Early 3D platformers don’t stand the test of time. That’s the general consensus and it’s easy to build up a compelling list of examples to prove the thesis. Bubsy, Gex, and Croc all tried to jump into the third dimension and they all misjudged the landing thanks to poor controls and terrible cameras. Playing those games in 2017 is a test of patience as much as it is skill, which funnily enough, is exactly what it was like in the late 1990s as well. Those games were never good and no amount of nostalgia can change that. However, for every Bubsy there’s a Mario 64, for every Gex there’s a Spyro, and for every Croc there’s a Crash Bandicoot.
The Crash Bandicoot trilogy often gets lumped in with the other failed 3D platformers. I strongly disagree with that treatment, and yet the games certainly have their fair share of flaws. The first Crash Bandicoot game was released in the days before analog sticks and barely took advantage of the third dimension at all. It played like a 2D Mario game except with the camera behind Mario’s head. The next two Crash Bandicoot games kept the narrow lane-based levels but incorporated analog sticks to necessitate more precise movement around obstacles. The difference between the first and third game was night and day and yet the first game seems to have tainted memories of the next two in the eyes of many gamers.
After the original trilogy–and the excellent Crash Team Racing–the marsupial lost his way in the transition to PS2 and never threatened to reclaim his position as Sony’s PlayStation mascot… until now. Okay, maybe not quite, but Vicarious Visions remake of Naughty Dog’s original trilogy is a perfect reminder of everything I loved about these games back in the day while shaving the edges off some of the frustrating moments.
Vicarious Visions updated the first two games to play more like the third entry. The difference between the original and remastered version of Crash 1 is striking. Handling and momentum mechanics have been improved, there’s a modern save system, and time trial challenges for all levels. In a completely new feature, Crash can be swapped out for Cocoa on nearly all the levels. Coco appears to have identical movement and hitboxes to Crash, so it’s just a cosmetic change, albeit a welcome one.
Remasters are tricky things. Many gamers want their childhood memories to get a fresh coat of digital paint, however they can be a sensitive bunch when it comes to changes outside of visuals. Vicarious Visions remade the entire trilogy from scratch including the music, voice acting, and animations. While players are generally accepting of enhanced graphics, there is a particular brand of nostalgia attached to hearing certain sound effects and music which gets lost in remakes. I never played platform games for the story and often listened to my own music while playing, so this isn’t something that bothers me. If it’s important to you, then consider yourself warned.
Most levels can be powered through in a couple of minutes, however taking your time to destroy all the crates on a level gets you a gem which is required for 100% completion. Crash Bandicoot: Warped (the 3rd entry) goes full Metroidvania, granting Crash gets new abilities after defeating each boss. These new abilities can then be used to find special colored gems that open up hidden pathways in other levels which in turn lead to more gems. A few of the secrets are cryptic in the extreme and without looking up hints on the internet I never would have found them. I know this for a fact because 13 year old me never got to the full 105% completion in Warped back in the day (I had the internet, but apparently I was too dumb to use it).
While Warped has a well-balanced difficulty curve, the first game retains its insane difficulty spikes with levels such as Road to Nowhere and Native Forest dotted around at seemingly random intervals. The challenge doesn’t always feel fair. Crash has a tendency to slide off platforms after what looks like a solid landing and the primitive 3D camera in the first game still doesn’t let you properly judge the distance of jumps. Regardless of your attitude towards “entitled modern gamers,” it’s hard to argue in favor of difficulty spikes that stop players in their tracks so abruptly. The sequels have a smoother difficulty curve and mix in more gameplay styles to keep things interesting, with motorcycles, jet skis, planes, and rideable tigers and polar bears all making an appearance by the end of the trilogy.
The N. Sane Trilogy perfectly captures the magic of the original PS1 classics, however it also captures the moments that made me switch my console off in frustration all those years ago. Modern games have done away with the lives system for a reason. It’s always frustrating to start a level from the beginning just because you had problems judging one jump. If you lose all your lives on a boss fight, you’re forced to go through a couple of load screens to re-start the fight with a fresh amount of lives. This does nothing except waste the player’s time. Speaking of load screens, they are absurdly long, especially on booting up the game. These are minor niggles, but it’s frustrating to mess up a time trial run and have to either complete the level or exit and reload the level to try again, sitting through a couple of load screens in the process.
I don’t get particularly nostalgic about “classic” games. At any given time, my top 10 games of all time list would likely include seven or eight games from the last five years. I believe that modern games are better than old ones. One exception has always been Crash Bandicoot: Warped which I continue to believe is an excellent and under-appreciated game. Even Crash fans seem to knock the third entry and insist–incorrectly–that the second is better.
Remasters often make me reconsider my fondness for old games. That’s not true of the N. Sane Trilogy. Crash 1 is an okay game, Crash 2 is a good game, and Crash 3 is an excellent game. That’s as true today as it was twenty years ago.
Note: All reviews are subjective, but this one more so than most. I loved the Crash Bandicoot games growing up and I’ve replayed the third games many times over the years. I’ve given this remaster a score of 4/5 which is fairly generous. I had a lot of fun replaying these games, however it’s obvious even to me that most people would consider this troilogy to be mediocre at best. I considered stepping back from my nostalgia and giving the game a 3/5 in an attempt to be objective, but that doesn’t work. These reviews are about providing my opinion on what I played based on my life experience. That experience includes many hours spend growing up playing the Crash Bandicoot trilogy. That said, if you haven’t played the games before you might want to take this review with a few grains of salt. I can’t remove my bias, but you should know it exists. Imagine you grew up playing Mario 64 and it got a remaster. That’s what this remaster means to me.