Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy Review
The year was 2000. I was roughly 4 years old when I experienced my first video game — or at least, it is certainly the earliest which I can still recall. Sitting in my living room with my Mom and her brother, the uncle who gave me his PlayStation and his bevy of titles, I remember booting up Crash Bandicoot and watching my mother struggle to make it through its introductory levels.
From then on, an obsession arose, for both my mother and myself. Not only with the Crash series, but video games in general. The local movie rental store became a refuge during my adolescence, every trip was a venture to procure some new and engaging experience to bring home with me and dive into headfirst. I tried anything my parents would allow: Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy VII, Spyro, Gran Turismo, Oddworld; only making it through the first few stages of each before giving up and moving on to another.
Which, looking back, may have had a significant long-lasting effect on how I approach games today. My patience can be difficult to attain working through a campaign, mainly because the medium offers so many differing levels of variety (quite literally) that I crave new and exciting whenever finally becoming comfortable with the methodology of a release.
But Crash has always been a series I return to, and I have completed the original three entries repeatedly. Its design reflects a musical album in a way, with each level lasting roughly four minutes or less — often more when striving to earn every gem — which is fitting given the soundtrack’s choice offerings for each. And for as similar they are in construction and tone, each remains a definitively separate experience all their own.
Which is a large part of why the new N. Sane Trilogy remake is both so nostalgically-fulfilling and why it fails to keep my interest. What we have here is an entirely recreated endeavor, immediately familiar though refined, with each moment emitting a sort of deja vu occurrence as I jump and spin my way through the various stages. I was giddy with delight as I booted up the Trilogy on my PS4, hearing the classic theme song rerecorded and all the recognizable voice acting and dialogue which I can still to this day recite from memory. But as I eventually reached the third entry, my excitement had all but completely waned.
Beginning Crash Bandicoot, it’s quite a trip seeing this childhood favorite of mine beautifully recreated for/with modern tech; a wave of nostalgic bliss rushes through my head, as forcefully as the one washing Crash back on shore in his iconic intro island sequence. In fact, it’s quite reminiscent of seeing an old favorite band get back together for a comeback tour, playing all the hits one used to belt out in the shower. Only this time they sound far better and more refined than their earlier years, if still all the less creative.
But there’s a reason musical acts never overstate their welcome: whereas a discography can noticeably evolve throughout the lengths of a career, a live act often thwarts any attempts to manage variety, and monotony becomes an unfortunate side effect of continuum.
These three games originally showed such sophistication in developer, Naughty Dog’s ability to refine their systems, all while maintaining that unique aesthetic and sonic style, across three years of releases. The problem with N. Sane Trilogy is that as an updated collection, they fail to replicate that similar method of refinement, and the overall experience feels sustained and rather tiresome.
The first Crash now feels wholly-realised given the updated mechanics borrowed from Warped; Crash 2 feels similarly refurbished. But when we finally make it to the third entry, the familiarity grows far too exhaustive. I have grown fatigued by this muscle memory-coaxing reproduction because there’s just so little ‘new’ to be experienced.
I question the purpose of remaking Warped at all, or even Cortex Strikes Back, both of which remain fine titles to return to whenever I feel like divulging in some past PS1-era relics. The premiere entry is the standout title included in this N. Sane Trilogy for its, frankly, gorgeous restoration and updated gameplay. It’s arguably the only included game which I would highly recommend over the original, especially given that not a single thing has been changed. Younger audiences can fall in love just as I did all those years ago, while older audiences can wax nostalgic and appreciate its modernized scheme just as I have all these years later.
As a complete product it’s tough to necessarily recommend N. Sane Trilogy for everyone with a PS4. For those who haven’t experienced the game, it’s a far more accessible package to drop money on than seeking out the originals; but for old fans of the series, there’s simply nothing new or refreshing to find.
Crash Bandicoot has never been an essential series to experience. It is very much a commercial platformer of the late-90s era, designed to carry its console forward in sales with a recognizable mascot and silly tone. But no entry fully realises the potential of its game design, offering either overly-difficult jumping sections or simplistic gimmicks across their multitude of similarly-orchestrated levels.
While the Super Mario series has always reveled in introducing new abilities, discoverable routes, and numerous methods of progression, Crash fails to capture an equal motivation to return to its levels besides catering to players’ obsessive compulsion to collect every item. In theory, the games present an engaging motive to continue playing even after completion: breaking every box in a level, plus seeking out the entirely-hidden secret routes, in order to retrieve the plethora of optional gems.
