It’s a great time to be alive for anyone who fondly remembers the original PlayStation. With the remaster of the original WipEout coming out just last month, we can now revisit one the console’s more iconic characters – that crazy shirtless marsupial, Crash Bandicoot.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Fueled by childhood memories or turning points in our lives, things can be elevated (or dishonoured) to a whole new level. With Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, it was something as simple as the audio. The catchy jungle beat music and sound effects instantly transported me back to simpler days, and I found myself grinning away madly.
The Crash Bandicoot series took a different approach to other traditional platforming games and basically put developers Naughty Dog on the map. They’ve come a long way since then, but even their latest critically acclaimed title Uncharted 4 honoured their roots by including a charming playable cameo of the original Crash Bandicoot.
Part of the success of the game was Crash himself – a hyperactive, reckless, Australian critter. He was hardly a hero figure, and lacked any of the typical lead character traits when compared to rival titles such as Sonic (who was stylish with his snazzy running shoes and cool hair) or Mario (who was sweet and had a rocking moustache).
But Crash is tenacious and his level of crazy infected everything about the game, from riding polar bears through to the floating mask-face of your spirit guide Aku Aku. It’s what makes Crash stand out, even after all this time. His nemesis Doctor Neo Cortex is also the personification of crazy. Hell-bent on world domination, he’s responsible for creating Crash in his Frankenstein-esque lab, conducting experiments on him and his marsupial kind for his own evil purposes.
The Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is a collection of remasters of the first three titles in the series: Crash Bandicoot, Cortex Strikes Back, and Warped. While my exact recollection of these games might be hazy after twenty years, there’s no doubt that everything seemed instantly familiar. The aforementioned soundtrack was definitely intact, but seeing the cut-scenes in 4K glory really gives you an appreciation of the impressive storyboarding older games needed to have, considering how primitive 3D graphics (and available memory) were back then to tell a story.
For those who didn’t have the joy of playing the original, most of the gameplay in Crash Bandicoot involves jumping from platforms, and spinning to attack enemies or to break crates and reveal items. But the way the levels are laid out, often expanding off in all directions with a close camera to keep you guessing, is what makes the experience unique. The classic “running toward the camera” sequences (often you’re being chased by a massive boulder) where players have split seconds to react to upcoming gaps or obstacles is probably what fans of Crash remember best.
The remastered trilogy adds new features across all three games too, such as a better checkpoint system to reduce frustrating replays; and also manual and automatic saving. You can now do time trials (first introduced in Warped) across all three games and now you can play through most of the game as Crash’s sister, Coco Bandicoot.
Granted, the fact that this game is a port of the original (with a massive overhaul in the visuals) reveals a couple of weaknesses. For instance the N. Sane Trilogy allows you to control Crash or Coco with the analogue stick (amazingly the original relied on the D-pad) but you lack some of the precise control when dealing with tight jumps when doing so. The fact that enemy AI is non-existent and just relies on loops and set-patterns is also obvious, but this is all part of the joy of simpler days in gaming and the game is still challenging. One thing they could have changed however is the abruptly silent loading screens (which would have been due to the original PS1’s capabilities).
It’s important to note that Naughty Dog aren’t directly involved in the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, instead that task has been handed to prestigious developers, Vicarious Visions. You can see the love and attention to detail, from the beautifully recreated visuals through to the amusing animations that kick in while Crash is standing around idle. Vicarious Visions coined the term "remaster plus" when describing the N. Sane Trilogy because they used Naughty Dog's original level geometry to completely rebuild the gameplay from scratch.
The end result is a respectful and highly polished game which is sure to please nostalgic fans, but also hopefully introduce whole new generations to a game that came out in the mid-90’s. In an era where games are becoming more complicated and leaning towards epic storylines, it’s refreshing to hoon around as a crazy bandicoot and test those old-school platforming chops that I earned from my younger days all over again.
Angus received a digital copy of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy from PlayStation NZ for review.