Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

The age of these games may occasionally jump forward, but classic platforming, when done right, has a gripping nature that is hard to erode, and in Crash N. Sane Trilogy it is still pretty vivid, even if it is at times clouded by a few issues

Crash Bandicoot is a bit of a gaming oddity. It was a platformer created during the generation that saw the emergence of 3-D gaming. Yet, unlike many of its peers, which used the newly found extra dimension to expand upon the boundaries of the genre, Naughty Dog’s wide-eyed marsupial chose to go the other way. While Mario, Rayman, Banjo, Donkey Kong, Conker, and many others were diving head first into wide open worlds to look for collectibles, hence completely abandoning the gameplay norm that had determined, back in the 2-D days, that titles of the kind had to involve traveling from the left to the right of the screen while avoiding gaps and foes, Crash opted to stand pat.

It is, quite obviously, a tridimensional game, for the character does move along a trio of axes as he traverses the stages that are part of his journey; however, the progression within them, rather than carrying the exploration component usually found in platformers of the time, is absolutely classic, because even if it does eventually present some hidden secrets or alternate rules, linearity towers overs it all.

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In hindsight, it is easy to understand why Crash Bandicoot is so unique within the canon of its generation. Released a few months after Super Mario 64, which taught the world how a 3-D platformer was meant to be done, it was – therefore – produced without the influence of that revolutionary title; as such, the charming old-school gameplay that is its signature is perfectly understandable, because – in a way – Naughty Dog was simply translating a play style from one universe to another without considering the possibilities of evolution the new perspective offered.

And while that simplicity drew a large audience, left strong marks and memories in those who grew up with the Playstation, and made it stand out from other games of its kind, which would go on to be produced with Super Mario 64 in mind, in the current gaming scenario it poses a slight problem to Crash N. Sane Trilogy, the remake of the first three games of the series, which were released for Sony’s console between 1996 and 1998.

That problem stems from how being a linear 3-D platformer is not exactly special anymore; Mario himself, with the Super Mario Galaxy pair and Super Mario 3D World, has recently traveled down that road only to come out with spectacular results. Consequently, Crash N. Sane Trilogy cannot – by any means – rely on the quirkiness of its classic gameplay.

It has to prove itself via the quality of the three titles it presents and how they are to be received by a modern audience; one that did not, perhaps, have contact with the character during his original run and might, due to that, not have its vision clouded by nostalgia. And the results of that evaluation are mixed. Not because a modern point of view reveals flaws that were not there in the first place or because Crash has lost his luster; in fact, when the character is firing on all cylinders the playing of this trilogy reaches high levels of satisfaction. But because the trio of games is simply quite irregular.

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Events start unfolding when Doctor Neo Cortex, a super intelligent human being who endured a great share of bullying during his youth, is conducting experiments alongside his partner, Doctor Nitrus Brio. Their plan is pretty simple: on an island close to Australia, the duo intends to capture members of the local fauna and then, using two distinct devices, give them strength and make them mindlessly obey Cortex, thereby forming an army destined to dominate the world. It all goes sour, however, when a couple of bandicoots are exposed to the powerful rays when these are not yet ready. The animals gain strength, but lack obedience.

Crash, the male bandicoot, jumps out of the window of the lab and, knowing that the animal is bound to return to rescue his still-captive girlfriend, Cortex tries to stop his quest while preparing for his eventual arrival. And Crash N. Sane Trilogy tracks the rivalry between scientist and marsupials (Crash and his sister, Coco, which is also playable) through those occurrences, which give shape to the original Crash Bandicoot, as well as through the happenings of its two sequels: Cortex Strikes Back and Warped.

At their hearts, all three episodes carry the same essence. Crash is a hero of relatively limited moves. In the first game, he can only jump and unleash his signature spin attack; and in Cortex Strikes Back he also gains the ability to perform a body slam towards the ground and execute a slide, which when preceding the jumping action causes the character to gain extra altitude. And these skills are employed in the navigation of levels that are positively straightforward.

Shaped like corridors, they are sequences of traps that need to be avoided, jumps that demand careful execution, and a nice array of foes that is wisely utilized to make tight segments even tenser, big gaps even more daunting, and deadly gadgets even more likely to kill. Out of that simplicity, the trilogy extracts a good deal of variety. The hallway-like design of the stages sometimes gives way to sidecrolling segments. Furthermore, even when that particular corridor structure – which is one of the franchise’s defining traits – is used, the three games still find ways to add new spices to the mixture by either making Crash ride animals that relentlessly run forward while obstacles approach quickly or by sending the character towards the screen, rather than away from it, as snowballs or wild beasts chase him down.

