Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy Reminds Us How Hard Games Used To Be [PSX 2016 Hands-On]

Like most video game fans my age, I have strong nostalgia for the 3D Mascot Platformer. Sly Cooper, Crash Bandicoot, Billy Hatcher, Ratchet & Clank, Jak and Daxter, the 3D Sonic games, Banjo-Kazooie, many of my contemporaries at least recognize these names — with Crash Bandicoot arguably standing above them all in terms of iconography. Now, I was always a Sly Cooper man, but I won’t deny Crash its well-earned place in popular gaming culture.

The team at Vicarious Visions would like you to believe that “Crash is back,” and they’re right — in a circuitous, roundabout manner. The Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy contains the first three Crash Bandicoot games, so yes, Crash is back. There’s also brand new Crash Bandicoot content — he’s also in the latest (and probably last) Skylanders game. But this is not a brand-new Crash Bandicoot designed for modern sensibilities. There’s no denying the work put into making these games look amazing once again, but Crash Bandicoot isn’t the most exciting platformer you could be playing right now.

Let me preface every criticism I have by acknowledging that game design has come a long way in the years since the first Crash Bandicoot, and a faithful remake will always reflect the design sensibilities of the era. I get that. But the game is also being sold (albeit at a budget $40 price) in the modern era. Whatever Crash may have been, today’s standards require a different class of game. Playing the original Crash Bandicoot today, I found the game to be endearing, yet frustrating.

I must put additional emphasis on the specificity of the word “frustrating” — I don’t think Crash Bandicoot is too hard, but rather that it often requires very specific timing without giving players the tools to properly execute jumps. Pressing in a direction on the d-pad or the thumbstick during a jump often pushed Crash too far from his intended landing spot, leading to another death. During my demo, I noticed significant latency, but that could just be a side-effect of setting up a demo station at a convention. The TV could already have lag issues, the game mode could’ve been deactivated, there are all kinds of variables.

You can’t quite blame the TV on the pacing of the game, however. I never felt like I had a consistent momentum, often stopping entirely to get the lay of the land. That’s not unique to Crash Bandicoot by any means, but since there’s so little on screen at any point, every obstacle is followed by Crash screeching to a halt while the player either plans ahead or curses the death they just earned by not planning. Then you make your move (or respawn), and repeat for the next obstacle. I’m not against a slower-paced platformer, but I feel like players might want to know what they’re in for, should they return to Crash.

Even with all these issues, it’s hard to ignore the sheer volume of charm emanating from Crash Bandicoot. Its PlayStation 1-era “attitude” has aged surprisingly well, escaping the same trap that caught many of its contemporaries. It’s less “in-your-face” and more “irreverent” — that may not be for everyone, but at least it doesn’t feel out of place in 2016.

The game also looks fantastic; boasting vibrant, brilliant colors that bolster the game’s strong animations. Although Vicarious Visions has taken great pains to recreate the game almost “shot for shot,” the team was given some leeway to change small things, like camera angles. I personally couldn’t make out a difference between the two versions, but I have faith in the studio’s reinterpretation. This is a very good looking video game, certainly a case where the remaster captures the game you thought you were seeing through younger eyes.

Although a lot of work has clearly gone into remaking the first three Crash Bandicoot games, I’m almost more interested in tracking down the PlayStation 1 originals, to see how they’ve aged without any help. If you’ve played the Crash Bandicoot games to death, I’m sure this will be a perfect curio. As for me, I don’t know if the N.Sane Trilogy fills a void in my life, but I don’t really begrudge its existence.