Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is important but flawed

I don’t know why Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy exists.

I don’t mean it shouldn’t, it’s an all around solid remake/update of the original trilogy, I’m just not entirely sure who the target demographic is. It seems like it should be me; I grew up playing Crash Bandicoot, and was really looking forward to diving back in. Unfortunately, even my heavy nostalgia couldn’t prevent me from being disappointed by the archaic nature of the gameplay.

Replaying these important entries in the 3D platformer genre again is a very clear reminder of how far we’ve come since the Bandicoot’s first appearance more than 20 years ago in 1996. As fun as it was to see my wacky old friend again, Crash is definitely showing his age despite a robust facelift.

You can pick up this remastered collection for $40 on Newegg.

The legacy of Crash

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Crash Bandicoot in the annals of 3D gaming, and especially in the platforming genre.

Coming just before the North American release of classic platforming masterpiece Super Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot was Sony’s response to the Sonic and Marios of the world. Developer Naughty Dog (of more recent Uncharted and The Last of Us fame) was still a young studio, struggling to conceptualize how to utilize the power of the Playstation and its new 3D tech.

What they came up with was a strange, but for the time, compelling mix of a rear placed third person camera, a colorful tropical world, and a zany character that is very much a product of the “XTREME” nineties.

It was a smashing success, and launched Crash to the forefront of Sony’s marketing. It also brought Naughty Dog to the forefront of Sony’s Playstation software development portfolio. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the game and the character to the Playstation’s success and eventual dominance, despite the N64 being known as the platforming king thanks to Nintendo and Rare’s stellar efforts.

Crash Bandicoot was followed by Cortex Strikes Back in 1997, and Warped in 1998. All three games are included in the N. Sane Trilogy, with fully updated graphics and remastered sound.

Aged gameplay

I suspect most people reading this have already played Crash Bandicoot, so I’ll spare the details of the gameplay. It’s very much a platformer from its time, and that means plenty of jumping over obstacles and cliffs, breaking crates for collectibles (in this case, apples), simple boss battles, and 2D sections mixed in for some variety.

What set the first Crash Bandicoot apart from the multitude of generic platformers was the way the camera worked. Consoles were still struggling with the best way to handle 3D movement, and Naughty Dog went with an interesting approach. The camera moves behind Crash as he heads down corridor-like levels. Sometimes he’ll run toward the camera, like in a memorable segment early on where he’s being chased by a boulder Indiana Jones style. This camera placement, combined with quick jumps, unforgiving enemies, and countless obstacles added to the significant challenge. It was unlike anything seen on Playstation before.

Unfortunately, as compelling as this mix might have seemed in 1996, it simply has not aged well. That’s subjective of course, but even through the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia there’s no doubt the platforming is sloppy due to strangely unresponsive controls, and the character design is very much a relic of its time.

For example 1) Tawny, the creepily rendered female bandicoot and love interest of Crash-

No thank you.

The second game in the series, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is certainly an improvement over the original. The variation in environments alone adds a more dynamic feel, and make the world much more enjoyable to explore. The third game, Crash Bandicoot: Warped, is the best of the three with its fun time travel element, and includes plenty of opportunities to show off the stellar visual improvements made to this remaster.

The core gameplay is fundamentally the same throughout all three, and it’s quite flawed by modern standards. The controls are particularly egregious, with jumping made to feel delayed and stilted. Movement is all around imprecise, and that’s not helped by iffy hit box detection and particularly unforgiving platforming. I’m all for challenging games, but the challenge should never come from the controls being faulty.

It’s simply not very fun to play compared to any of the high quality modern platformers. That’s not always a fault of the game, blaming it for being antiquated is like saying a black and white movie is inferior because it doesn’t have color. That being said, something like Mario 64, which was released in the same year, has aged much more elegantly. That says something about the longevity of the Crash Bandicoot franchise gameplay.

Things are improved in the second and third game, but even so, Naughty Dog’s own Jak and Daxter (which they made after this trilogy and Crash Team Racing) are vastly superior in almost every regard. This second trilogy was created for the much more powerful Playstation 2, but that’s just the point. Why use the power of the Playstation 4 to play a rudimentary trilogy that was so heavily improved upon just a few years later?

This brings to question the point of remakes at all, which is a complex discussion. I’m in no way opposed to remakes or remasters. I’m firmly of the mind that redoing something in no way diminishes the original, but in this case, the original just isn’t that good.

Lookin’ good Crash

The shaky foundation on which the N. Sane Trilogy is built does not affect what an excellent job Vicarious Visions did with the conversion. It’s visually quite spectacular, and though you could argue the improved visual fidelity makes Crash Bandicoot an even sillier character, there’s no doubt that a great deal of work went into preserving the soul of the original games and modernizing the look and sound of the trilogy.

Crash Bandicoot has certainly never looked better, and there’s no question if you feel the need to play this geriatric trilogy, this collection clearly the way to do so.

It’s time to retire

As a collection of remastered games the N. Sane Trilogy is excellent; it’s just a shame these games can't overcome their antiquated roots.

Crash Bandicoot is an extremely important franchise, and we wouldn’t have modern platformers without it. It was an important step toward greater things, the bedrock of a foundation that Naughty Dog and countless other studios used to reach loftier goals.

As a relic of gaming history it’s a fascinating collection, and now with its fresh, glossy paint job it’s prettier than ever. That doesn’t necessarily make it enjoyable to play however. Vicarious Visions did a stellar job of modernizing the look and feel of the Crash Bandicoot trilogy, but it seems more like a nostalgic throwback or a lesson in how far games have come than a viable modern platform collection.

Your work is done Crash Bandicoot, you can rest now.

If you want to pick up this collection, you can find it here for $40.