Video Game Review: Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy — How Do You Land This Thing?

I swear 90% of the deaths I had in these games were due to mistimed jumps.

Pre-Review Background

Okay, confess right now. Who didn’t play Crash Bandicoot growing up in the 90s? Even if you didn’t own a Playstation, you were either friends with someone who did or played it at your local Best Buy or something. And while I’m sure there were other factors involved, this new remake of the first three games was the highest selling thing on the PS4 upon release date, earning #1 best-selling game of June when it got released at the end of the month, and is continuing to beat other sales records to this day. It wasn’t quite on the level of the Nintendo Switch, but copies of it were hard to find at retail stores, and it took a while for my Amazon copy to show up, which really goes to show how much of an impact Crash has on people despite never achieving the popularity of Mario or Sonic in terms of 3d-platforming.

But yes, the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy has now been remade as Crash N’Sane Trilogy, and my oh my is this game causing quite a stir in the gaming community. Just looking at Youtube alone shows a lot of people who played Crash in the past praising that he’s come back with prettier graphics while a fair amount of people are criticizing the nostalgia-lovers for letting their past blind them to how Crash doesn’t hold up by today’s standards. A lot of the professional game review sites are sort of split between whether the trilogy is still good, although I think we can all agree that it’s aged better than Parappa the Rapper. Personally I was always more of a Spyro the Dragon kind of guy, but I did like Crash back in the day. Never bothered to 100% complete any of the games (at least not without a Gameshark), but they were fun for its time. As such, without any real feelings of love yet enough experience to understand what Crash is all about, I’m more than qualified to judge whether or not our favorite orange marsupial is as relevant now as he was back then.

General Plot

Or semblance of a plot if you will, as these sorts of pure platformers never have any real story. Crash Bandicoot is the first game of the trilogy and focuses on how Crash was created by the evil Dr. Neo Cortex and his assistant Dr. Nitrus Brio in order to become a general for their animal-heavy army. However, the experiment failed and Crash ends up escaping the laboratory, which for some reasons causes Cortex to focus his attention on a busty female bandicoot named Tawna. After washing up on a faraway beach, Crash decides to rescue Tawna (who I guess he met prior to the modifications done on him?) from Cortex’s grasp, and must travel through twenty-six distinct areas full of Cortex minions and death traps aplenty in order to do so. If you play through the game normally, Crash ends up setting Cortex’s lab on fire, causes Cortex to crash into the Earth, and rescues Tawna only for her to never show up again because the developers hated her design (no seriously, they did). Getting all the gems gets you a quite frankly worse ending that I’m not going to elaborate on because Crash 2 follows from the first ending.

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back picks up after Cortex crashes into the Earth and discovers a Master Crystal that can be used to enslave all of the planet’s inhabitants when combined with twenty-five Slave Crystals. Building a giant spaceship called the Cortex Vortex, Cortex along with his new assistant Dr. N Gin have no more allies to help them recover the crystals due to N Brio going rogue, so our main antagonist tricks Crash into retrieving said crystals by saying he had a change of heart and wants to use them to stop an impending cataclysm. Since Crash isn’t the brightest guy on the planet, he immediately falls for Cortex’s manipulations up until his introduced-out-of-nowhere sister Coco reveals the truth to him. Afterwards, Crash defeats Cortex a second time, and if you get all the gems, then Brio uses them to power up a laser that blows up the Cortex Vortex, which leads into Crash 3.

Crash Bandicoot 3, or Crash Bandicoot: Warped as it’s more commonly known as, picks up from the Cortex Vortex’s destruction and shows that how a piece from the space station crashes into a temple and ends up releasing an evil mask known as Uka Uka, who it turns out Cortex was taking orders from. Although Uka Uka is mad that Cortex failed in his quest to obtain power, he gives Cortex another chance since his failure did end up freeing him, and the two decide to get all the crystals and gems they lose in the last game through the power of a time machine built by Dr. N Tropy. Uka Uka’s good brother Aku Aku senses that his evil brother is free and sends the Bandicoot siblings to use Tropy’s time machine to get the crystals and gems before Uka Uka and Cortex do. Doing so will cause the time machine to malfunction, reverting Cortex and Tropy to babies and trapping them, along with Uka Uka, in the distant past.

