Like a lot of 90s children I’ve been playing Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy this weekend. It’s been a mostly fun – sometimes rage vomit worthy – nostalgia trip. That being said, I can’t help but notice the remake highlights just how far games have come in the 20 years since Crash Bandicoot debuted.
A lot of people have noted just how unforgiving the game is, and no, it’s not like Dark Souls, fuck you, nothing is like Dark Souls, not even Dark Souls II. The difficulty of levels like Hog Wild and Native Fortress got me thinking, were games always this hard, or are we just rewarded too easily these days? And the answer lies somewhere in-between.
N.Sane Trilogy seems so difficult now because we’re used to instant gratification in games. Even in competitive games where you take a beating, more often than not you still gain something from that time. In Overwatch you still get XP which goes towards a loot box, and hell, in 2013s Super Mario 3D world – which is arguably similar to Crash, unlike Dark Souls, never Dark Souls – you would get an invincibility leaf if the difficulty curve struck you too hard. In both these examples there’s a sense of progress for the time you put in or a means to progress.
But in Crash all you’re given to help you out is rage and occasionally an Aku Aku mask, which feels more like a runner up prize. What I’m getting at here is that you aren’t thrown a bone. If you land more in the error column of trial and error you don’t get to progress, that’s you for the night and your time went towards nothing. Games didn’t used to be about winning all the time, and going back to that now is hard, especially for a game which in my memory seemed so formulaic and child friendly.
I’ll admit I’m not really enjoying most of my time in N. Sane Trilogy because of this, it feels like taking two steps forward and twenty back. The time I’m sinking into it could be used to reap some loot in Breath of the Wild or get some sprays I’ll never use in Overwatch. A feeling of something tangible for your time is so ingrained in gaming these days, or at least in my games of choice.
It isn’t just this sense of not accomplishing something that has turned me against my former platformer of choice, it’s also a feeling of not being in control. Hit boxes and depth perception are something many of us take for granted as a level playing field in modern titles. Irrelevant of genre there is a somewhat consistent set of rules across games where a player can intuitively interact with comfort. Going back to an older style in Crash – where the gameplay hasn’t benefited from the last 20 years of progress – is rough. Plummeting a jump you’re sure you could make or getting murdered by a turtle’s head which was clearly a few centimeters away is just part of the game, and it’s hard to revisit, especially with the clarity of 4K on your side.
None of this is to say that Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is a bad game, it’s just that times have changed, and maybe the rose tinted glasses have been muddied since the 90s. On the other hand, maybe I just suck.