Review: Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)

Developed by: Vicarious Visions
Published by: Activision

The gaming output of developer Naughty Dog made up a pretty significant chunk of my grade school years, perhaps to an equal degree as my obsession with Nintendo games. In particular, much like most people around my age, I had a particularly heavy level of interest in Crash Bandicoot, the platforming series starring a ridiculous orange marsupial stuck in perpetual battle with the evil Dr. Neo Cortex and his various minions. I had kept up with the series up until Crash Twinsanity, at which point I had dropped off the Crash train. While the series continued for a bit after that, it never reached the critical and commercial success of its beginning days, and it essentially sunk into the background as it bounced between developers and awkward new gameplay ideas. In an attempt to return the bandicoot to his former glory days, developer Vicarious Visions have given the original 3 games a flashy new makeover with the Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy on the PS4.

As the name implies, the game compiles Crash Bandicoot, Cortex Strikes Back, and Warped with modern graphical touches, remastered music, rerecorded dialogue, and some other design touches. The games each stick rather closely to the designs of the original, containing all the same levels, enemy designs, bosses, and collectibles. There are a handful of tweaks to various aspects of the game design across the trilogy, with the most immediately obvious being that the first two games have been retrofitted with the time trial runs that first appeared in Warped. Outside of that, some of the other changes are fairly minor and only amount to things like the number of crates in each stage being only slightly higher or lower than their original PS1 incarnations or the bosses have a marginally increased/decreased health bar.

The graphical upgrades look absolutely fantastic, preserving the unique artistic quirks of the franchise and its varied locals with a brand new level of polish. The characters are significantly more expressive than their original incarnations, especially our hero and how his animations/color scheme still wonderfully contrast the natural/industrial environments he progresses through. In addition, the new visuals help add clarity to aspects of the games that were originally muddy or uncertain. In the N. Brio fight from the original game, it was always unclear how damaging the green slimes was supposed to hurt the scientist, but now it becomes much more evident. The pot-carrying enemies in Crash 3 are now shown to be monkeys instead of just featureless human-shaped blobs. It’s an overall gorgeous package that shows a great deal of care and attention-to-detail in the visual department.

A simplistic outline of the first half or so of the “Cortex Power” stage in the original game (apologies for the crude MS paint style).

If there’s any criticisms to be had of the trilogy, they’re mainly criticisms of whatever aspects of the original games may not have aged well. There has been quite a lot of discussion in the wake of the trilogy’s release in regards to the level of challenge presented in the games, in particular the first one with its various bridge levels being a particular sore spot for some. While I don’t agree with the idea of the N-Sane Trilogy being the platformer equivalent of Dark Souls, I do think there are some interesting things to be said about how the Crash Bandicoot series handles its difficulty across these three entries. To start, I will agree with the base premise that the first game is rather difficult, especially in comparison to the other two entries. Initially, this could be attributed to the original game having not aged that well, with levels that often go on for far too long and an overall progression system that is very strictly linear in comparison to its sequels. I’ve always believed there was a reason that the second, third, and fourth entries in the series adopted a progression system different from the original game. However, the difficulty is compounded by changes to the physics caused by usage of a new engine, resulting in the need for much more precise platforming. Often, the only way to nail certain long jumps is to hit a platform/enemy from a specific angle, but the new physics engine makes it so that even if you hit an ideal spot on the edge of a bouncy platform/enemy, you can somehow slip through unless you hit the exact perfect pixel. It’s also worth noting that as of the writing of this review (and perhaps to capitalize on the reputation of the difficulty), you can download a free bit of DLC that adds the infamous “Stormy Ascent” level to the original game, which is absolutely a challenge on par with the bridge levels.

In addition, there are some levels where you are expected to obtain special gems by breaking every crate in a stage without dying, and with the questionable physics choices, this can take far longer than should be the case. This is compounded by certain stages occasionally going overboard with split pathways that force you to circle around and backtrack to a confusing extent, often making it easy to die when you have to run back through a specific pathway (“Cortex Power” is a prime example of this). The following two games found much more satisfying ways to handle the no-death concept in stages with the death routes. These were much more balanced than a no-death run through an entire stage: play the stage and reach the platform without dying, touch it once, and then you’ll have permanent access to the route, even if you die. It’s much more manageable than what’s expected of you in the first game.

Crash 2 & 3 have aged rather well and are still a blast to play many years later, and revisiting all the stages with their various shortcuts and clever secrets is still so much fun. The games are made more fun thanks to the enhanced mobility of the subsequent entries: slides, belly slams, double jumping, and more. The higher degree of variety in terms of level designs and objectives still keep the experience of these sequels fresh even after more than a decade later. There are no significant complaints to be had about these entries other than a minor nitpick about the motorcycle racing stages in Warped, which feels slightly stiffer than the PS1 iteration, most noticeably when you try to pull any tight turns on the course.

The Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy is a well-done collection that provides a really great blast from the past. The new graphics give the games the look and feel they deserve in the modern times while preserving the great landscapes and outlandish character designs. The Crash series is still fun to play all these years later, although the first one hasn’t aged all that well, and the physics utilized amplifies an already annoying level of challenge in that entry. Crash 2 & 3 are thankfully still untouchable, and even if you don’t care much for that original experience or find it frustrating, the package as a whole is worth getting to re-experience one of the greatest icons of the PlayStation brand’s early days.

Final verdict: 
Buy It. The trilogy is a faithful recreation of one of Sony’s most classic IP’s, flaws and all. While certain design elements have not survived the passage of time, and the new physics take some getting used to sometimes, the trilogy is a great remaster compilation that has me excited about whatever the future may have in store for the orange bandicoot. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is available exclusively on PS4.

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