Long before trophy hunting was even a concept, the first three original Crash Bandicoot games were giving players the itch to hunt down every clear gem, colored gem, and the many time trial relics so they could show their friends, “this is my 100% completion save.” Now, in a world of PlayStation 4 Pros and true 1080p PC ports, Activision is reintroducing players to Naughty Dog’s creation through Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy; a from-the-ground-up remastered collection developed by Vicarious Visions. Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, and Crash 3: Warped are all included in the N. Sane set, with many updates to make it feel fresh and new. Graphical enhancements, sound tweaks, and platforming mechanics are just a few of the boxes Vicarious Visions checked off, but there are new surprises, such as the ability to play as Coco Bandicoot across all three games. While not every addition entirely works, Activision’s trilogy retains the most vital aspects to the Naughty Dog series, while bringing in enough polish to make any fan do Crash’s happy dance.
First and foremost, the most striking difference between the N. Sane Trilogyand the original games are the graphics. The vibrant and creative worlds created in the Naughty Dog trilogy are on full display once again, with a sheen of sophistication layered over every level, character, enemy, item, and menu. Crash and Coco both look as true to life as bandicoots wearing clothes can, while Neo Cortex’s alarmingly large head looks more like actual skin and not just a flesh-colored polygon. Everything from the trees swaying in the breeze to the fire billowing out of pits in the cave levels has a beautiful look to them, which only proves how wonderful the art design was from the Naughty Dog originals. Small details on enemies that were indistinguishable in the PlayStation era of graphics, such as buttons on scientists in Cortex Strikes Back, add the polish modern players expect and new visual cues for those who have already explored the levels before. While each of the three original games have a slightly different art style to them, the update from Vicarious Visions makes the entire set cohesive, as every detail in all the levels across all three games are the same. For example, in the ruin levels, the different lilypad colors signifying which are safe to stand on and which are not do not change from Crash Bandicoot to Cortex Strikes Back, creating a visual dictionary for the player that can be trusted from level to level.
Apart from the obvious joy of having the original three games together in one modern package, the N. Sane Trilogy remedies the disconnects found between each game during their original releases, most notably Crash Bandicoot. The first Naughty Dog title to introduce Crash has always felt like more of a trial run for the Bandicoot, as a majority of the gameplay and comedic tone introduced in it carried on to the sequels, but it lacked the enhanced abilities and consistent level design found in Cortex Strikes Back and Warped. In turn, Crash Bandicoot was an often overlooked game in the franchise, with fans and newcomers giving more attention to the later PlayStation era titles in the franchise.
Thankfully, Vicarious Visions has made Crash Bandicoot worthy of a revisit through many needed updates, including the opportunity to repeat bonus challenges if the player loses and scaling Crash’s size down to match his placement in the level design. In the original game, Crash can tend to look much larger than he should in the jungle and ruin levels for some strange reason, which is not a visual issue seen in the sequels. Another huge improvement is in the platforming mechanics, which finally matches the challenging but acceptable style in Cortex Strikes Back and Warped. Often times in the original, the jumping arc for Crash could change by the slightest movement of the D-Pad or by an enemy wandering too close to an edge to block Crash from landing properly, which would make the player frustrated and feel cheated that their skill level didn’t matter at times. This problem was fixed in later games, but Vicarious Visions clearly wanted to inject punishing but accurate platforming into the original game, which also shows off the impeccable level design work that could have been found in the original game had the erroneous obstacles been fine-tuned.
A fresh update across all three games is the inclusion of level hints on the loading screen. Whenever Crash or Coco heads into a new stage, a helpful fact will be available to player, and while the games may seem simplistic in their gameplay mechanics, the hints instead focus on the original trilogy’s difficulty of discovering how to break every box to earn the clear gem or fulfill a specific duty to nab the colored gem. While all three titles in the collection award the clear gem for breaking every box in a level, each game handles its colored gems differently. In Crash Bandicoot, colored gems are awarded if the player can reach the end of a specific level without dying, while in Cortex Strikes Backeach vibrant gem is given after completing a specific feat, such as avoiding all boxes in a run or finding a hidden warp point. Back in the day, these secrets had to be discovered through hours of trial and error or just sharing the news with friends and fellow players, but Vicarious Visions made a smart choice in updating to the modern world, providing just enough of a hint for players to figure out the trick on their own, without having to resort to a Google search.
