Crash is back.
It was in the moment when I raised my Dualshock 4 above my head, ready to smash it into the floor after failing the same series of jumps on Native Fortress for the 12th time, that it hit me. Filled with frustration, boiling over with rage, I thought to myself “This is amazing. I’ve really bloody missed this”. Crash Bandicoot is a relic from the past – his movement is imprecise, the levels are filled with “cheap” pitfalls, the camera is often ill placed, it’s missing all of the modern platformer gameplay developments and there’s a few questionable design elements. But much like the relics that Nathan Drake (Naughty Dog’s other notable protagonist*) finds on his adventures, once you’re given it a spit shine, these relics can turn into treasures – and Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is a real treasure.
Naughty Dog might have created the crazy Bandicoot but they weren’t involved in remastering Crash, Crash 2 and Crash Warped for the PS4. Vicarious Visions, an Activision studio that’s most recently been working on various Skylanders titles, were on development duties and they’ve absolutely nailed it. Playing the N. Sane Trilogy is like stepping through the rose tinted glasses rather than looking through them. The game plays and sounds how I remember it. The music. The art style. The box breaking and 1-Up sound effects. They’re all there, relatively unchanged but certainly remastered, as if it was 1996 again – no mean feat considering the team had very little of the original code to work with.
What’s most impressive is how they’ve managed to take the blocky, often garish visuals of the original games and remake them to match today’s standards. They’ve taken the Wompa fruit and made it look real. They’ve taken Crash’s original 512 polygons and given him the detail of a Dreamworks film character. The water effects are top. Fires look hot. Ice looks shiney. Fog looks like thick white pea soup. Everything has had a graphical spruce up and, if you’re rocking a PS4 Pro and a UHD TV, can be played in 1440p (as well as better ambient occlusion & enhanced shadow map resolution) although this game still looks brilliant in 1080p on a standard PS4. The game runs at 30 frames per second, regardless of what hardware you’re running it on and, to be honest, that feels entirely adequate here. Sure, it would have been nice to see the game running at 60 frames per second but, seeing as though the original games ran at 30fps, it doesn’t feel like we’re losing anything too.
While the visuals have been greatly improved, the play itself remains mostly unchanged. The Crash games have always been platformers that require some trial and error, plenty of determination, dexterity, quick reactions and more than a little confidence in your own ability. Yes, they’re always been hard – we just had a higher tolerance for repetition back in “the good ol’ days”. There’s no let up from beginning to end in any of the titles in the N. Sane Trilogy – everything is trying to kill you and you’ll be punished if you slip up. If you’re going to get the most from any Crash game, you need to learn the levels through practice, know how Crash moves and be confident enough to stick you’re jumps. Any hesitation in the air – lift your finger off the thumbstick/d-Pad just for a second because you’re hesitating – and you’ll watch as Crash/Coco’s shoes fly into the air as your character disappears to their doom. The N. Sane Trilogy harks back to a time when learning the broad strokes and subtle nuances of a game, knowing the in’s and out’s and what you could get away with, was how you got by. Crash Bandicoot has never been a comfortable game (although Warped is far easier than the original game). It’s a test of the player and if you pass, the feeling of exhilaration as your heart beats out of your chest as you squeak over a jump you’ve failed at 10 times before, is entirely worth the frustration.
So, what has changed? Well, the game now auto-saves which, let’s be honest, we’d riot about if something so standard was missing here. Crash’s sister Coco is available to play in almost every level (some levels force Crash to be played). Time trials have been added to Crash 1 and 2 to bring them in line with Warped which will please the speedrunners out there. There’s also been some very mild changes to some levels to get rid of some of the more… questionable design choices that Naughty Dog made. Other than that, the 3 games have been faithfully recreated, warts and all.
It’s those warts that feel out of place with the N. Sane Trilogy. While I agree with the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach that Vicarious Visions have taken with this remake, there are sections of Crash 1 and Crash 2 that did need fixing. This was from a time before Naughty Dog had perfected their craft (which is evident in Crash: Warped), when their camera placement wasn’t perfect or where some design just needed a tweak to make it more enjoyable. It feels like a wasted opportunity to fix these issues that still remain in the N. Sane Trilogy – E.g. the camera still cuts off the bats at the end of a tunnel in Temple Ruins, there’s a leaping lizard that still misbehaves in The Lost City and there’s more than a few chasms that can be annoyingly misjudged that could have been fixed if the camera was inches higher. And then there are added bit’s to Crash Warped (there to break up the platforming) that could have done with a refresh – The driving sections feel rough and Coco’s aerial levels needed a little more challenge adding to them.
Those warts aside, There’s a mountain of challenging content in the N. Sane Trilogy to get your teeth into with a variety of twists on the same game play. There’s that standard platforming levels where you’re running away from the screen, there’s the boulder levels, animal riding levels, trampoline levels, boss battles, racing levels and aerial battles. If you’re going for the Platinum trophies (of which there are 3), there’s maybe months worth of platforming, time trialing and collecting to be mastered.
The Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is a fantastic re-introduction to PlayStation’s forgotten mascot. Vicarious Visions have struck an impressive balance of retaining the original, challenging spirit of the gameplay with fantastic visuals and remastered audio. There are still aspects that could have done with a tweak to do away with 20-year-old missteps that’ll likely put off players who’ve not played a Crash game before – but as a nostalgia fuelled spin-jump down memory lane, it’s fantastic.
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is available now on PS4 (version reviewed).
* No, I didn’t forget about Jak & Daxter. I was just making an analogy.
In order to complete this review, we purchased a copy of the game. For more information on how we review and score games, please see our review policy.