Reviewed on: Playstation 4. Copy supplied by publisher.
Goddamn, nostalgia is a hell of thing, isn’t it?
I was a gigantic fan of Crash Bandicoot when I was a child, having smashed through the original trilogy, along with Crash Team Racing and Crash Bash, on my old PS1. As a hardcore Playstation fan back in the day, Crash and his cohort of sidekicks and villains were essentially my Mario, Luigi, Peach and Bowser. And Crash being the Mario of Playstation was essentially what Sony and original developers Naughty Dog were hoping for. I mean, look at the ads they made for it that literally had Crash dissing Nintendo. Now Crash never enjoyed the success and decades worth of releases Mario has had; but for little Playstation fans like myself, the series always had a special place in our hearts.
So yes, when I sat down to play Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy, the recently released remaster (try saying that 10 times after a couple beers) of the original three platforming games, I was reliving childhood memories and experiencing all the giddy nostalgia that brings. When that boppy Crash Bandicoot theme song kicked in the first time I booted it up, you bet your sweet bippy I had a huge grin on my face. I hadn’t even started the first level yet and I was already riding that sweet, dizzying high of youthful recollection.
Like I said, nostalgia is a hell of thing.
And as a nostalgic experience, Vicarious Visions, the developers behind this remaster, have hit the nail on the head, at least for the most part. For better or for worse, care has been taken so that all three games feel the same to play as they did some 20 years ago, albeit with some minor changes. Analogue stick movement is now supported in the first Crash, as the original predates the DualShock controller, and vehicle acceleration has been remapped to R2 over the old X button, but aside from that it all appears to be unchanged.
Other additions include the time trial mode introduced in Crash Bandicoot: Warped being applied across the entire trilogy, as well as Crash’s sister Coco being available as a playable character. Coco even has her own dance, idle and death animations, all just as hilarious/cringe worthy as the classic Crash ones.
But the biggest, and best, change to the game is the visual presentation. Vicarious Visions gave the graphics a complete overhaul, and the results look fantastic. Gone are the blocky, early 3D models and in their place is a full 1080p world of gorgeousness. The environments now pop with detail and colour, from the greenery of the many forest levels, to the steam coming off the refineries, and the shine of the arctic snow. And Crash himself now has a fine layer of fuzz, and much more expression in his face and body language, making that original dance of his all the sillier.
The most impressive thing about the new visuals, though, is how they keep within the art style of the original classics. All three of the games look exactly how I remember them, but completely new at the same time, which is exactly what you want from a remaster.
So when it comes to the N.Sane Trilogy’s updated visuals, we’re all in agreement that it’s an incredible achievement and improvement. But where a lot of people seem to differ is on the gameplay itself, which brings us back to the discussion of the effects of nostalgia. Nostalgia may be a hell of a thing, but not always in a positive way for some.
The effort Vicarious Visions have taken to retain the feel of the original games’ platforming has turned out to be a brutal reminder for some that old-school platformers were hard as balls. As my fellow editor Charlie pointed out recently, the N.Sane Trilogy reminds us how far games have come in the last 20 years. All three games, particularly the first one, have some pretty broad hit detection, lacking the kind of finesse and specificity one would expect in a modern platformer. The distance Crash can jump doesn’t quite line up with expectations, and where you’d expect him to land on the very edge of a platform he more likely slips and falls to his death. And the camera angles often mess with your depth perception, leading to a lot of trial and error readjusting to exactly when you should time your jumping or dodging.
And if you lose all your lives, it’s back to the start of the level for you.
Now I found myself adjusting fairly quickly, but I’ve seen many accounts of players who have struggled to. They recall loving these games as kids, but after spending two decades being slowly blessed with better, and less clunky, mechanics they have found jumping back into the past quite jarring and incredibly frustrating. Many have cried foul that our rose tinted glasses have warped our recollection of these childhood favourites, that Crash Bandicoot 1 through 3 have always been poorly designed, overly difficult clunkers.
Each to their own opinion I suppose, but to be honest I would just say this is a case of a 20 year old game playing like a 20 year old game. And for some, maybe they can’t go back and enjoy it like they used to, or a fresh player might not appreciate it like the rest of us did back in the day. Like re-watching Jaws and marvelling at how you ever thought that rubbery, tooth-filled prop ever frightened you, but still appreciating how great a film it is. Sometimes, you just had to be there.
Having said all that, and at the risk of contradicting myself a little, there are aspects of the original games that have not aged well. The boss fights, bar a few exceptions, are overly simple and dull, often just requiring Crash to run around in circles avoiding something until they pause to be vulnerable, rinse and repeat. And the vehicle/animal riding sections feel incredibly sluggish and awkward, which combined with the vintage hit detection will make even the most nostalgic player want to hurl their controller. Because of this, I actually find Warped to be the weakest offer of the bunch, it having the biggest ratio of vehicle gimmick levels to general platforming. Crash 1 and 2 also include the occasional teeth grinding vehicle level, but they’re minor speed humps in otherwise incredible platformers.
In the end, Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy is an incredible remaster. Much like last year’s remaster of Day of the Tentacle, an old classic has been brought into the modern age with top quality visuals while still retaining the original feel, for better or for worse. New players may struggle to enjoy it as much as nostalgic fans due to it showing its age gameplay-wise, but that’s par for the course when it comes to playing decades-old games. And if you didn’t like the games to begin with, you aren’t going to like them any more in pretty HD graphics.
But if you’re like me and were a huge fan of the originals and would like to revisit them without them looking like a huge eyesore, then you’re in for a great time.