However, in execution it becomes something far less satisfying. Frustration unavoidably arises after finishing a run having missed just one box or having to sacrifice precious lives in order to earn a 100% completion. This completely disregards the Fun which a platformer is supposed to instill.
As for the controls? Functionally in the N. Sane Trilogy, they really are top-notch, easily-manipulable and simple to immediately comprehend. The bliss of having control over how high a jump extends; the appropriate amount of time for which the spin move lasts; the mechanics certainly fit the presentation, that is they offer the ability to string together a free-flowing succession of movements applied to various obstacles and gaps which present the primary challenges.
But each Crash iteration remains an outline for what could eventually be fleshed out into a far more investable platformer. Warped is the only entry that feels comfortable knowing its limitations, wildly experimenting with nearly every level by incorporating some unique gameplay mechanic. But the game also suffers for it, lacking cohesion and focused pacing all throughout as the player progresses from one section to the next.
Much of the gameplay just feels so empty alongside the smooth platforming, which disallows any satisfying sense of development to emerge. The most significant powerup is obtainable after collecting three Aku Aku (aka Witch Doctor) masks, a reward similar to Mario’s Rainbow Star, which makes Crash invincible to all enemies, hastens his speed, and automatically destroys any crates and collects all Wumpa he passes by.
It allows a brief moment of power to the player, however ultimately condescends the very patient essence of platforming which the entire game is centered around. Perhaps if the ability also allowed the player to bypass any jumps or obstacles in their way, it would make far more sense to utilize its power. But the player is rendered unable to even calculate when and where to properly utilize the mechanic, as only lucky circumstance will grant them three masks.
Another baffling oversight is the lack of localized identity to each section. The hub worlds of CSB, for instance, revolve around a recognizable theme; but this also detracts from the particularity of each level within. Warped meanwhile moves backwards in regards to this aesthetic concept, since the five varying levels of each hub section have no connection to each other whatsoever.
When the inevitable boss fight is reached after completing each level — ie. obtaining every crystals — all three games suffer from a lack of explanation or purpose. Boss fights are intended to allow the player to hone the skills they’ve been practicing throughout, a significant test of their patience and aptitude. Crash, however, as a series, centers boss fights around a random gimmick, often straightforward enough to the point of becoming frustrating given how few of them involve anything the player has been practicing before.
Crash is an immortal figure, but not necessarily within the contexts of his games. The ridiculous tone and subversive brand elevate it above most platformers of its generation, and for good reason. The confident enthusiasm of the games’ core design, as well as their ability to transcend that ever-intimidating age gap, remain Naughty Dog’s greatest achievements with this series. It’s one thing to make an icon, but to fully demonstrate that figure’s potential is what is ultimately the most appreciable aspect of the artist(s) behind them.
For Crash Bandicoot, the potential is certainly highlighted throughout the series, but a fully-actualized gameplay experience never surfaces throughout any of this iconic trilogy. They’re good Fun for brief moments, in short bursts, and the level design recalls the current addictive nature produced in mobile games — which makes it all the more fitting to compare these levels to pop songs. But videogames, unlike music, require dedication to see them through till the end; and too often, frustration or monotony keep them from ever satiating that primal desire to lose one’s self in the rhythm.
I must reiterate: I have enjoyed my time with the N. Sane Trilogy. However, strolling down memory lane eventually succumbs to looking for new insights wherein ultimately none aspire, no matter how attractive the images look and feel. The lack of innovation present between these three polished classics further instills that fatigue and familiarity, dissolving any sense of progression, culminating in more of the same.
Vicarious Visions have ultimately proved successful in modernizing this decades-old property; almost too well for the titular marsupial’s own good. Banking on nostalgia is a fine modus operandi for a developer, but when the magic inevitably wears off, what we’re left with is something far too familiar to recommend. Especially when the product in particular is flawed enough as it is. For as polished and renewed the N. Sane Trilogy appears, its age and wear ultimately shine through.
But like any hit single, Crash Bandicoot’s levels have their place and time to return to. Be it to quench a particular nostalgic thirst, hone in on platforming skills as a means of testing application and focus, or even just proving to one’s self how much the game’s industry has matured throughout the post-console mascot era. I’ll always hold a special place in my heart for the game(s) that started it all. They remain untouched in memory, but age has predictably debased their once-refined performance.