Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped (N-Sane Trilogy)

And so another trilogy of old-school PS1 platformers is done (well, in remake form at least). The N-Sane Trilogy comes to an end with Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, the 1998 entry to Naughty Dog’s platformer series starring the eponymous deranged marsupial. The original release was one of the most well-received and best-selling games on the PlayStation, but as with its predecessors the question for this remake is whether or not what was once considered a ground-breaking and exhilarating remains a good game or is now a crumbling irrelevance.

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Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped (N-Sane Trilogy) (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed], Switch)

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

Twice-defeated, the mad scientist Neo Cortex plummets to Earth. The remains of his shattered space station crash down upon a ruin, setting free an entity sealed away there: Uka-Uka, the younger, evil brother of Aku-Aku, Crash’s kindly old floating mask mentor. Turns out Uka-Uka has been the mastermind behind all of Cortex’s previous schemes, guiding the villainous plots of both Crash 1 and 2. Incensed with Cortex’s failures he demands his lackey gathers more crystals; to do so Uka-Uka forces Cortex to enlist the help of Dr N. Tropy. Though Crash had successfully collected together a set of crystals from the world, Cortex and Trophy instead decide to chart a new path to nab all of the glowing doodads. This time, the villainous trio send their army throughout time itself! Unfortunately for them, our baddies aren’t the smartest of the bunch and leave their time machine out in the open for Crash, Coco, and Aku-Aku to launch themselves into and chase down the crystal-grabbing miscreants.

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Yes, it’s a time-travel plot, though thankfully one free of any worrisome concerns about time paradoxes; instead it’s just window-dressing as Crash and Coco jump through various time periods stopping the forces of Cortex and Uka-Uka. The range of time periods gives a wide variety of levels, far more than previous games; no longer are we stuck milling around in ruins or forests! Instead Crash and Coco visit prehistoric tar pits, ancient Arabian streets, and the far future’s oppressive cityscapes. The scale is impressive, and the level designers are clearly having a ball creating a set of lovingly-crafted stages. Personally, I’m not a fan of the bike race levels, or the swimming levels – both require a level of precision and fore-knowing of the level that the mechanics don’t afford you.

Coco even gets specific levels! All of them are gimmick stages it must be said, rather than any of the traditional style of Crash Bandicoot levels; of course she is playable from the beginning as an alternate character in the N-Sane Trilogy version of the game so you can take her along to the proper levels anyway. Her biplane flying stages are okay, the polar bear stages of the previous game have now been replaced with Coco riding a tiger kitten across the Great Wall of China, and finally you get pirate levels where Coco rides a awkwardly drifting jetski through a barrage of nautical hazards.

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For the first time, the challenge level feels just about right for the main game. There are naturally some tricky levels but the general difficulty level is satisfying. The hardest levels aren’t tricky because of their innately fiendish level design so much as it’s down to the fact that some levels are built around awkward mechanics. The aforementioned bike races, swimming, and jetski levels all feature loose controls that see Crash and Coco drift around wildly and it’s all too easy to skid into enemies and death traps. And yet, it still didn’t frustrate me in the way Crash 2 did at times; blessedly it feels much more balanced. It tests but it refuses to annoy, and if there’s a better way for a trilogy to conclude than with finally well-tuned gameplay then I am not aware of it.

Implemented into the level design are the new moves that Crash and Coco can learn as they beat the bosses and progress through the game. Crash retains all of the abilities that were new to the previous game thankfully, but the new ones augment and improve his repertoire, though I wouldn’t necessarily describe any of the new abilities as entirely useful; moves like the spin tornado, the wumpa bazooka, and even the humble double jump are mostly merely conditional in their use rather than becoming staples to your platforming. Nevertheless, they are welcome additions that are worked intelligently into the level design.

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In another stunning and wondrous turn of events, for perhaps the first time in the franchise the bosses are actually good! Previous entries have had boss fights built chiefly around waiting for an opening and trying not to get hit, leading to a slew of interminably boring encounters. Crash 3’s boss fights feels far more active and involved, with a touch more variety to the bosses – some enemies you need to lead on in order to make them vulnerable, or then there are little touches like being able to spin the lions in one levels, which is a level of interaction that I feel wouldn’t have been in the earlier entries. What helps as well is the interaction between them and Crash; typically as you enter a level you get a little cutscene with the local baddie, giving them a chance to taunt and banter with our intrepid marsupial hero.

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After the N-Sane version of Crash 2’s soundtrack featured such wonderful arrangement, I had high hopes for Crash 3’s musical reimaginings. It begins strongly, with the title theme as jaunty as ever, undercut with rock instrumentation for a bit more power; the xylophone runs in the middle of it are a personal love of mine.

As before, the level tunes are grouped together, this time based on time period, and each one built around trying to capture a unique sense of that era. For example, the medieval levels feature booming drums and triumphant brass that give way to mysterious harps and cheerful flutes, while reverb-soaked half-melodies hang listlessly in the atmosphere of the underwater stage theme, with pulsing kick drums leaving a palpable tension as they thump at the base of your hearing.

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However, some music is a bit predictable and played safe, such as the lilting Arabian mystique of Hang ‘Em High, or the ripped-straight-from-the-’50s rock ‘n’ roll of the bike races. That said, some still manage to be enjoyable pieces of music despite it all; the Egyptian tomb music is a stand-out for me. The long, drawn bowing of the strings at points to underscore the melodies, the machine-gun snare that punches right through the bass, and the echoing percussive sound effects really elevate what is otherwise a pretty standard theme.

It’s a shame that the boss music doesn’t live up to the standards set by the fights themselves. They trend towards erratic and energetic, with few feature any really interesting melodies or instrumentation. The exception is the finale against Cortex, which has sublime fluttering string riffs alongside a slick guitar melody that has such a fantastic surf-rock tone and a powerful minor kick. The entire theme perfectly encapsulates the gleeful elements of Crash and Aku-Aku smashing against their nemeses.

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These moments aside, the general rule for the soundtrack is that, while certainly a good effort, the lack of consistently engaging arrangements or compositions make it nowhere near as strong as 2 in my opinion. At times that even threatens to sum up Crash 3 as a game. It is, without a doubt, a solid entry into the franchise, and definitely a good ending to the trilogy. The sheer variety of levels is both a great strength and a huge weakness; there’s a wider set of level types, and most of them are solidly built, but at the most cynical it does threaten to feel gimmicky. There are far fewer core Crash-style levels in 3, and some of the new additional level types simply can’t compete. That’s not to create the impression that I didn’t enjoy it though – I’m very happy with the bosses, the challenge is finally about as tightly-built as it should be, and the addition of banter with the various villains as you go makes for a stronger connection with the characters rather than them simply popping up out of nowhere as in previous games.

Crash 3 is, ultimately, a worthy finale to the trilogy, and definitely worth the time to play. It is showing its age a little, and the N-Sane Trilogy has done a little to throw into sharp relief the fact that these old and much-vaunted PS1 platformers may not have survived the years as perfectly as my nostalgia-ridden brain wished they had. And yet, they remain 3 (well, 2, let’s try and forget the first game) of the PlayStation’s best offerings, and I happily urge you to give them a spin.

4/7 – GOOD. Sure, maybe something doesn’t quite work but at least it has heart, or a spark of excitement that makes it worthwhile despite the faults. Definitely worth a go if you can at least find it on sale.

 

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