Platforming meets punishment.
When an aged gamer recounts their gaming story, a reference to ‘the game that started it all’ is anything but a scarcity. Gamers of the early 80’s might tell you their story of arcade flashbacks, and pounding countless shrapnel into a Space Invaders or Ms. Pacman arcade cabinet, or their amazement of being gifted their very first expedition into home console gaming through an Atari 2600 or Commodore 64 computer that Dad bought you ‘for school work’. Then there is the Nintendo Historian – the gamer of the late 80’s, who first entered their pixel-addicted state through a playthrough of Super Mario Bros, or being swept away into a fantasy world, fighting against evil in The Legend of Zelda, all from the comfort of their plush, mustard-coloured couch via the Nintendo Entertainment System. Well, for the purpose of this very review, this is where we get off the Nostalgia Express, my dear reader; Stop 96 (1996, that is): Crash Bandicoot.
So, why such a preceding spiel? ‘Oi mate, where’s the game review?’ I hear you shout. Well, before I begin, I must prefix with the facts – Crash Bandicoot was the first video game I ever had the joy of laying my eyes on, gripping the Smoke Grey Playstation Controller with overwhelming joy all those many years ago, pondering what the mysterious orange marsupial on my NEC Cathode Ray Tube Television meant for my gaming adventure ahead of me. After begging my Dad for a Sony Playstation for the Christmas of ’96, both the Sony Playstation and its headlining game, Crash Bandicoot, were both in my hands. In all honesty, I would have never imagined I’d be writing some 20 years later about a re-emergence of not only my favourite video game character of all time, but of a resurrection of that very game I experienced all those years ago. And while I’m aware that I’m in a slight minority when talking about Crash Bandicoot as my unrivalled favourite video game character of all eternity, Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy has instantly become a major talking point and milestone of my gaming journey, and for many others walking a similar walk.
Leaving almost every facet of the original trilogy intact, to the quirky, vibrant visuals, laugh-out-loud personalities, iconic level design and addictive but brutal platforming elements, Activision and Vicarious Visions’ rebirth of a classic gaming franchise has left me, for the most part, satisfied, but wanting more Bandicoot mayhem to play through than ever. While it must be noted that there are some imperfections (most notably, the unnecessary brutality of the jumping and platforming mechanic), Vicarious Visions has pieced together the hallmark I knew was inevitably coming, and a scarily accurate re-imagining of what a 3D platformer of the 90’s would look, feel, play and display like in 2017; a hallmark that I commend and thrive to see more often for Crash’s platforming brethren of yesteryear; Spyro, Gex and Croc just to name a few.
Over the past decade, a decade in which my little bandicoot buddy has been noticeably absent from video games and, to be brutally honest, all existence, I’ve asked myself the million dollar questions, time and time over, that a developer at Vicarious Visions might have asked, to a tee, during the brainstorming and development phase of creating Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy. ‘What would the graphics look like? Would the level design be the same? How about the music?’. If you’re like me, a patient but anxious fan of the original series, you’ll know just how many intricate details of the original games Vicarious Visions would have had to consider dearly, mimicking these for a series reboot. The major point to consider, is that Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy is not a sequel, remake nor a simple ‘HD Remix’ – it is very much it’s ‘own game’ while playing just like the first three entries in the franchise.
There’s very much a buzz and new energy from the very first Start screen; you’re met with the option of playing any of the trilogy in any order you please. If you’re reading this as a newcomer, the trilogy includes Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, all originally released and loved on the Sony Playstation (PSX), all of which encompass their own variation of feel and flavour. My playthrough still continues, as I’ve chosen to stream the trilogy in their untouched order (shameless plug – you can find my past streams on our YouTube channel), while dipping in and out of each game in my down time. This has definitely given me a great feel of what I need to expect on my live playthrough, while still being able to skip ahead and experience my favourable title of the three, Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped.
Let’s first get nostalgia out of the way – almost every facet of Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy plays in just the way it played some 20 years ago. Having such a strong experience with the original titles places me awkwardly; I, myself, expected the somewhat cumbersome controls, immediately jumping at using the D-Pad to control my furry friend. In a modern title, this simply doesn’t fare well, which is precisely why a newcomer to this title might find it tough to traverse the many levels with standard analogue stick. While I breezed through the early levels of each game, much to my delight, I can only imagine the battle an analogue-stick wielding gamer might have, getting a constant flattening amidst a playthrough of the Boulders level or any other of the ‘chase’ style levels across the expansive trilogy. It’s something I needed to make mention of, and something you’ll need to accustom to if you’re a newbie.
