Crash Bandicoot Teaches A Thing Or Two About Revivals
It seems normal nowadays that beloved works come back from the dead in the form of a remake, reboot, or mere revival. Sony seems to have taken a note or two about the demand for these comebacks, as Sly Cooper returned with a fourth installment in 2013, Wipeout is getting a comeback, and a PS4 remake of the PS1 Crash Bandicoot trilogy would soon follow, ending the orange marsupial’s near decade-long hiatus.
The N. Sane Trilogy, developed by Vicarious Visions, faithfully recreates Naughty Dog’s classics from scratch, with the originals only serving as visual aid. The presentation has been revamped to reintroduce Crash to a contemporary audience.
In their modern incarnations, the games remain linear 3D platformers filled to the grim with challenging and rewarding gameplay, a poppy and melodious soundtrack full of earworms, and charming aesthetics and characters. The first game of the trio remains the hardest, as well as the most simplistic, with the player’s only way of moving around tight platforms and defeating enemies being by jumping and spinning. The refinements made in Cortex Strikes Back are kept intact; the introduction of the Warp Room that allows players to have more freedom in terms of progression, more variety in terms of enemies and obstacles to avoid, an expanded arsenal for Crash (slides, crawls, and belly flops on top of jumping and spinning, not to mention all of the move combinations), cleverer secrets and a more balanced difficulty. Finally, the polishing in Warped is still included in all its glory, with a more creative and diverse set of levels that takes full advantage of the time-travelling premise, a memorable set of boss battles with neat build-up, and an even bigger set of attacks that is composed of power-ups you acquire beating a boss like in Mega Man.
Despite being relatively the same as they were in the 90s, the games feel more connected, which is mainly due to similar physics and graphics. The shift from Crash 1 to Crash 2 does not feel nearly as radical as the PS1 originals, which might make it a bit harder for a newcomer to appreciate Crash 2, but the newfound consistency in how the games feel and play is a welcomed addition.
The modernised designs of the cast feel like they were the product of the series evolving under Naughty Dog’s supervision. They are not only very faithful to the original designs, but the characters have more personality and are generally more expressive due to the cartoony approach. It fits with the tone of the game and it makes the characters likeable and memorable. While the hired voice actors were only involved with the franchise after Naughty Dog’s departure, most of the performances sound similar to the originals and faithfully deliver most of the old lines while adding their own spin to it.
The presentation is top notch, and embodies a natural sense of progression reminiscent of the Pokemon generations that have been remade. The scenery is gorgeously colourful and can very much be a distraction when playing. Most levels feature breathtaking usage of saturation and lighting. There are a lot of seemingly minuscule details added to the overall package that are very nice once you notice them. For example, bouncy crates are now small wooden cages with visible Wumpa fruit inside instead of regular crates without a physical quirk, and the prisoners in the level Slippery Climb, shadowy beings in the original version, are actually lanky old men. Immersive and part of the Crash Bandicoot charm, there are tons of these added touches present throughout the trilogy. The audio is capable of matching what the PS1 had to offer in terms of quality. Most of the music tracks have a healthy balance between being similar to the originals and spicing the tone up with new instrumentals, which makes the listening experience simultaneously fresh and familiar to nostalgic players.
The gameplay is the core of the games’ value. It is still simple to learn, and still tricky to master, It is just as much of a blast as it was twenty years ago. The level design might feel archaic in certain areas, but it still excels in testing the player’s skills and offers various opportunities at using every move at your disposal, adding a layer of strategy to an otherwise straightforward style. Most enemies have different patterns from one another, and if they hail from one of the sequels, they might have to be defeated through a method other than jumping or spinning. All of the secrets and alternate paths scattered across several levels are still present, preventing the journey from being monotonous upon playing for the second time. To spice things up even further, all three games still have the levels that differ from the main platforming ones, ranging from riding an animal to arcade-style plane stages.
The original Crash games admittedly have an old school vibe even with a new coat of paint, and they might feel dated and make people turn away from the game as a result, especially if this is someone’s introduction to the bandicoot’s antics. However, the N. Sane Trilogy still tweaked some elements to improve the experience and to differentiate it from the originals. One notable improvement is the autosave feature, which applies to all three games. It is a godsend for the first Crash game specifically, as it replaces the unnecessarily niche save system found in the original title.
Coco, Crash’s sister, is also fully playable for the first time, and she is no downgrade. Indeed, she is capable of performing the same moves as her brother, has her own charming idle animations, is also a victim of comical slapstick when she loses a life, and she even gets to keep her exclusive levels in Warped. The only areas of the game where she isn’t playable are most boss battles and some levels that lack traditional platforming. While playing as Coco does not change how the game functions, it is nice to see that Vicarious Visions made an effort to discuss Coco’s previously superficial playability, a common criticism towards the franchise’s earlier games.
