REVIEW / Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)

 

There’s nary a person, gamer or otherwise, who was alive during the mid-90s to mid-00s that hasn’t heart of Crash Bandicoot. The spinning, box-jumping, polar bear-riding, heart boxers-wearing orange marsupial first crashed (sorry) onto our Playstation consoles in 1996 courtesy of Naughty Dog. After everyone fell in love with the wonderful little platformer,  they released Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back in 1997 and Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped in 1998. The Crash Bandicoot series stayed with Naughty Dog for one more entry, the better-than-Mario-Kart (even though it’s almost certainly just a ripoff of Mario Kart) kart racing entry – Crash Team Racing (CTR). After CTR, the series changed hands, and past the point of the fifth unofficial party game entry, Crash Bash, I lost interest with the series and have some strong feelings about what followed all the same. However, that’s not why we’re here.

 

 

Activision has teamed up with Vicarious Visions to create Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy, a complete remake of the original trilogy of Crash Bandicoot, Cortex Strikes Back, and Warped. In addition to the enhanced graphics and remastered sountrack, you can now play as Crash’s sister Coco in all three games rather than just select levels in the third game. Fans have been clamoring for a remake of their favorite Crash games for years, so the news was huge, but I was among the skeptics for a long time. Remaking a classic that has dominated the childhoods of so many gamers is a dicey move that requires very strict adherence to tradition and updating but not changing the original medium. The more gameplay I saw pre-release, the better the N. Sane Trilogy was beginning to look. The game started to sell out left and right in my local stores and once I was finally able to get my hands on a copy of the N.Sane Trilogy, I was very keen to start spinning through a few crates.


Crash Bandicoot

Ah, the first Crash Bandicoot game – in my unbiased opinion, the best one. My childhood experience with the original was pretty limited because I didn’t own it, but some close friends did and had already unlocked or discovered elsewhere the code for 100% completion. We would flit between particular levels, picking up hidden swarms of free lives, and then we’d go get booted off a wild hog ride a few times before going back and collecting lives again. Occasionally we’d actually attempt to complete a level ourselves, but we were six or seven years old and predictably terrible at actually doing things ourselves. I played through the game about a year ago with my boyfriend and I was subjected to how truly clunky and brutal the game is.

In Crash Bandicoot, there are two main collectibles: keys and gems (colored and clear). Clear gems are obtained by breaking all of the crates in a level. Colored gems are obtained by breaking all of the crates in a level without dying (which is really, really hard to accomplish most of the time). Throughout the levels you can also discover character-themed tokens (Tawna, N.Brio, and N.Cortex). If you collect three of a character’s token, you will be transported to a bonus level. Tawna’s bonus levels are easy, Brio’s are hard but with excellent prizes, and completing Cortex bonus rounds grants access to locked levels via a key. Back in the original, completing a Tawna bonus level was the only time you could save your game and get a level code. Brutal.

 

Four of us stepped in, ready to take on the challenge that was and is Crash Bandicoot. All of the music has been remixed to varying degrees, but is typically pretty easily recognized, albeit a little softer in some cases. The sound effects, not counting voices, are more or less the same as fans would remember – the sound of breaking open boxes, the spin attack, and the sound of jumping on enemies remains more or less unchanged. Some sound effects sound a little different, such as collecting wumpa fruit, but the difference is negligible. The sound when you obtain a gem has been changed from a cash register ding (or similar) to the harmonious “Aaahhh” of Crash 3 fame. I’ll admit that while it was petty, that did niggle me a little because it felt a bit out of place, especially when they had gone to the trouble of keeping most of the other sounds similar to the original.

The graphics are obviously very pretty, and while I was initially worried that Crash would be changed too much to meet the needs of HD prettiness, he looks as correct as he possibly could under the circumstances. The environments in each level have obviously been updated substantially, but they’ve kept 99% of the level design the same as it was in the past, although in updating and making the levels prettier, they did seem to remove some of the bright greens in place of more natural, realistic greens. Can’t win ’em all, it still looks pretty good.

 

As for gameplay, I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t much, much easier to control Crash compared to the clunkiness of the original. However, I do have a very, very big caveat and complaint to register alongside this praise – the hitboxes and collision detection. I was warned by my friendly neighborhood game store employee that the hitboxes for Crash and Coco are now a very neat pill shape. This means that edges are now weird. Maybe it’s decades of conditioning across the four of us from the old games, but we missed so many jumps in the exact same place, and got hit by the same enemies that we swear we weren’t close enough to get hit by. Not to mention slipping and sliding off things that we were bouncing or standing on.

If you’ve heard all the press about the N.Sane Trilogy being n.sanely difficult, look no further than the change in physics. Combine the updated physics with a significant decrease in the number of lives and masks you receive in the game and you end up with a lot of game-overs. I think our group spent an hour alone battling The High Road (a level later in the game) and just about gave up and moved on to Crash 2 instead. If anything about this game’s difficulty will break you, it will be the goddamn edges on things and trying to land where you need to land.

