It’s safe to say that I was nervous starting up N-Sane Trilogy.
The Crash Bandicoot series holds a strange sacredness to most gamers, being one of the first few games many will have tried. Personally, it sits in a small hole in my childhood where my brothers and I would gather around the PS1 to play both Crash and Spyro. Both series fell away into obscurity, with the last Crash game in 2010.
Games which sit that far back in your memory develop a strange nostalgia, making them seem far superior than they ever were. They play smoother, look better and hold up far better in this old mysterious ideal than they would do today. Many times I have picked up games I have a deep nostalgia for: Spyro, Dark Chronicle and Super Mario Sunshine to name a few. None have held up to the pseudo-reality I made.
Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy is no exception to this. Nostalgia is the only driving factor which has caused this remaster to exist and that alone does not make this game good. It doesn’t cover up those old frustrations and limiting design choices under a 4K sheen, and the longer I play this game the more apparent this has become that while this game has sensibly picked authenticity over improvement that was not always the better choice.
So for the six of you on planet Earth who have never heard of Crash Bandicoot, you play as the lovable ginger bandicoot who doubles as your hero. You platform across multiple levels from your limited 3D perspective collecting crystals, breaking open boxes, collecting fruit, beating bosses and generally moving towards the goal of defeating your enemy Dr Neo Cortex.
On paper the trilogy offers you plenty for the budding nostalgic fan: Completely rebuilt game from the ground up to include 4K textures; extra animations not only for Crash himself but for enemies; remastered soundtrack which differs little from the original, all over the first three games in the Crash series. Plenty to get your teeth in and all for the price of one AAA game.
In the interest of honesty, I do have to say that washing up on the N. Sanity beach was a serious trip. The game now looks and sounds like the game in your head. Just traversing that first level filled me with such joy and all the levels are visually gorgeous from the lush starting jungles through to the underwater sections of the third game. It’s not just a texture enhancement either; the lighting, shadows, weather, foliage and minor blur all push the PS4 to its limit to give you the prettiest game I have seen in a while despite the locked 30FPS framerate.
There are a few extra benefits which you will appreciate. Firstly a complete save and autosave feature has been added to ease the burden of remembering to save or writing down those damn passwords. Gems are now earned by collecting crates now regardless of how many times you die. Most importantly, Crash’s sister Coco has been added as a playable character in all the games, and while she doesn’t differ from Crash by much it’s a nice little addition to make you feel like this game is not just a reskinning.
But these extras, plentiful as they are, do not cover the fact that Vicarious Visions were limited by the feel of the Crash games and that any improvements to the gameplay and level design were pretty much off the table. This is especially obvious in the first game, where the slightest twitch on the analogue stick can cause Crash to slip off a ledge to his death.
This is partly due to the games themselves and partly due to the control. The games themselves vary anyway in quality, with the original Crash Bandicoot being slower and just of poorer quality than the other two. Its level design was limited, choosing to increase the number of enemies rather than use more challenging puzzles to increase its difficulty. But that original feel and gameplay just doesn’t hold up nowadays.
This control scheme doesn’t help this either. Full analogue control feels unwieldy in this game, especially when the game cuts to a 2.5D view and you can fall off the forward and back of a platform still. The D-Pad controls, unlike the original, feel too soft for the precision movement Crash requires to land in the more difficult sections of the game. This isn’t helped by the fact that the new game has a quicker jump arc for Crash, and his hitbox is more pill-shaped meaning you will slide off the bloody platform constantly.
N-Sane Trilogy sits in a strange and uncomfortable position. Vicarious Vision clearly did not want to break what was never broken, and in doing so they have brought a wondrous new breath of life to a very old game series which we all love-or-hate with nary between those two. This gives two full hands; one full of reverence to the wonderful-yet-frustrating gameplay of a childhood memory, the other reminding you of the limitations Naughty Dog had to deal with 20 years ago just trying to get the game to work.
The best way to play this is to just skip Crash Bandicoot and just play through 2 and 3 which handily outdo the first in every way. In that regard, N-Sane Trilogy is a solid collection giving you plenty for your money. While the value is wonderful you do have to deal with all the same faults the original games have hidden well behind nostalgia, with a few new ones added for good measure such as the new jump and those damn load times.
Is it worth it? That I find very hard to determine. If you liked Crash as a child, it is safe to say that you will continue enjoying it. If you hated Crash as a child, his 4K trainers will not convince you otherwise now. This is, at its simplest, a game reskinned in 4K with a few extra additions. That doesn’t make it bad, far from it. But those of you who were hoping this was going to be the perfect nostalgia trip will be sorely mistaken. This strange middle ground between remake and remaster earns a solid 7 for bringing such a lovable character to the modern console despite the limitations set by bringing such a well-beloved and old game forward.
Now if they could just do the same for Spyro…