never got to experience these games now have the chance to do so in the best way possible.
Unfortunately, there is a reason that young gamers like myself once labeled the Crash Bandicoot trilogy as an amusing alternative to games that represented the future of the genre and medium. As unfair as it was to judge Crash Bandicoot years ago for not being Super Mario 64 when it was never meant to be that game, Bandicoot’s “between two eras” design style results in a curious piece of gaming history. The Crash Bandicoot trilogy’s visuals translate well to the HD era but its gameplay falters under scrutiny.