Game Review: Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy Spins Up Nostalgia

Photo courtesy of Activision Vicarious Visions has resurrected Crash Bandicoot much to the delight of those who believe we’ve gone too long without the dopey marsupial. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is the original three games--Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and Crash Bandicoot Warped--remade from the ground up for those looking for a bit of '90s PlayStation 1 era nostalgia. I have no such nostalgic inclination, only recently being introduced to the series when I picked it up on PSN a few years back. I wanted to give the series a proper go, but the ugly visuals, relentless difficulty, and archaic controls turned me away early on. The recently released Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy does little to remedy the problems of the originals. The graphics are gorgeous, and despite being locked at 30 FPS, the N’ Sane Trilogy looks like a modern game. Unfortunately, the stiff controls are at odds with the presentation and the good and the bad of the originals are recreated in all of their frustrating glory. Photo courtesy of Activision If you’ve played the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy on PlayStation, you know exactly what to expect with the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. Vicarious Visions has done a great job recreating each game from Naughty Dog’s originals right down to preserving infamous exploits. It isn’t exactly a “remaster” in the conventional sense – the level geometry was preserved, but sounds, character models, and animations were redone. The result is beautiful – every person who saw me play both instantly recognized Crash and commented on how great the game looked. It does not play great. The controls will frustrate those used to more modern setups. I found the trilogy best played with the d-pad, as the original was intended to be played. The thumb sticks had too much dead zone, and made the stiff controls even more imprecise. Precision is necessary, as one hit or misstep will lead to your demise. Get used to dying, as oftentimes you will have to fail first to learn how to avoid death.  I approached it with a Zen formerly reserved for the likes of Dark Souls.  Unlike Dark Souls, however, deaths tend to feel cheap and unfair, especially in the first game of the trilogy. Naughty Dog seemed to refine their game-making ability, and the trilogy gets more varied and less unfair as it goes on – something Vicarious Visions preserves with painful accuracy. Photo courtesy of Activision Three complete games are included, and with the work that has gone into them it feels like a fair value. They are all tied together with a uniform save system that can make the experience less frustrating. With clever saving, you can amass lives and reload anytime you feel you’ve lost too many in any single attempt. This would have been something I abused more frequently, but the load times for the N. Sane trilogy are pretty long. Quitting a level and reloading a previous save takes over a minute – and after several cheap deaths this feels like salt on a fresh wound. Photo courtesy of Activision All of the Crash games revel in pseudo 3D – there is a fixed camera, but you move in 3D with the perspective changing from over-the-shoulder, side-scrolling, to to-down, etc. The 3D nature means that even in side scrolling sections you can walk off the near or far side of a platform by mistake. Being unable to move the camera makes judging distances between jumps difficult, and I often found myself failing jumps I’d easily made before, making for a very uneven experience.  The first game, Crash Bandicoot, is simultaneously the most iconic and the weakest of the trilogy. It’s not just uneven, it’s downright bumpy. Bosses seem randomly placed, and levels vary in difficulty greatly from one to the next. There isn’t nearly as much level variety in the first game as there is in Cortex Strikes Back or Warped, it is just one platforming section after another, with checkpoints few and far between.  Cortex Strikes Back introduces a few new mechanics, such as crouching and instantly exploding nitro boxes while setting the formula of 5 worlds with 5 stages a piece. Warped introduces the most new mechanics, and is by far the more varied of the three, sometimes to its own detriment. I hated the racing sections of Warped. Photo courtesy of Activision Boss fights are a mixed bag. Some are short and easy – others are a marathon requiring practice, steely eyes and a steady hand. One mistake sends you back to the beginning of the fight, and sometimes that means multiple phases and time. The boss fights have a lot of variance, too. Some require twitch reflexes while others require you to memorize a pattern, and some are a mixture of the two. Photo courtesy of Activision Crash N. Sane Trilogy doesn’t offer much new. There is an option to replay levels as Coco, Crash’s sister, as early as the first game. Each game also has a uniform time trial option for each level after you beat it, further adding to the trilogy’s inherent replayability. Completionists will find plenty to do here as you find every crate to smash, secret levels, and every hidden gem. Photo courtesy of Activision Crash N. Sane Trilogy is repackaged for the modern age, flaws and all. A beautiful but challenging game, it deserves the attention of those who remember it from their childhood, or want to show it to their own children. There is something to find even for gamers without nostalgia goggles, but the challenge here is formidable. Perhaps with enough popularity, Crash will find himself with new adventures, but for now you can relive the old ones on PlayStation 4. Photo courtesy of Activision
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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.