Spin to win
Crash always marched to the beat of a different drum — but unlike Bubsy, his drum wasn’t loaded with explosives, Keith Moon style. He rose above the drove of mascot platformers and literally clawed his way up to stardom. For a bit.
Now Crash is very much a relic of the past, a property that Activision parades out every so often to remind us that he exists. Until this week.
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Released: June 30, 2017
Well, he’s not back back. Just sorta back with a set of remakes of the original PlayStation games, all of which hold up, called the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. It’s handled by Vicarious Visions, a former port studio that has really come into its own as one of the several developers in charge of the Skylanders series.
Through their efforts Crash has been preserved without sacrificing its old school spirit. Pretty much everything is the same outside of the graphical overhaul, which goes above and beyond what normally goes into a remake/remaster. Everything from foliage to enemy designs to random backdrops have been retooled in an effort to make the visuals look up to date. Even the cutscenes have been remastered, which were amazing to watch given that I completely blanked on the plot of the first game (Crash was experimented on in a lab and has to save his girlfriend…like, what?!).
This might be a 3D series by trade, but it’s firmly rooted in old school platforming design. When the game isn’t whisking you off to literal 2D bonus stages it keeps things confined, ensuring that the player is always given a little freedom to roam, or at least the illusion of it. While a lot of people might consider that limited, it gives the series a different, razor-focused feel that a lot of bloated modern game design has forsaken. The first iteration is definitely more rough, especially early on, but it does hit its stride and by the time the second game rolls around they’ve gotten it together completely.
There’s going to be many opinions floating around regarding the voicework, but given that most of the cast is relegated to silly grunts and groans, I’m not too bothered. Well that, and several original cast members have returned — it’s expected that after 20 years they’d sound a little different. One notable upgrade is the evil Uka Uka, as John DiMaggio’s new material sounds much more fierce and formidable. Though I do prefer Clancy Brown’s Cortex over Lex Lang’s, the latter of whom has voiced the character since 2004, including this very trilogy.
The remade framework is well crafted too. Outside of some semi-lengthy load screens after picking a game, you can go right into the thick of each by skipping any cutscenes you want on top of an added auto-save feature. Thank God, you can also quit from any hub into the root menu and select a new game without being forced to hard reset.
All three games blend together in a way, and I mean that as a compliment. There are slight variations like vehicles, locales, bosses, and power-ups, but the Crash trilogy sort of just flows from start to finish, to the point where you’d almost believe it’s one giant game. That’s just as true today as it was over two decades ago.
They also have that perfect balance of never overstaying their welcome. Sure you can rush through each adventure in around five hours, but it’ll take you roughly double that to find all of the collectibles and secrets. Coco, Crash’s younger sister, is also playable throughout the entire trilogy for the first time. She doesn’t add much mechanically but she doesn’t take away anything either.
It’s a shame what happened to Crash. Although Naughty Dog moved on to bigger things, I wouldn’t necessarily call all of them better. The Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy serves as a time capsule of sorts before the series was ran into the ground, and my only major regret is that I wish it had CTR as the cherry on top.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]