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October 2023

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Release Date: June 30, 2017


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PS4 Review - 'Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 1, 2017 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy lets players spin, jump and wump as they take on the epic challenges and adventures from the three Crash games that started it all: Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and Crash Bandicoot: Warped.

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For a short time, Crash Bandicoot was the third pillar of the mascot platformers: Nintendo had Mario, Sega had Sonic, and PlayStation tried Crash. Crash never quite reached the illustrious heights of the other two, but it's a testament to the character that he didn't fall into obscurity like some other mascot platformers. Perhaps it's no big surprise that Naughty Dog, the people responsible for Crash, went on to do some of gaming's biggest titles in Uncharted and The Last of Us. Crash has been on hiatus for years, barring a brief cameo in Skylanders, and seemed relegated to the dustbins of mascot history. Fortunately, Vicarious Visions' remaster of the first three games in the series, The Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, seems to be exactly what Crash needs to return to relevance.

Crash is a result of the experiments of the evil Dr. Cortex, who transformed a regular bandicoot into a mildly insane bandicoot. Crash sets out to thwart Cortex's plans and does so in all three titles. The games are fairly light on plot and high on humor, which is generated by silly level design, character body language, and various other tiny gimmicks. Don't expect any lengthy cut scenes. Even when Sonic the Hedgehog was moving into the realm of overly dramatic plots, Crash remained true to his mascot platformer roots.

At their hearts, the Crash games are by-the-number platformers that veer between 2D and 3D mechanics. You hop, spin and bounce around environments, avoiding enemies, moving from platform to platform, and finding paths through levels. You're given a lot of collectibles, such as fruit and gems, which can be used to gain extra lives, unlock bonus levels, and other neat features. The first game, Crash Bandicoot, is by far the simplest of the three. The later games add more features and mechanics, including vehicle races that would later evolved into the Crash Team Racing brand of titles. The core mechanics are pretty simple, so once you've learned the basics, it's about learning the ins and outs of a level rather than how to play Crash himself.

By modern standards, the Crash titles are somewhat punishing, but they get easier as you progress. The first game is likely one of the harder 3D platformers from the era, and but not due to bad game design. It's not Dark Souls or anything, but the title is filled with instant-death pits and one-hit kills. Combined with some occasionally awkward camera angles, that can lead to a lot of game overs. Lives are thrown at you like candy, but it's still possible to run dry. Cortex Strikes Back hits a more natural blend of challenge and difficulty but still trends toward the harder side. Warped is by far the easiest of the three. The games have the occasional ridiculously annoying moment or unfair mechanic, but they're few and far enough between.

The three games are mostly straight ports of the originals. The older games have been modified with some quality-of-life mechanics that make them easier to play. The save and checkpoint systems have been unified over all three games, so you're no longer dealing with annoying and archaic design systems designed with the PS1's optional memory card in mind. The saves are very reasonable and allow you to properly break between levels. There's also an option to play as Crash's sister, Coco, which is a nice feature for fans of the series. The jumping physics and mechanics have been adjusted slightly but mostly in ways that will stand out to people who've played a lot of Crash Bandicoot in their lives.

Unfortunately, the games have not aged very well. They're fun and competent platformers, but they're not as innovative or exceptional as something like Mario 64. Crash stands up as a better example of an early 3D platformer, but it's difficult to say how well he holds up without nostalgia. I had a lot of fun playing through the Crash collection, but I often noticed that rather than genuine enjoyment of the levels, I was remembering the fondness I had for the games back when they released.

The first game, which is admittedly the one easiest to be nostalgic for, is too rough for its own good. The title shows all the marks of a first attempt at the mechanics and level design and has probably the least interesting levels of the three. It's probably not a good place to start if you're not fresh on Crash nostalgia. Of the three games, the second title, Cortex Strikes Back, has aged the best. It's the right mix of development over the original and doesn't suffer the design pitfalls of Warped. The third title, Warped, is much closer to Cortex Strikes Back than the original but tries too hard to innovate the mechanics. You have larger levels and more moves, but it's a case where more doesn't necessarily equal better. In particular, the aforementioned vehicle levels obviously needed more development time and drag down the rest of the experience.

If there's one area where the games are remarkably inconsistent, it's in the boss battles. Some are exciting and fun while others are awkward, confusing or tedious. The boss battles don't necessarily get better or worse as the franchise progresses, and there's an eclectic mix of good and bad throughout the entirety of the collection. Few are genuine terrible, but I wish more than a few were more polished. They don't ruin the experience, since most boss battles can be finished rather quickly, but they do stand out.

Despite the complaints about the games not holding up today, they're still good games. They might not have been genre-defining, but they're solid platformers and you're getting a ton of content in the package. Three games' worth of platforming action is a lot of bang for your buck and a difficult deal to turn down. There are tons of collectibles, hidden paths, secret levels and various other bonuses to find and explore. If you like platformers, you are going to have a lot of fun here unless you don't like Crash Bandicoot's gameplay.

The N. Sane Trilogy's biggest benefit is its visual facelift, and it's a doozy. The game has gone from a competent example of early 3D graphics to a lovely brightly animated cartoon. Everything is smoother, shinier and prettier. Some of the environments are still rather plain and betray the original art design made with a PS1 in mind, but the visual improvements make this easier to overlook. The one serious flaw is that the game runs at a pretty locked 30 fps, which seems weak for a simple 3D platformer but won't bother most people. The remastered soundtrack is quite good and properly evokes the nostalgia of the original games without sounding like something designed for the PS1.

All in all, the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is a solid collection of games. They have their flaws, and some of the game design choices may feel too punishing for a modern audience. When you're playing them, it's easy to see why Crash maintained a solid audience despite years of neglect, and it's even easier to see why people are excited to play them again. The port is done well, and aside from a few flaws, the trilogy should be an enjoyable experience for anyone who's looking to replay the original PlayStation mascot's adventures.

Score: 8.0/10

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