 

 

On a final niggly note that will stretch across my review of all of the remade games, I have to say that the wumpa fruit don’t seem to (for lack of a better term) suck into you as quickly as they used to, and it doesn’t feel as satisfying to pick them up anymore. I feel like I just float through them and they happen to appear in my inventory. For some reason that really niggled at me the entire time I was playing, and it was worth mentioning even though it was particularly petty. Furthermore, I’m fairly sure the game takes a bit too much pity on you in some cases, and not enough pity in others.

The Crash Bandicoot games have, to my knowledge, always featured a few pity handouts. Die enough times and you’ll respawn with a mask, or you’ll receive a checkpoint a bit closer to your location. Sometimes we would respawn with a level two mask in a place like The High Road, where masks are more or less irrelevant. In one of the rolling boulder levels, we were continuously flattened (I’ve never had any trouble outrunning these boulders in the past, so I think they may have been sped up a little), and after quite a few deaths we suddenly managed to outrun it so far that it was out of view. Too much help, Activision. Too much help.

 

A quick note on bosses: I didn’t really mention them here because they were kept pretty faithful to the originals and for that I’m glad.

In Summary…

It’s hard. It’s so hard. They’ve updated the game to make it easier to save, but they’ve just made it harder to get through the goddamn levels generally. Aesthetically, the remake has stayed true to the source content, but they somehow managed to make the original Crash Bandicoot even less palatable to me. I hope I never have to look at this evil, evil game ever again. Crash Bandicoot, played purely for progression and not for collection of gems and keys, will keep you busy for at least three hours, but it took us more than four.


 

 Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back

Hello, old friend. Crash Bandicoot 2 was one of the first two games I received with my very first Playstation as a little kid. I absolutely adore this game, I know it back-to-front, and this was the one that I was hotly anticipating from the N.Sane Trilogy. Getting to finally play Crash 2 after the slog that was Crash 1 was a dream come true because I knew how the difficulty sharply declines between the first and second games and assumed it would be the same in the remakes. And it was…to an extent.

My thoughts on the sound effects and sound track remixes from Crash 1‘s remake carry over to the remake of Cortex Strikes Back. However, I was made painfully aware of how Activision were clearly trying to make Crash more accessible to a general, uninitiated audience with a new addition to the visuals. Crash Bandicoot 2 originally had two collectibles – gems (clear and colored), and crystals – one for each level. In the original game, Crash would leap out of a level door into the central hub – the warp room – and fling the gems and crystals up to their hollowed-out spaces near the level name.

I realise this is from Crash 3, but you all needed the visual

 

In the remake, he produces the collectibles from various places on his body. I was on board when he tapped on one ear and a gem popped out of the other. I could even get over the exaggerated gagging sounds he made when producing a crystal from his mouth. But now I’m sad to say that Crash actually reminded me of something as lame as a Minion, of all things, when he reached behind him and into his pants to grab an item.

The Crash Bandicoot series didn’t shy away from a bit of cheeky humor, but this inclusion kind of seemed unnecessary, and not in a prudish way. While Crash was always a game that was meant for people of any age, I never got that “kid’s game” feel from it before now, and I was a bit disappointed as a result. On the same note, and this is present for all three of the games, the loading screens now feature Aku Aku floating in and out of frame (sometimes quite creepily), which I’m fine with. What I’m not fine with is the hints that are displayed on every single loading screen. Excuse me while I grab my angry old lady hat, but back in my day we had to use trial and error to figure things out. I don’t want to read boss hints before I’ve even had a chance at a boss.

 

“Hey there. Whatcha thinkin’ ’bout? Mask stuff?”

 

Obviously I already knew what to do for the bosses and the levels, but I feel like they’ve made things too easy on the new players for no real reason. As a general note on visuals, all of the levels were lovingly recreated and looked great, even though the developers made some small, weird changes like making an existing level an “afternoon” level for seemingly no reason. Also, Polar looks really weird, like they tried to make him look too realistic. Not keen.

It seems that the N.Sane Trilogy isn’t partial to masks and lives, because while we fared much better in Crash 2 than the original, we still reached a few points where we were constantly tumbling off edges or being spiked by enemies that had no business being able to reach us. I received my first Crash 2 “game over” since I was six years old and I was not pleased. I really wasn’t exaggerating when I say that I know this game inside-and-out and back-to-front.

 

 

I knew what I was doing and the new physics were absolutely against me. I don’t think we even gained the power of invincibility at all during our time in the remake of Crash 2, and just once at the start of Crash 1. Once we hit our first game over, there was seemingly no way of getting back to our former stock of lives that we had in the early game. I don’t think we ever broke 30 lives during our time in the game, whereas in the original I would have an even 60 for levels at a time. The N.Sane Trilogy is stingy as hell when it comes to masks and lives, dammit.

