Vicarious Visions has taken the beloved Crash Bandicoot original trilogy and breathed wonderful, new life into these games. Crash is back and he looks better than ever.
Naughty Dog has left a rich history behind itself. They’re responsible for The Last of Us, Uncharted, and the Jak and Daxter series of games. Yet their claim to fame began on the original PlayStation with the release of Crash Bandicoot, a marsupial with a mission: to save his captured girlfriend, Tawna, from the clutches of the evil Dr. Neo Cortex (gosh I still love the play on words to this day). While at the time Mario was exploring the openness of a 3D world, PlayStation’s unofficial mascot, Crash Bandicoot, was setting the bar for the two-dimensional platformer. Originally codenamed “Sonic’s Ass”, the idea behind Crash Bandicoot was to take the known 2D platform genre and turn it on its Z-axis; putting the camera behind the player character.
The idea worked, because Crash got sequel after sequel. The original trilogy produced by Naughty Dog has to be the pinnacle of the series. That’s what we have today in the Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy. The original game, along with Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, and Crash Bandicoot: Warped, return in one of the most beautiful and faithful remakes I have ever seen.
Vicarious Visions have picked up the torch, and blessings, of Naughty Dog. The N-Sane Trilogy can be best summed up with the aforementioned pseudonym: insane. That’s because the level of polish on top of Crash’s brand spanking new facelift is impressive to say the least. Crash and company have been treated with great care, with the character’s updated models now on par with that of a Dreamworks film.
Crash Bandicoot can also be remembered for the diverse and lush environments the marsupial explores. N-Sanity beach feels real (at least within the umbrella of a cartoon world) with vibrant fauna and bright rays of sunshine. Water effects in Hang Eight dazzle the eyes and induces relaxation. Claps of thunder boom and bring peril to life as Crash ascents Cortex’s castle in Slippery Climb.
While Crash has been the silent hero type, leave it to the likes of Dr. N. Cortex, Dr. N. Tropy, Dr. N. Gin, Coco, Tiny, Dingodile, and a slew of other characters to be the voice of the franchise. Each character is perfectly cast. In the game’s brief cutscenes, which are directly paraphrased from the Naughty Dog originals, I nearly forgot I was playing a game and not watching a cartoon on Netflix. And the music. Gosh, the music. It’s just as I remember it, with a few tweaks here and there. I wore my surround sound headphones and cranked it up to ten for Hog Wild, Heavy Machinery, The Eel Deal, Turtle Woods, Pack Attack, Sewer or Later, Toad Village, Tomb Wader; it just goes on and on.
I’ll tell you right now: the Crash Bandicoot trilogy were some of my favorite games of the PSX era. I had 105% completion on those original games. That muscle memory is still there after 20 years. Playing through each of the remade games in the N-Sane Trilogy, I have never felt more at home. Truthfully, the original games are challenging platformers, where if you’re even a hair off your jump; you could slip off your target and fall into a bottomless pit. But there’s fun in trying until you have it down. Newcomers may struggle to fine tune their jumps at first, but there’s a gracious helping of extra lives to be had. Look and sound is one thing, but Vicarious Visions has captured the challenge and precision of the original games near perfectly. They must’ve painstakingly studied Naughty Dog’s work because it plays pretty much exactly like them.That same element of challenge busts through in the remakes.
When I first started playing, I tried controlling Crash using the analog stick and found it to be a little jarring and overly sensitive (yet perfect for stages when riding atop an animal buddy). The loading screen suggests using the D-pad for a more classic experience and that’s where I hit my stride; making more accurate leaps and bounds.
My greatest reservation is with Crash Bandicoot: Warped. Warped introduced vehicles to the series, modest introduction at that (there are only a handful of them in the whole game). Underwater stages have Crash piloting this miniature submarine that can fire torpedoes, but there’s a delayed input time for changing direction of movement. It’s cumbersome if you want to avoid colliding with an underwater mine. You’ll hit it if you’re not early on the timing. Furthermore, the motorcycle and plane stages feel clunky and hard to control. When going for the gems and relics in these stages, be prepared to put the controller down and step away for awhile or back out to the stage select to retry. It bogged down the original Warped in 1998. That aside, the N-Sane Trilogy remains a solid package as it was nearly 20 years ago.
I have to give praise to Vicarious Visions for addressing the difficulty of the original Crash Bandicoot game, which is easily the most challenging of the trilogy. Should you die several times in a row, you’ll be given a damage barrier in the form of an Aku-Aku mask. That’s nothing new. However, die even more and you’ll be given a mercy Checkpoint Crate to help you move past an area you’re having difficulty with. That’s a feature I don’t recall in the original game and I’m pleased with its inclusion. Furthermore, in the original game, collecting gems meant you had to smash open every crate in a level without dying. While the same can be said of the remake, there are some levels that are now more lenient. You can still lose a life or two and, as long as you smash every crate, you can still be awarded a gem at the end of the stage.
I must also commend Vicarious Visions for adding even more replay value to Crash Bandicoot and Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. By the time Warped came around in 98, we were tasked with collecting crystals and gems, but also relics. Relics of different colors were awarded for completing time trials in a level. Sapphire being third tier, Gold being middle tier, and Platinum being top tier. Obviously this wasn’t a concept in Crash 1 or 2 back in the 90s, but Vicarious Visions added this feature and boosted longevity to the remakes of the first two games. Now each stage has a time trial with relics to collect. An online leader board has also been thrown in for those truly seeking speed run challenges.
Also, for the first time in the original trilogy, Crash’s younger sister, Coco, is a fully playable character in each of the three games. It’s purely cosmetic, however. Coco will have an identical move set to that of her older brother, but she’ll sport her own unique wacky animations.
Shortly before the Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy was announced, I was contemplating downloading the PSX originals to my PS3 to officially retire my discs and preserve them. Instead, today, I have those same great platformers with an amazing presentation value. I’m glad Vicarious Visions didn’t stray from the Naughty Dog games. They’ve adjusted very little. The gameplay will still demand your accuracy, especially in Crash Bandicoot, and the vehicular gameplay in Warped still drags the game down as it did in the originals; yet that was a flaw discovered then and not a flaw only discovered now.
It’s absurd to dock a remade game points for playing exactly how it did in the originals; the good parts anyway. I’m not doing that. Because, the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy had way more good parts to it than the bad. The N-Sane Trilogy has more good parts to it than the bad. It’s as simple as that.
Crash Bandicoot is back. We’ve missed you, pal.