Elements previously only present in Warped were also added to the first two games, which are the ability to go through a time trial in every level, and being able to see the crate count, number of lives left, Wumpa fruit count, and the acquired crystals and gems. The former adds more replay value, while the latter makes navigating through levels much less of a chore for completionists.
Although the N. Sane Trilogy hits bull’s eye in many aspects, there are still questionable design choices. There were changes to some of the controls and the feeling of how the games play, which are both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, there is no harsh learning curve when hopping from one game to the next. However, this results in all three games suffering similar gameplay issues, namely the jumping mechanics, which require much more precision than the originals. Crash’s hitbox has changed, which makes him prone to slipping off the edges of platforms where he would’ve landed safely upon jumping in the originals. This issue is usually mildly frustrating, but can turn into a trial and error situation, especially in some of the harder sections of the trilogy, like The High Road in Crash 1 and Cold Hard Crash in Cortex Strikes Back.
The time trials, while a neat addition in theory, can become a huge burden for those that collect platinum trophies, because the first two Crash games were not designed with races against the clock in mind. On the contrary, some levels were designed with a focus on the virtue of patience, which tremendously hinders attempts at getting the best time possible in a level. Even with Warped, there are some time trials that are noticeably more frustrating, such as the secret level Ski Crazed, due to the time trial’s difficulty being yanked up by the more clumsy way the jet ski levels play, as well as the remade trilogy’s new hitboxes.
Being more lighthearted than the originals, the N. Sane Trilogy’s goofier animations and sounds do benefit the new tone approached by the developers, but some parts like the screens in Generator Room from Crash 1 where Cortex stares at the player and Uka Uka’s introduction in Warped are crippled by the game’s dedication to the cartoony style because they lose their ominous and intimidating natures established in the originals. Some pieces of the soundtrack also fall victim to the newfound lightheartedness. Stages like Slippery Climb and the temple levels from the first game are still blessed with tunes that are catchy and well-composed on their own, but fail at their job at immersing the player into the stressful and fearful atmosphere these levels are meant to project. Granted, the shift of tones does not feel nearly as insulting as iffy traits of other remakes, like the downgraded atmosphere of the Silent Hill collection or the more superficially ‘realistic’ approach that Conker Live & Reloaded took, but it can feel a bit jarring.
Despite the huge focus on giving all three games the same feel, there are details that feel contradictory to the aforementioned consistency. Some outdated design choices found in the originals still pertain to the remakes, most notably the depth perception that can result into a few cheap deaths. It also makes backtracking, a required task for a few levels in all three games to collect all the gems, feel like you’re walking in a minefield, because the way the camera is fixed prevents the player from seeing most obstacles from behind. The alternate gameplay styles are also inconsistent in quality when compared to the originals. The plane levels in Warped are massive improvements, while Coco’s jet ski levels in the same game control in a more clunky way, making a chore out of simple tasks like riding the jet ski through a tight space or trying to smash a crate.
The pacing also feels weird in certain areas, mostly with the boss battles. Some of them have intros that felt slower than the originals, like Ripper Roo in Crash 1 and N. Tropy in Warped, while others’ intros are seemingly shorter, like Dingodile, also in Warped. All of the bosses that had dialogue when you defeated them, with the exception of N. Tropy, no longer say those lines, which is a confusing choice as there is no particular reason to remove them.
On the more nitpicky side, the effort of bringing the old performances back to life is admirable, but there are some characters that sound odd, namely Ripper Roo having a goofy-sounding laugh instead the iconic hyena laughter from Lady and the Tramp and Dingodile having a deeper voice instead of the raspy tone his original version had. Their voices are fitting nonetheless, but the drastic changes can feel underwhelming. There are other minor vocal changes, mainly the knights in the medieval levels and the stone-carrying enemies in the Great Wall of China levels (all found in Warped) not having their trademark grunts anymore.
Finally, there is the opening where Crash modernizes himself by hopping into a machine which, while heartwarming and joyful, cannot be skipped, while short introductory animations can be skipped. There are also the loading times, which are not very long, but feel like an eternity compared to the original games. They also give out ridiculous hints that either revolve around a mechanic any decently competent player can figure out, or spoil how a level or boss fight works.
Despite some issues, the game is the best Crash has been since Crash Team Racing, and is a solid set of remakes overall. The positives include a bringing a seemingly dead franchise back to life with passion and care, while the negatives include some awkward changes to the controls and pointless retouches to the atmosphere. All of these aspects, good or bad, can make the game a perfect blueprint of how to awaken a long-lost video game series from its slumber. What it did right is a great example to follow, while what it did wrong can teach a thing or two about polishing and changing certain elements, even if those are flaws are hardly deal breakers.
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