Two final niggly notes: Firstly, when did the bees in the bee levels become so goddamn fast? They weren’t a challenge necessary, but they were downright lazy in the original and they now act like they’re on speed. Secondly, crouching is so delayed now. It takes forever for Crash to bend down, as though he has bad knees or something. I’m not sure why this suffered in particular, but I miss the responsiveness of the original.

 

In Summary…

Crash Bandicoot 2 is less brutal than Crash Bandicoot‘s remake, but still way rougher than it needs to be. I blame the physics again, because if there was any Crash remake game I was going to try to 100%, it would have been this one. However, I’m not sure I even want to now – I think I’d rather pick up the original again for the hundredth time. Crash Bandicoot 2, played purely for progression and not collectibles, took us about 2-3 hours, which is a little bit over what it would have taken in the original.


Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped

In my opinion, barring a few new level types and some new powers, Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped didn’t really offer many upgrades from Crash 2, and that’s not a bad thing. Crash 2 was wonderful and Crash 3 didn’t really need to try as hard to improve things. Honestly, I think they added more annoying level types (the plane levels, bike levels, and jetski levels) in 3, but that may just be my Cortex Strikes Back bias at work.

Crash 3 had a warp room – this time known as a time twister, which led to separate hubs made up of five levels and a boss. Each level threw Crash (or Coco!) somewhere back in time, whether to the medieval period to beat up frogs and knights or to a gloopy prehistoric area with lava and dinosaurs aplenty. Crash 3 also introduced the time relic feature, where players could revisit levels and take time trials to earn relics (sapphire, gold, or platinum). Crystals were still required for level completion, and colored and clear gems were still around as well.

 

I am going to go out on a limb and guess that the Crash 3 remake was tackled last, because it’s by far the best in terms of controls and replication of the source material. The same issues with collision detection and hitboxes apply in Warped‘s remake, and there are a lot of “riding” levels (tiger and jetski levels for Coco, dinosaur, underwater machine…thing, and bike levels for Crash, and plane levels for both) where these issues were the most annoying. In some cases (i.e. the bike levels) the controls didn’t seem to have improved all that much, although I did find said levels easier to manage than the originals.

The jetski and tiger controls are honestly a bit too quick when accelerating, and it feels like they’re a bit floatier as well. With regard to general platformer levels in Warped, I felt they were a bit kinder than those in Crash 1 and 2. In addition, Crash just feels nicer to handle in the remake of the third game and the aesthetics are much closer to that of the original, albeit with a nice, new coat of paint. While I’m on the topic of aesthetics – Pura looks right, which leaves me wondering why they gave Polar realistic fur and not Pura.

 

The difficulty in Warped is also significantly less than that of 1 and 2. I regularly encountered lives and masks, and had a healthy stock of 30+ lives at last count. As a veteran Crash fan, this isn’t even a whinge about unfair difficulty and wanting handouts, it’s just me wanting what has already been established in the originals. Also, Crash crouches properly and in a timely manner in Warped. Thank god.

 

In Summary…

This one is definitely the best one out of the three remakes, no question. It dredges up all that nice nostalgia and the controls feel much nicer than in the previous two. That said, all the riding levels make the hitbox/collision detection issues really obvious, even when the platforming levels seemed to do away with a lot of that jankiness. The decrease in difficulty is also a huge bonus. Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped took a little less time to complete, while not collectible-hunting, than Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back.


 Overall

I have to give it to Activision and Vicarious, because they have done what the fans have been howling after for years and years. They have clearly taken a very careful hand to their recreation of Crash Bandicoot, Cortex Strikes Back and Warped and it shows. With some notable exceptions, every box and item is exactly where it should be. The audiovisual elements have been recreated, for the most part, with respect to the nostalgia factor that fans will have bought the game to re-experience. However, the difficulty spike in both Crash 1 and Crash 2 is unforgivable.

The first two remakes suffered greatly in the hands of the new physics and allegedly changed hitboxes. Combined with a lack of the usually abundant lives and masks, I’ve never felt so angrily frustrated with a Crash game in my life, and I’ve spent hours trying to get every platinum relic in Warped. I honestly don’t think these issues sprung from poor development. The N. Sane Trilogy set out to remake classic games from the PS1 era and is a wonderful product, but the gameplay did not fare well in the transition. That said, I would never hesitate to recommend the N. Sane Trilogy to hardcore Crash Bandicoot fans. It’s worth playing through each game to see just how beautifully each level and character has been recreated for the PS4 era and get excited when your favorite levels come up to bat. By all means, go ahead and play the N. Sane Trilogy, but be sure to bring a lot of patience when you do.

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is available  now, digitally and physically, on PS4!

 

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