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.

Shawn Layden walking alongside Crash’s shadow when the bandicoot’s comeback was announced during E3 2016

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.

The positives

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.

Comparison between old and new designs of Crash, Coco, Tiny, N. Brio, N. Gin, Uka Uka, and Koala Kong

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.

Remade version of ‘Gee Wiz’ (Level 6, Crash Bandicoot: Warped)

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.

The negatives

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.

Comparisons between the original and new versions of Generator Room and Uka Uka’s debut

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.

Ripper Roo (left) and Dingodile (right)

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.

Hint: These hints are only useful for discovering the secrets in Cortex Strikes Back

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.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. I want Crash back. It’s not like I actually care for the Crash games, because I’ll be honest, I don’t- I just want there to be more quality 3D platformers once more, especially since so many 3D platforming franchises have been taking to 2D game design in recent years.

  2. I enjoyed Crash 1 and 2 back in the 1990s. But I also enjoyed Hypercolor sweatshirts and POGs and Ecto Cooler and those snap wrist bracelets that killed a kid once. Just because I enjoyed them then doesn’t mean they were good or that I’d like them now.

  3. I would love a new Crash game. But please don’t try to be modern or anything like Knack. Really, all I want is just a game like 2 or 3 with next gen graphics.

  4. Munjeera

    Wow! I learned so much!

  5. Amyus

    Admittedly a completely new world for me as I’ve never played ‘Crash Bandicoot’, but a fun read all the same and obviously written with a great deal of enthusiasm for the subject. As Munjeera commented – I learned so much! By the way, was the ‘…filled to the grim’ a crafty pun? If so; I liked it!

  6. Crash 2 was my first game for the PS1, and also one of my favorites. Well, first full game. My house initially got a PS1 because my dad thought the Independence Day game looked cool, and my sister got to play the demo that came with it which included Tekken 2 (you could play as Paul or Kazuya) and like 1 level from SSX Tricky.

    And I was hot off Nintendo, so this meant when I finally saved enough allowance money I bought Crash 2, but no memory card. So I left that shit on and got to saving while playing. Made it all the way up to Tiny before my mom accidentally shut the game off. Cried so hard she bought me Croc.

    • plolome

      SSX wasn’t until PS2. Are you thinking Coolboarders? I loved that game. You could charge up flips and spins for a mile before the jump and land crazy 14,400 degree tricks. Also Croc was great. “Kapoof, kapow, kasplat!”

  7. Free-birdy

    New games are great. Great games are even better. But at the same time it is a good thing to pay respect to history.

    I have been waiting a long, long time for a re-remake of the Resident Evil game. Resident Evil is a great game, and I love to see great games in new clothes.

    At the same time we can’t keep screaming for remakes of older games! We need new ideas, the game industry hasn’t stagnated, has it? We haven’t come to a time where every possibly game has been created? Do we need new remakes? I still own all of my older consoles thus I have the possibility to play ’em over and over and over.

  8. Gino Aiello

    I vote for some new Jak’s instead. Can’t really do much with a character like Crash.

  9. Please bring Crash back. I would go crazy for a new Crash game.

  10. Give me another Spyro The Dragon game, screw Crash Bandicoot.

    • I second that, Legend of Spyro : Dawn of the Dragons for Wii was pretty cool. Bring back Spyro please.

    • Dl-Toro

      activision will never give up spyro now that he’s in skylanders. Crash at least has a chance of revival

    • Spyro is coming!!!
      Did you check the trailer?

  11. Brain Cary

    Crash Bandicoot was the first ever game i played on the (then) new Sony Playstation, 2 decades and 4 generations of consoles later im still playing my games on Sony machines. I think if im honest today Crash has had his day (for me atleast) however i do have very fond memories of the orange critter.

  12. Activision did an awesome job with Crash Bandicoot

  13. A G Macdonald

    I wanted to believe that the Crash Bandicoot Remaster was perfect. I think perhaps the nostalgia was kicking in; plus seeing Crash in all his HD glory. You raised some really interesting points and while it is an amazing remaster (and game in general), there are some flaws in it (which I suppose is true of any game).

  14. Noel Crisp

    I they did an old school one, it would be pretty cool. I wouldn’t mind a new Crash game.

  15. Myrtice

    Why can’t they just make something new instead?

  16. If they just flooded the market with constant mediocre Crash games (think: the struggling Sonic franchise) then I’d say let the legacy rest while the fond memories still outnumber the bad ones. But in general I don’t mind a franchise as long as the market isn’t inundated with forced sequels regardless of quality.

  17. Nothing wrong with having more Crash games….

  18. It would be nice to see more high quality 3D platformers to compete with each other.

  19. Some of the newer games were pretty good, but please no more Activision published games…

  20. Hope it is exclusive to the PS4 so it can be good.

  21. I haven’t personally played the new Crash game, but your opinion surrounding “cheap deaths” seems pretty universal to me. I wonder if part of the problem is that the structure (that is, the super dated game engines) of old games makes revising a remake difficult. I imagine that the “remake” more or less replicates the source game’s mechanics with the simple addition of higher quality graphics. While new features may be included, editing minor details such as visual-depth might seem inconsequential, if not altogether tedious.

    By all means, I agree with you – remakes tend to be lazy when it comes to enhancing game mechanics. But from an effort versus profitability outlook, I can understand why.

  22. It’s so colorfully nostalgic

  23. Christina Airola

    And now we have Spyro coming out this year! My childhood, MY CHILDHOOD!!

    It’s funny how playing these revivals puts into perspective all the things that were wrong with the game that we overlook due to nostalgia. I was recently replaying Kingdom Hearts on the PS4 and got so frustrated, I stopped playing in Tarzan’s freaking world. That’s pretty early on in the game. I remember that game being tough, but I didn’t remember it being THAT tough. I guess my love for the game won out over my frustration–even though the story makes absolutely no sense.

    Oh, how age changes perspective.

  24. Ah Crash Bandicoot! The some of the early 2000s games hold a place in my heart – especially Tag Team Racing and Wrath of Cortex, but I felt with the recent installments (Crash of the Titans, Mind over Mutants, etc), the games just lost that feel I had felt with the older games. Although I haven’t played the direct originals, but I didn’t feel a large shift in the style between Wrath of Cortex and Twinsanity, and it never came back. This analysis has made me want to play the new trilogy – because Crash Bandicoot is honestly one of my favourite childhood videogames.

  25. You do a great job at capturing a lot of the pros and cons that I felt about the game. I was both skeptical and excited when I heard that Crash was being re-made. As I played through it, I felt incredibly nostalgic but also really felt that the game had been missing something, or strayed a bit too far from the previous 2.

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