Crash Bandicoot (N-Sane Trilogy)

Isn’t it funny, the things we’re nostalgic for? Some look back with fondness for the days of simple pixels; others for the bright and shining Nintendo dominance of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Personally, my childhood was defined by those first tentative steps into the realm of 3D platforming, and especially so by Sony’s efforts to catch up to and overtake the golden games of the N64. It’s from that scrambling dash for platforming supremacy that Crash Bandicoot was born. While I do remember playing the 3 main games on the PlayStation, Activision’s enhanced remake of the trilogy, fittingly titled the N-Sane Trilogy, allowed me a chance to return to the spinning marsupial’s world and see if still could hold up today.

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Crash Bandicoot (N-Sane Trilogy) (PS4, PC, Switch, Xbox One [reviewed])

Released Jun 2017 | Developed: Vicarious Visions | Published: Activision

A brief point of context. Crash Bandicoot was originally released in 1996. It featured the titular hero, a genetically-enhanced bandicoot (naturally), rebelling against his creator, the sinister Dr Neo Cortex. As a platformer it was something of an oddity, with an old-fashioned approach to level design. 1996 was a vintage year in game releases; Crash Bandicoot’s platforming contemporaries include Tomb Raider, Bubsy 3D, and of course Super Mario 64, the archetype for all games of this type. Respective quality levels notwithstanding (looking at you, Bubsy), Crash Bandicoot stands out thanks to the antiquated, strictly-linear levels and level progression. The other games, as well as many more that would follow Super Mario 64’s legacy, would adopt features including hub worlds, large varieties of collectibles, changing gameplay styles, and ever-more expansive or differing ways to try and get the most out of a fully-3D gameworld.

In contrast, Crash eschews that. In fact, more than anything else, what Crash mostly resembles is Sonic the Hedgehog. To a ‘90s audience, the game’s lengthy linear-track levels with a close camera pinned just behind its hero, and its quaint, spinning animal mascot, would have easily evoked a sense of what-could-be for Sonic (a promise that would be realised 2 years later with Sonic Adventure). To a modern onlooker, the similarities are equally striking, though of course presented with a different attitude underpinning the gameplay. Rather than speed and flair, Crash rewards patience, deliberation, and solidity. Its levels expect the player to consider their movements, to observe enemy and hazard placement, to look and plan before leaping, creating a marvelous environment in which players are trained to recognise problems and think to overcome them, even if that takes a try or two.

Unfortunately what Crash Bandicoot mostly is, is wholly fucking frustrating.

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It should be reiterated here that I’m talking about the recent remade version of Crash Bandicoot, the version available in the N-Sane Trilogy. There are certain gripes I have that I simply cannot tell you exist in the original PlayStation release, and indeed one of my key issues with this game is specific to this edition. Obviously some stuff will still apply to the original, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the two releases are different games in certain respects.

For example, the original release of Crash Bandicoot featured one of the worst saving mechanics ever implemented into a game. Saving your game should be a simple process; some games allow to you save at your leisure, while others tie you to specific points, whether that’s a save point or between levels. Crash laughs in the face of such sensible systems; instead in order to save you must find and complete a bonus stage in a level, or finish any level having managed the fiendishly tricky task of smashing every single crate, thus earning a gem and a password. It’s obnoxious and difficult, locking the basic ability to save the game behind a skill wall. You couldn’t have a clearer example of an antagonistic feature. Blessedly, the N-Sane remake replaces that with a constant auto-save.

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The remake also adds in the ability to switch out Crash and play as Coco, his tech-savvy younger sister. Originally introduced in the sequel, Coco plays no role in the story here, and is simply a palette swap but it’s a pleasant, harmless option to have all the same. Certain levels, such as boss fights, preclude her usage but they’re few and far between.

Obviously there’s also been a distinct touch-up in terms of the presentation of the game. While the original was a fine-looking game, especially for its time, a graphical overhaul for a modern audience certainly hasn’t gone amiss and Crash looks better than ever now. Crash himself has been rendered with care, and features some truly excellent texture work alongside some charming and goofily expressive animations. The levels are no slouch either. Crash begins his adventure traipsing across rippling sandy beaches and verdant greenery of the early forest stages, but soon finds himself deep in gloomy ruins dimly lit by flickering fires, clambering up rain-slick towers, and teetering precariously on fog-shrouded bridges. The sight of Cortex’s castle looming in the distance, steadily getting closer with each level gives a wonderful sense of progression to your journey; when you finally reach it, you find an industrial hellscape, covered in rust, vile glowing waste, and scoring and scarring from years of careless experimentation.

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Regrettably, while an awful lot of effort has clearly gone into the presentation of the game, I’m hesitant to sing its praises entirely. The overriding experience I gleaned from my playthrough of Crash Bandicoot was one of poorly-contained exasperation as I spent try after try bashing my head against poorly-telegraphed hazards, inadequately-explained mechanics, awful depth perception due to the awkwardly-positioned camera, and tiring repetition.

Crash Bandicoot is a difficult game, and I don’t think it’s a particularly good example of how to do difficulty. Sure it starts fine and naturally you might expect that it gets harder, and that curve isn’t really too poorly planned out, but my irritation was undeniable. Initially I struggled with the awkward depth perception; many levels see Crash run either away from or towards the camera. In the former, because the camera is positioned quite low and close, distances are tricky to judge, and leads to plenty of deaths from enemies or hazards that were closer than they seemed. In the latter, the closeness of the camera means you can barely see what’s coming, which is a pain in levels designed around it, but infinitely worse when having to backtrack through other stages to collect boxes.

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Crash controls dreadfully. This issue may not apply to the original, but in the remake Crash feels incredibly heavy and unresponsive, with every move seeming to require him to heft some unseen bulk around. His running is sluggish, but primarily it affects his jumps, leaving them feeling unpredictable to land and difficult to correctly judge distance. It’s a stunning effort to land some of the later platforming challenges; the worst offenders are the two rope-bridge stages, which require pinpoint accuracy and perfectly weighted leaps, both of which are disgustingly difficult when Crash can be outmaneuvered by a one-legged turtle. Of all the complaints, the change to Crash’s weight and movement cause by far the most grievance, and they soured my experience with this game to such a vast degree.

It seems anticlimactic to mention the other little gripes. Hazards come without warning, leaving you to constantly cycle between dying and retrying. The boss fights are all, without exception, astoundingly dull. Hitboxes are unclear. Tiny patronising elements, like the slightly too-long game over screen and the missing boxes screen where you get pelted with every crate you failed to break, add up to an unwelcoming and hostile experience. It’s a shame; I had been looking forward to playing Crash Bandicoot, but ultimately my time with it was painful and annoying. The issues with it cloud the shell of a good game, and the lovely glossy coat of paint given to it in this N-Sane Trilogy remake provides little consolation.

2/7 – POOR. A disappointment. Best not to bother with this unless you’re desperate for a naff time.

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