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Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy Review

Aged Like A Fine, Orange Wine
by Andrew Reiner on Jun 29, 2017 at 09:00 AM
Reviewed on PlayStation 4
Publisher Activision
Developer Vicarious Visions
Rating Everyone 10+

Time is often harsh to the games of yesteryear. The innovations made by developers in each hardware generation are significant, so much so that games from just a decade or two ago end up feeling like relics from another age. Crash Bandicoot's origins stretch back to the early days of PlayStation in 1996 – a time when developers were just getting their feet wet with three-dimensional character movement and polygonal graphics. Crash made a splash in both of these fields, and fans latched onto him as the face of PlayStation. He stood alongside Mario and Sonic as a platforming star for the generation.

When I went into this review, I expected all three of these Crash Bandicoot games to have a museum-like quality to them. Given their age, I thought they would serve as a reminder of the PlayStation era and how far games have come. As it turns out, time has not affected these games at all; they remain legitimately fun and charming. Crash's fur should have some grey streaks in it now, but he still has his platforming chops. All three of his games hold up incredibly well, thanks in part to the original craftsmanship of Naughty Dog and the new touches made by Vicarious Visions.

The orange marsupial that helped establish Naughty Dog as a premiere development house is back in all of his original box-breaking glory, but something is amiss. Naughty Dog’s name is noticeably absent when the game boots up, and is only mentioned in the “special thanks” section of the credits. Although this trilogy is a faithful remaster of the PlayStation games, not one line of Naughty Dog’s code is in this new version. Rather than port the preexisting games to PlayStation 4, Vicarious Visions rebuilt them from the ground up, replicating the original vision right down to box placement being pixel perfect. The developer’s ambition paid off handsomely, as this collection is a shiny example of how to restore a series.

In modernizing the content, some of the subtle innovations Naughty Dog introduced into each subsequent release are lost. While players won’t get an idea of how this series evolved, Vicarious Visions did a fantastic job of unifying the three titles into a cohesive whole.

The inaugural Crash Bandicoot showed Naughty Dog out of its depth, experimenting on a new type of platforming game, succeeding in some areas, and failing in others. Difficulty balancing was one of the big problems, but you won’t run into too many of those issues in Vicarious Visions’ remake. Crash’s movements are a little smoother, checkpoints now keep track of boxes broken, and the little touch of Crash having a silhouette shadow opposed to a circular one help in tracking movement and making the game easier to play. The first game can also be played with an analog stick now, showing just how old Crash is. Some levels are still brutally difficult, such as The High Road, but the game is far more forgiving as a whole.

The sequels offer a more even challenge, pushing players to succeed through variations in play style, not just harder platforming. All three titles are still exceptional, and highlight a style of play that is mostly absent in games today. They offer levels that can be completed in seconds, and a pace that only slows when the player needs to retreat from a TNT box or backtrack to an alternate path to break a box. The typical Crash level pushes for precise timing in jumping to leap over a chasm, or narrowly avoid landing on an explosive box or spiked critter. Players are also tasked to spin through crates to collect wumpa fruits (100 earns you an extra life), and to knock enemies out of the way. In a few stages you'll see Crash riding in vehicles or on animals, and running toward the screen to avoid a rolling boulder just like Indiana Jones. He even has a jet pack and airplane for flight sections.

Vicarious Visions didn’t add much new content to this collection. All of the touches are small but meaningful, such as being able to play as Coco, Crash’s sister, on any stage. She controls just like her brother and is just as capable of flying through levels, but her animations convey a more even-tempered personality. Other bonuses include time trial challenges in Crash 1, improved bonus zones, and a unified save system across all three games, which thankfully includes auto saves after each level is completed.

Not all games from yesteryear hold up well. The original Crash Bandicoot likely would drive people nuts if it returned in its original form. Vicarious Visions made it fun again, without altering its DNA – a feat that deserves recognition. Although Crash spins and jumps his way through most levels, variety was the key to this series' success. Naughty Dog always included a different wrinkle or evolution of a concept in each stage, and that continues here. For all three games, the feeling of repetition never sinks in, a factor that goes a long way in making this trilogy a blast to play. It's good to have Crash back in the limelight. I hope this isn't the last we see of him.


How Crash Scored Back in the Day
This will date me a bit, but I reviewed all three of these games when they originally released in the '90s. Below are scores and excerpts from each review. Just keep in mind I was a young writer who was far dumber than I am today.

Crash Bandicoot
9 out of 10
  [Crash Bandicoot] is a game that all action/platform players must experience. It’s not completely original, but the overall feeling after playing is truly unique.”
Crash Bandicoot 2
9.25 out of 10
“Crash 2’s levels are much longer and offer up greater gameplay variety than the original. The much needed new moves add more depth to the wickedly entertaining gameplay. Crash 1’s gameplay was somewhat generic, but now in the sequel, the gameplay is loaded with unexpected challenges, better enemies, and more hidden stuff. Crash 2 is clearly the king of all PlayStation platformers, and I can’t see anything in the near future that will topple its unbelievable graphics and solid play mechanics.”
Crash Bandicoot: Warped
9.5 out of 10
“Crash 3 is the one that you’ll remember and want to hold on to. The diversity between levels keeps you off balance and eager to see what’s next. The secrets and coveted 100 percent rating are also much harder to obtain. Most platformers have given up on constant action and fast-paced play. Crash 3 keeps these qualities fresh with unique ideas and amazing graphics.”
Another excellent remastered trilogy that offers vastly better visuals and subtle gameplay improvements
Vicarious Visions improved upon the PlayStation-era graphics, adding realistic orange hair to Crash and detailed flora to the paths he sprints across
Mark Mothersbaugh and Josh Mancell’s wacky and upbeat melodies are back and were fully remastered. The xylophone has never sounded better!
Precise platforming and spinning are still required, but Crash Bandicoot 1 is far easier now thanks to tweaks to Crash’s movements and a forgiving checkpoint system
Whether you are running from a boulder or riding on a polar bear, these games have not lost their charm. They are a fascinating (and fun) look back at the early days of 3D platforming
Moderately High

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