Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy (Switch) Review
Nintendo diehards probably never had a chance to play the original Crash games, most of them I knew looked down their noses on the bandicoot from their lofty, free-roaming 3D platformer thrones. They were right in a way, Crash Bandicoot was no Mario, but his games were something else entirely. A new spin (sorry) on the scrolling platformer made possible by new hardware and well suited to the PlayStation’s digital controller, Crash gave the scrolling platformer more depth and his character became the mascot Sony sorely needed. But we’re in a different gaming landscape than in Crash’s heyday, do these games hold up with a visual overhaul? Mostly, with some caveats.
The N. Sane Trilogy collects the first three Crash Bandicoot games from the PlayStation and gives them a massive visual overhaul along with a couple of nice little quality-of-life improvements, but mostly leaves gameplay design intact. Crash Bandicoot establishes the gameplay styles that will become the staple through the series; the over-the-shoulder platforming, side-scrolling, animal riding and Indiana Jones-style boulder escaping, and each sequel layering new game types on these with varying levels of success. Things like the biplane are fun to play for the few opportunities they appear, but I threw up my hands in frustration more times than I’d like to admit while playing the jetpack levels in Crash 2.
There are some little improvements that help to make the game friendlier to play in 2018. Originally in order to save your progress, you had to find 3 character tokens in a level and complete a bonus area – after which you’d be rewarded with the ability to save your progress to a memory card or be given a password. Now you can save anywhere on the world map – making these bonus levels a little less meaningful but bringing save functionality far closer to today’s expectations. You can retry these bonus levels endlessly now as well, and hints appear on loading screens to help unravel some of the more cryptic secrets. The modernisations to Crash outside the visuals are minimal though. What you’re getting gameplay-wise is pretty close to the original games, for better or worse.
If you’re just trying to complete the levels and get to the end, for the most part, you shouldn’t have too much trouble. Hazards are clear, enemies move in pre-programmed and predictable patterns without really reacting to Crash – so while some levels will require some pinpoint jumps they never take you by surprise with an unclear goal. Some levels that do require accurate platforming though could be such spikes in difficulty that I could understand a new player being totally put off the game. They’re few and far between, but I can imagine seeing many save files that got to The High Road and never went further. It gets surprisingly brutal.
The 100% requirements in Crash 1 are hugely demanding too, you generally need to break every crate in a level to earn a gem, but Crash 1 demands you do this without dying once in a level – quite a feat when you consider the chains of pinpoint crate bounces and blind jumps needed in some of the levels to get everything. Crash 2 and 3 are much friendlier in their 100% requirements, doing away with the need for no-deaths but adding time trials for each level. These extra collectibles add a whole pile of variety to the game and hold the keys to the true endings of each title.
I touched on it before, but N. Sane’s game design being entirely faithful to the original games has highs and lows. It will play almost entirely how you remember – from the handling of the hog to enemy layouts and hidden secrets. It’s all here to find if your memory serves you well. By the same token though – the game might not really hold up with the benefit of rose-tinted glasses. What was seen as cool secrets to share around the school at recess in their time will seem like needlessly obtuse nonsense to players today. There’s only so much life Vicarious Visions can bring to the environments and enemies while keeping the games faithful to their sources, and so enemies that move left and right seem hopelessly outdated compared to those in games with even the slightest reaction to a character’s presence. You really have to be willing to accept that the remastered trilogy is exactly that, visually remastered but with gameplay straight out of the late nineties.
The most impressive part of this trilogy of remasters is that complete visual overhaul. Every level and character has been recreated with the visual detail available to modern systems while maintaining the cartoonish and expressive charm of the originals. It took a minute for Crash’s new look to grow on me, but he and the other characters look like they totally belong in their newly remastered environments. Characters were impressively expressive in the originals, the villains taunting Crash as he progressed through the games were always incredibly well animated – and the remaster loses nothing in expressiveness while it brings a level of character detail beyond what’s usually expected even in our current generation. Performance is smooth too, I never noticed any stutters or graphical weirdness. While I haven’t played the other versions of the game extensively, I will say that the Switch version doesn’t look markedly cut down in comparison. Things get a little blurry in handheld mode, but given the cartoon aesthetic, I didn’t find it hugely noticeable until I had to focus on text. The music too is re-created to sound modern but entirely faithful to what you remember. For fans of the originals, the music will be a big reason to enjoy the N.Sane trilogy.
And therein lies the rub with Crash. It’s an incredibly well made remaster. A modern aural and visual interpretation of the classic Crash games hides gameplay that might not hold up for everyone. I don’t think many old fans of Crash quite remember the frustrating jetpack stages and difficulty spikes as fondly as they might the creative animal runner levels or running desperately from boulders. Still, Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy is an impressive remaster and a terrific way to re-play the trilogy that brought many of us fond memories and proved that Nintendo weren’t the only ones who could create an endearing and enduring mascot platformer.
Remarkable visual overhaul
Great new soundtrack
Gameplay design straight from the 90s
Gameplay design straight from the 90s
Steep difficulty spikes
Dated gameplay design
It’s quite pathetic that Sony *still* doesn’t have some kind of mascot after all these years. They may have *some* recognisable IP, but there’s nothing that springs to mind or what I would consider to be a household name (hence why I thought it was awfully rich of Sega and Sony to both release some kind of “All Stars” game, when both had characters that were the video game equivalent of D list “celebrities” that you would see on the likes of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, Dancing With the Stars and the like).
As soon as I started playing, my first thought was “This is no Mario.” It’s hard to justify giving mediocrity the time of day when there is so much better available nowadays, and on the same platform no less.