With twenty-eight levels, including an optional one that had been cut from the original release due to its brutal difficulty, Crash Bandicoot – the first piece of the trilogy – is by far the most flawed game of the bunch; so much, in fact, that it is arguably borderline bad. Sure, it has plenty of nice ideas, and its stages carry setups that are interesting enough. But its flaws are so absurdly abundant that the good intentions it has are frequently overtaken by primary game design issues.

Most of these are related to how tough its quest is. Being hard is – by no means – inherently negative, and Crash Bandicoot is right to embrace notably high difficulty from the get go, as even its earliest stages located in the first of its three worlds pack a punch, but when brutality is accompanied by a myriad of design choices that seem more destined to infuriate than to challenge, one cannot help but feel extremely frustrated.

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As it happens in all games, Crash is instantly killed by whatever he touches, save for when he is holding one or two tribal masks, which can either be found inside a few crates located around the stages or are freely given to him if the game notices players are dying way too much. Given the character’s fragile nature, developers should have been careful with checkpoint placement, because sometimes long segments of mean platforming are cleared without relief in sight, forcing players to replay lengthy tense sequences if they make the tiniest of mistakes.

That kind of irregularity is also vividly present in other areas of the game: the difficulty curve of the adventure is all over the place, as there is no steady progression in the degree of challenge and sometimes it seems stages just had their order randomized; the size of the levels themselves is equally wild, as some of them are just too big for their own sake, especially when the scarce checkpoints are considered; and stages that have Crash either running towards the screen or riding an animal that cannot be stopped often degenerate into trial and error, as obstacles come into sight without giving players time to react properly.

Although annoying, these problems are – in a way – manageable, because lack of relief and trial and error were features that existed in most old-school platformers, even those that were highly regarded, and players that went through the days of 2-D gaming will be able to handle them and find enjoyment in Crash Bandicoot. However, the game also suffers from a pair of flaws that cannot be excused or overlooked.

Firstly, its fixed camera makes it impossible to judge the depth of some jumps, making players have to rely on Crash’s shadow to know when they have reached the target platform, and some stages suffer from that major oversight from their beginning to their end. Secondly, and more gravely, there is the fact that while in its Playstation release Crash Bandicoot had physics that differed considerably from that of its two sequels, in this package Vicarious Visions retroactively applied the physics of Cortex Strikes Back and Warped to the original, leading many of its jumps to feel off. Crash simply lacks the forward momentum to make it over some of the game’s gaps easily, as they were not adapted to his new athleticism, and that brings forth various occasions when it feels like he should have made it to the other side but ends up falling to his death instead.

Save for the last one, all the problems that plague Crash Bandicoot do appear in Cortex Strikes Back and Warped. These two titles have trial and error, irregular checkpoint placement, a wild difficulty curve, deaths that seem unfair, and fixed cameras that act against depth perception. However, all of these are considerably less common, rarely appearing with enough prominence to ruin one’s enjoyment of these two good games. Additionally, frustration originating from punctual design issues is unusual because Cortex Strikes Back and Warped are, for many reasons, generous quests.

The configuration of their overworlds, which use separate rooms for every set of five stages, allows gamers to choose the order in which the courses will be tackled, therefore letting them take a temporary break from a level that is giving them trouble. Moreover, helpful collectibles like lives, tribal masks, and wumpa fruits, which produce an extra life when one hundred are collected, show up with greater frequency; as a consequence, starting levels from scratch due to silly mistakes or an inappropriate camera angle does not happen so often.

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To top it all off, short bonus segments – which are filled with lives and wumpa fruits and are present in all levels, being reached by very visible special platforms – are much easier to access. In Crash Bandicoot, those can only be entered if three tokens are gathered, and these can sometimes be placed in very dangerous locations; however, in Cortex Strikes Back and Warped all one has to do is find the platform, which is an easy task. Improvements such as those are also felt in the boss battles that wrap up the worlds.

In the original game, enjoying those encounters, which are surprisingly creative, is tough because – as it happens in its stages – gameplay issues make controlling the fragile Crash in the midst of incoming attacks too stressful; in the sequels, on the other hand, a sober level of challenge paired up with the extra polish the two titles present make these high-stakes moments come off as actually entertaining, even if at times – ironically – they can be too easy.