Along with HD collections comes the inevitable sprucing up of the sound design and soundtrack, and while N. Sane Trilogy revamps both, there is more attention put into one than the other. One of the most polished and amazing updates to the original games, apart from the collection’s gorgeous visuals, are the sound effects. While every sound heard in the original trilogy, from the whirl of Crash’s spin attack to the “Boo Ba Da Gah!” after nabbing a Tiki mask, is still present, they’ve been enhanced to match the fresh quality the new collection is putting forth. This polish is apparent in even the smallest audio detail, such as how the footstep sounds change according to every texture, including sand, ice, stone, metal and water. When Crash or Coco performs a spin within a closed space like a cave or ruin, the whirl sound echoes and bounces back, mimicking the acoustics that would most likely be heard in that setting. While these may seem to be insignificant touches, Vicarious Visions deserves a hearty applause for understanding all facets of the original games needed a reupholster job and not just the visuals.
Sadly, if there is any “lesser than” quality to the N. Sane Trilogy it comes down to the soundtrack. American composer Josh Mancell created the wonderfully catchy tunes for all three original titles, as well as Crash Team Racing, and while Vicarious Visions stuck to the same songs, they created new arrangements for each. Most are welcome and match the visual updates, such as the title and loading screen themes, but many of the tracks found within the levels have a hollow sound to them. The intensity created by the thumping drums in Cortex Strikes Back’s Un-Bearable are toned down, taking away the larger than life drama felt in the original version. Many of the industrial levels lose the heavy synth score for a more understated sound that relies on occasional beats behind a lead guitar. While this change of musical tone doesn’t ruin the experience, there is a sadness that what was fantastic in the past couldn’t have been kept the same in this reintroduction of Crash to the masses.
Most of the trophies attained suffer from the inevitable syndrome, meaning players are awarded them when completing something they would have to do to progress in the story, such as defeating a boss. Vicarious Visions did seem to try to get creative by making trophies for the different ways Crash can die, like falling into a pit or being electrocuted by a fence, but since Crash fans are well accustomed to dying constantly in the game, these easily fall into the same category. Joining the unnecessary additions is the ability to play as Crash’s sister, Coco Bandicoot. While the tech savvy girl had her own levels in the original games, Vicarious Visions created a swapping system, allowing players to choose to play as either Crash or Coco on the world map screen. Strangely, Coco is not able to take on any of the bosses, which seems like a forced decision by Vicarious Visions and not a limitation set by the game design. She plays exactly like Crash, with a spin move and the same platforming mechanics, which makes her a glorified skin and not an actual second character choice. Having her available, of course, doesn’t ruin the experience, and it was often fun to jump into a level as Coco, but there was a missed opportunity to distinguish her from her brother. Her small and slimmer size could have been a good reason to make her run faster or jump higher, giving the player an incentive to tackle a particularly cumbersome level with a character that could overcome it in a different way.
Overall, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is a fantastic compilation of Naughty Dog’s well-received Crash games for PlayStation. The spirit and charm that originally drew fans in and kept them coming back is still present here, but is now accessible to a new generation of players and those wanting to replay their classic darlings on a modern system. The addictively challenging platforming and item collection, which has been the heart of the trilogy, is still the top priority introduced to players in each game, which was exactly what Vicarious Visions did correctly. Often an HD collection can attempt to introduce new mechanics to bring it up to speed with modern games, such as new difficulty settings or easier controls, but they aren’t always welcome. Crash Bandicoot needed to retain its at times mind bogglingly hard levels because overcoming them using skill and cunning is the best reward Naughty Dog created. While not every update is welcome or needed, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives, making the N. Sane Trilogy a must own for any Crash Bandicoot fan.
In Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, players familiar with the original Naughty Dog games will be welcome back into the vibrant world inhabited by Crash, Coco, and their journey to defeat Neo Cortex. However, developer Vicarious Visions has done more than slap a fresh coat of paint on the games by creating a cohesive platforming system and visual language across all three titles.
E10+ - Everyone 10+
|Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is available on PlayStation 4. Primary version played was for PS4. Code/hardware was provided by Vicarious Visions for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|