Yeah, that’s pretty much the plots of all three games in a nutshell. Riveting isn’t it?

Personal Dissection

Now like I said in the pre-review background, I did beat all three games when I was a kid, but I never bothered to 100% complete them because I didn’t feel like it was worth the trouble.  In order to get all the gems, you have to break all the boxes in each level or find secret passages, and Crash Bandicoot 1 had that other requirement where you had to do it without dying, which was borderline unfair because literally everything tries to kill Crash and it’s nigh impossible without trial and error to go through most levels without seeing one of Crash’s death animations. So you can bet I was glad when that requirement had been removed (except when it came to the color gems), along with how you can now retry bonus levels multiple times without dying. Said tweak started being less of an improvement though when I discovered that the changed hit boxes made it really easy for Crash to die in the first two games – moreso the first one because he doesn’t have his slide dash and such in that installment. Seriously, if you’re even a millimeter off when landing on something, Crash will slide into a bottomless pit and you’ll be cursing a storm so loud that Vicarious Visions could probably hear it across the globe.

While I have seen very unfair and inaccurate comparisons to Dark Souls in regards to this game, I was very shocked to realize that I’ve forgotten just how difficult Crash Bandicoot could actually be as a series, even if you’re not trying to get all the gems. Even if you removed the changed hit boxes, you’re still left with how your depth perception is fucked whenever Crash is in a level that requires him to move up and down, rather than right or left. The problem with 3d platforming is that you can only see two inches ahead when you’re going towards the screen, making it very difficult to react to obstacles when they show up. And when you’re going away from the screen, it’s a pain to see where the obstacles actually are in respect to where Crash is. Dodging Donkey Kong barrels that are coming towards you from a vertical position as opposed to a horizontal one is not fun, and there were times when my spin dash stopped right before it hit an enemy because I misjudged the distance, only for it to touch Crash’s fur and instantly send him to heaven.

Of the three games included in this remake, I’d have to say Crash 1 is my least favorite due to the number of frustrating deaths, which ironically didn’t come from those bridge levels because I cheesed them by walking on the side ropes. Like most people, I liked Crash 2 the best and actually 100% completed the game for the first time ever, despite those jetpack levels being plain awkward in all definition of the word. Crash Bandicoot Warped was fun, but the levels where they tried to add new genres to the franchise’s platforming segments like those motorbike races and the swimming levels could go fuck themselves. Also, I couldn’t be bothered to do the time trials for any of those games. It’s completely optional in the first two, and I just couldn’t be assed to do it for Warped.

Also, who was the idiot that decided to map the “save” feature to the square button? There were several times when I accidentally loaded a previous file because my muscle memory is used to saving with the “X” button. And then the auto-save screwed me too late to get that previous progress back.

Bosses are still easy as sin to beat. I’ve heard a lot of people had trouble with N. Gin, but I took him down without losing a single life because I still remembered his attack patterns from twenty years ago perfectly. And can I just say I love how much they look now compared to their polygonal forms that we humans used to admire with a straight face? In fact, I love how beautiful the N Sane Trilogy looks in general. I’ve heard that Vicarious Visions didn’t have access to the original game code, so they had to re-do everything from scratch, and I’ve got to say they did a fantastic job of bringing Crash to a new generation. Underneath the pretty packaging, everything still looks and (mostly) plays the same as the original, and while that doesn’t always work to the game’s benefit, it really goes to show how much the people who made this game care about the property, as opposed to all those third-party developers that drove the orange marsupial into mediocrity after Naughty Dog abandoned him.