In general, Cortex Strikes Back easily appears as the best game in the collection; an unsurprising statement considering it is the installment that is most intimately tied to the memories players have of the character. It is clear that, during its development, the ideas Naughty Dog had employed on Crash Bandicoot reached their full maturity. As such, levels feel more creative, as new obstacles, enemies, and moves come into play; gameplay is much tighter, as the faults of the prequel are reduced albeit not eliminated; and a greater deal of variety is found, be it thanks to how the levels alternate more often between standard corridors, running towards the screen, riding animals, and sidescrolling, or due to how scenarios embrace a wider palette of environments.

The sole new feature that seems to work against the game is how in Cortex Strikes Back, for plot-related reasons, Crash must collect a pink crystal in every level. Although the item is always easy to reach, it can sometimes be forgotten or simply not seen; as, occasionally, it visually merges with the scenery. Therefore, from time to time, gamers will have to replay stages because they did not pick it up, an odd turn of events that comes from how it simply is quite awkward and unnecessary to implement a mandatory collectible on a linear game whose focus is reaching the end of the courses.

Warped struggles with that same problem as well; in fact, all that is said about Cortex Strikes Back also applies to it. Nevertheless, the game, for a number of reasons, comes off as a lesser effort than its direct prequel. Its time-traveling motif paves the way to a lot of incredible scenarios, such as ancient Egypt, a futuristic metropolis, and a Jurassic jungle, and these are especially beautiful due to how Vicarious Visions – through the entirety of the three games – did a spectacular job in giving life to their lush landscapes. Nevertheless, that creativity employed in the construction of settings is lacking in the level design front, for it is rare, regardless of format, to find a stage in Warped that can be compared to those of Cortex Strikes Back.

In addition, the game is sometimes way too easy and it tries to pull off new tricks that, although worthy, do not produce significant results and feel half-baked. Vehicle-based stages, for example, which have Crash participating in a race aboard a motorcycle, tackling dogfights, or riding a boat through pirate territory are lackluster, and it feels like they are taking the place of more traditional stages that would have certainly been more fun. Furthermore, as a major oversight, after beating each boss, Crash and his sister always gain access to a new move; unfortunately, those are never used in significant ways, which points to either laziness or absence of careful planning.

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Simply beating the three games and the over seventy regular stages present in Crash N. Sane Trilogy should not take the average gamer more than ten hours, and a good slice of that time will be spent in the original Crash Bandicoot thanks to its brutal difficulty. However, all games present a solid layer of extra content.

Once levels are cleared, they can be replayed in time trials fashion and, according to the result that is achieved, gamers are rewarded with relics of different ranks: Sapphire, Gold, and Platinum. Moreover, all levels have one or more colored gems waiting to be collected, and these can be acquired in numerous ways. White gems require that Crash complete the levels while breaking all crates. Colored gems, meanwhile, which are exclusive to a handful of stages, are locked behind various distinct goals: in the original Crash Bandicoot, gamers need to break all crates and not lose a single life while doing so; in Cortex Strikes Back, they can be gotten by performing tasks such as not breaking any crates at all or finding secret paths; in Warped, they lie at the end of alternate routes. These challenges extend the game’s life to a satisfying degree, and although the extra content of the first game is not exactly welcoming to all due its problems and difficulty, the collectibles of Cortex Strikes Back and Warped are universally appealing.

Born during a generation when linear progression among tridimensional platformers was rare, Crash N. Sane Trilogy arrives to discover a market where its gameplay style is now in vogue. And, as a consequence of its irregularity, if gamers want to experience adventures that have an old-school obstacle-clearing nature inside 3-D scenarios, there are certainly a good number of far better options than the three games included in the package. That, however, does not mean this remastered trilogy amounts to a bad purchase.

Whether one has nostalgic memories tied to the character’s Playstation titles or has only heard of the energetic marsupial and the mark he left in the gaming lives of those who grew up with the system, there is – to different degrees, obviously – enjoyment to be found here. The original Crash Bandicoot reveals itself to be a rather problematic effort, one that is more anger-inducing than it is fun, but Cortex Strikes Back and Warped are solid platformers with a lot of charm and content. Their age may occasionally jump forward, but classic platforming, when done right, has a gripping nature that is hard to erode, and in Crash N. Sane Trilogy it is still pretty vivid, even if it is at times clouded by a few issues.

Final Score: 6 – Good

5 thoughts on “Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

    1. Fair enough. I think it is a style that can produce some nice levels, most of which are in Cortex Strikes Back, but – like you – I will take Mario any day.

    1. I can see why someone would consider Warped to be the best in the series, but I was really bothered by the vehicle-based stages and by how some of the levels – even towards the end of the game – are too easy.

      Yeah, I don’t think the games have aged that well. I wonder if that is because when I was younger the only Crash game I played with some dedication was Cortex Strikes Back. And, even in that case, I never got around to finishing it.

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