In a contrasting sense, the many pieces that assemble to make the Crash Bandicoot series the icon that it stands as today are present here in all their glory. The many enemies you’ll encounter are still as silly and quirky as ever, dancing and pacing their area, just waiting to turn you into their next meal once again. The ‘crazy broom lady’, as I referred to her back in the 90s, will still do her utmost to send you toppling off the edge in Native Fortress or The Great Gate, or end your run in Hog Wild. For all intents and purposes, all your favourite levels will probably remain your favourite, and newcomers will find their own favourites amidst their first experience. Level design remains fantastic, with all the small, intricate charm and detail of the original titles firmly intact.
I must make mention of the difficulty levels that you’ll find throughout each title. While Crash Bandicoot remains the most erratic in terms of difficulty spikes, from an overall standpoint, all three games are seemingly more difficult – slightly. This is tied to an unorthodox change to the jumping action and physics, and hitboxes associated with each traversing platform. Simple gaps to cross now require some thought, difficult sequences of small platforms and ledges now require undivided attention, and difficult stretches of gaps are now frustratingly difficult to conquer. One trip to Part 5 of my livestream, and you’ll find 25 minutes of me attempting my run of the level, The High Road, dying over, and over – and over again. It’s a minor change, but one that breaks the knob on the difficulty meter, ten-fold. Do I just need to ‘git gud’? Quite possibly.
Graphics and Sound
The colourful, vibrant visuals of Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy are, quite simply, outstanding. Activision and Vicarious Visions have completed and delivered on taking a 90s title, which hasn’t aged quite as well as my rose-tinted nostalgia goggles are telling me they have, and, from the ground-up, built a new engine and texture for every single asset, resulting in a gorgeous 3D platformer that is simply eye-popping on a 4K display. Everything you remember has been transformed into a smooth, visually aesthetic flashback of its previous state, and for a new player, Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy stands toe-to-toe with any of its platforming brethren of recent years, for example, Insomniac’s Ratchet and Clank. In many instances, I felt an overwhelming sense of warmth and fuzziness from Playstation’s glorious mascot, glowing with charm and colourful brilliance as he bounced across boxes and swallowed up a-many wumpa fruit. It’s not just Crash either; Coco (of whom is now a playable character), looks just as gorgeous as before, as well as the lush greenery and violent lava pits you’ll traverse over as either character. Each level in Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy is both untouched and touched, with every area of a level left intact, but with a High Definition paint brush, splashing fresh, dynamic life into every corner of the screen.
A major, reminiscent talking point of the Crash Bandicoot series has always been the incredible soundtrack, composed originally by Josh Mancell. While Mancell wasn’t directly involved with the re-composition of the soundtrack in N.Sane Trilogy, in many ways, the new, fresh sounds might just top the original pieces. Whilst the original opts for crisp bongos and extensive use of marimba, the new rendition opts for powerful electric guitar riffs and booming drum work. During my playthrough, I couldn’t help but continue to think how wonderful a job was done on the refreshing take of each track, be it the classic composition of N.Sanity Beach, or the frantically fast-paced and downright wacky Hog Wild. In as much a way that the gameplay and mechanics have remained faithful to their birthright, the soundtrack of Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Trilogy follows much the same trend. While it is known that several in-house composers at Vicarious Visions were responsible for the soundtrack here, you would never assume it. There’s so much to love and appreciate for an audiophile such as myself, so please – you have my full permission to strap on some headphones for your playthrough.
In almost every facet, Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy is a faithful homage and resurrection of a cult classic trifecta of 90s 3D Platforming titles. The team at Activision and Vicarious Visions have struck the perfect balance of nostalgia-driven, platforming royalty, leaving level design, visuals and a masterful soundtrack with their original persona, but with a fresh, new appearance. While difficulty spikes are much more apparent here, with a sometimes-aged feel to the original control scheme and slight alterations to the game mechanics that do frustrate in instances, Crash Bandicoot fans will love what is on display, as well as newcomers who will undoubtedly appreciate challenging, classic 3D platforming with crisp, vibrant visuals.
As a loyal, long-time fan, I’m more than satisfied with the result, definitively driven by community feedback and a fan base that has waited ever so patiently. Crash Bandicoot is back, and hopefully, for good.