Of course, those prettied-up death scenes stopped being appealing after I saw them five times in a row within the span of three minutes. Seriously game, it’s not my fault that the camera isn’t seeing what Crash can clearly see.

Conclusion

Crash is fun to play and all, but it’s definitely aged in ways that go beyond the physics changes that most people are still complaining about as of this time of writing. The level design can be quite unfair at times, and the 3D perspective along with the camera angles can make it difficult to see where Crash can land or how far away he is from an enemy, leading to many deaths that feel cheap. While you can easily exploit certain tricks to tone down the unfairness such as walking along the bridge ropes or exploiting a hidden high jump command, you’ll still die quite a lot even then, and the outdated lives system just adds to the trouble. I don’t have a problem with Crash having to follow a linear path like some game professionals seem to, but Cold Hard Crash can go fuck itself as a level. Seriously, how do you expect me to skate in that particular spot when the ice is so slippery?

Honestly though, I’m starting to see why 3d-platformers have died out as of late: because with the exception of Mario, jumping in all sorts of dimensions comes with so much unfair baggage like being unable to determine where you’ll actually land or seeing how far you are from an enemy due to unclear draw distance. And let’s be honest, Mario’s 3d-outings aren’t perfect in that regard either, which is why until Odyssey, his recent 3d-outings were designed with a more 2d-sensibility. I can see 3d-platformers surviving if the main focus was on things other than precision platforming like Spyro or most of Rare’s N64 lineup, but definitely not when they’re designed like Crash. And while the third game mitigates some of those problems with new power-ups, the introduction of other extraneous gameplay elements puts the franchise in a “one-step forward, one-step to the side where you end up in another deadly area” direction altogether.

So on the whole, buy the game if you wish, as it’s only forty bucks at launch so you won’t lose too much money. However, try not to remember only the good things about this series, because I’ve been informed that Activision and Vicarious Visions are looking to make more Crash games thanks to the success of the N Sane Trilogy, and I’d rather see the warts ironed out without devolving into the mediocrity that Crash fell into after going third-party.

Additional Quips

  • When I say I was into Spyro, I mean Ripto’s Rage and Year of the Dragon. The first game aged poorer than the first Crash.
  • Keep in mind I haven’t played the Sly Cooper games yet.

5 responses to “Video Game Review: Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy — How Do You Land This Thing?

    • Cold Hard Crash from Crash 2 sucked. That one level in Crash 1 where you had to bounce on three candle sticks that WILL burn you was bad. Crash 3…probably the motorcycle levels. You have to drive perfectly just to get the crystal.

  1. I did a replay of old Playstation games a few years ago. And boy, with the nostalgia goggles off, I actually shocked me how poorly most of them aged. Even most of the classics(including MGS, FF, RE, Crash, FM) have some seriously dated elements, from graphics to gameplay. Never notice that as a kid. And no, they don’t really have an excuse: N64 games aged extremely well. In fact, I find most SNES games aged better, outside of the high difficulties and stupidly high random encounter rate.

    Ironically, games that were criticized at the time for being old fashioned like suikoden actually aged better. Really make you realize how much hype and technological showcase can warp people’s perception. How many people these days still say: “every game should have motion control”. I still remember that time when the Wii come out. Truly the dark age for me, who don’t give a damn about swinging the controller around.

    • It’s a little ironic that N64 games have aged better gameplay-wise (not so much graphic-wise, because Goldeneye looks like the characters just came out of a warzone) considering the lower power that cartridges had until Nintendo started to use flash memory for the Switch and such, which was a factor into why the Playstation did so well in that generation.

  2. I seriously want to go back and play 100’s of old games but yeah. Not even a 10th of them can hold my attention span as they used to as a kid. I’m 21 now and it’s depressing. Crash Team Racing + Spyro 1-2-3 will always have a special place in my heart.

    I do like to get my little brother playing Portal 1 though and he’s only 9 years old.

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