I’m proud to say that I’ve been a fan of Crash Bandicoot since his first release on the PlayStation. In fact I still have vivid memories of handing the controller to my Dad so he could complete ‘Boulders’ for a fourth time because of the frustrating save system that kept tossing me back a few levels when I suffered yet another ‘Game Over.’ I still remember getting a demo disc that had a bunch of different games to play, including ‘Snow Go’ for the sequel, Cortex Strikes Back–which I could not stop playing. The original Naughty Dog developed trilogy has been among some of my favorite games since they first released. It’s exactly because of this that I was equally excited, worried, thrilled, and concerned when the N. Sane Trilogy was announced. And I can say with complete confidence that my concerns were quickly forgotten as I completed each one of these classic games.

The original Crash Bandicoot was a technical marvel when it released thanks to the programming genius of Naughty Dog Co-Founder Andy Gavin. The game’s engine was expertly crafted to get every single last drop out of the PlayStation’s hardware and only show exactly what Naughty Dog wanted you to see so everything could look its absolute best and perform at its maximum level of quality. In fact, Sony attempted to create something to compete with Crash Bandicoot not too far after its release that was to be called Harry Jalapeno (yes, that’s what they were actually going to call it) but Sony couldn’t even internally figure out how Naughty Dog crafted the absolute spell that was Crash Bandicoot. Despite being so beautiful and truly advanced for its release time the bandicoot has experienced a little age over the years so these updates not only help introduce the loveable bandicoot to a new and younger audience but also help show what he looks like in the memories of all who grew up enthralled with each release.

The original Crash Bandicoot has perhaps aged the most. Not so much graphically but in the design of the game itself and Vicarious Visions did a fantastic job of keeping the integrity of the original release intact while also modernizing both the graphics and how the game plays.

First

The game starts off with the evil Dr. Neo Cortex and his assistant Dr. N. Brio experimenting on animals to use as their evil henchman. Their experimentation makes them smarter and more capable so they can aid them with their evil quest for world domination. When they attempt to convert Crash Bandicoot the experiment fails. Well, mostly. He does become smarter and more capable but mentally he’s still a good guy and has no interest in aiding the evil Dr. Cortex. Crash runs and ends up escaping out of a window and landing at the beginning location of the game while the camera cuts to them about to experiment on his girlfriend, Tawna. And thus the game begins.

Vicarious Visions may have changed some things with remake but the core games are very much still here. You’re still going to jump and spin to deal with enemies. You’re still going to be dealing with some difficult platforming. And you’re still going to be collecting Wumpa Fruit and attempting to destroy every box and get through gauntlets of challenging platforming sections to collect the gems to hopefully get one hundred percent completion and unlock the best ending. It’s going to look much better and have a few very appreciated tweaks.

The first update that immediately makes the game much better is the save system. It used to be that you’d have to collect three ‘Tawna Tokens’, which were hidden in various levels, and then you’d be transported to a bonus round. Upon completion of the bonus round you could save your game. If you died in the bonus round, you didn’t get to retry. You didn’t get to save your game and were forced to move on. Another big issue is that these tokens were not in every level. Yes, this means you may get a ‘Game Over’ in a level and then be forced to repeat one, two, or even a handful of levels you already completed. Forcing a player to complete challenges they already completed because they failed a different and separate level was so frustrating back in the day. There were so many times I’d just turn the game off and walk away. In the remake the game auto-saves after you complete each and every level. The bonus rounds are just that: bonus rounds. Wumpa fruit, extra lives, and failing to rescue your girlfriend only to be reminded of your original motivation and keep pressing on. Just like it should have been twenty years ago.

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Another nice touch is that if you fail a bonus round you can simply try again. In the original game you’d disappear to the bonus areas as soon as you collected the third corresponding bonus token but in N. Sane Trilogy a portal is activated that is off to the side of the level’s path and you can jump on it to travel to the bonus area. Should you fail, you can just try again. You just get to try until you complete the area or give up and move on. It’s a great balance.

The controls were tweaked a lot in this release. All three games were tweaked but the first game especially feels different. This won’t be much of an issue if this is your first time playing Crash Bandicoot but if you’ve been playing for the last twenty years then your muscle memory will get the better of you until you adjust. Platform edges were smoothed and leveled out and Crash just feels a little different. On top of that it takes a bit longer for him to build up momentum than in the original release. Since the levels were mostly only tweaked graphically, this can create some additional challenge compared to the original release. I found myself falling into holes much more than in the original version, and I’m very skilled at platformers as well. My point isn’t to brag but rather to point out that I don’t normally struggle with depth, timing, and maneuvering in 3D or 2D spaces but I experienced a fair amount of issues throughout the game. You see, there are some really particular areas in this game that require the utmost timing and more movement to successfully traverse. These spots were tricky in the original release sure, but these spots are much more difficult now. There are two levels in particular that suffer heavily from these tweaks: ‘Road to Nowhere’ and ‘The High Road’ are absolute hell now, and they were a bit difficult before. To summarize for long time fans, Crash feels and controls just like he did in Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, which isn’t a problem in that game or Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back but it absolutely causes issues in the original classic.

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Time trials were introduced in the third game and were essentially speed runs through levels where upon getting certain times, the player would be rewarded with a sapphire, gold, or platinum relic. These were added to Crash Bandicoot and while many of these levels feel weird rushing through due to the nature and sheer size of some of them, it works pretty well. I wouldn’t recommend doing too many of these until you complete most or all of the game if you’re new to the franchise as it can be easy to hurt your enjoyment of the game and get fatigued. They can be frustrating but highly rewarding once you finally get your desired time. There’s also leaderboard support so you can have bragging rights all over the world.

Crash Bandicoot is mostly a great game and the modern update usually serves it well. Some controls issues aside, the graphics, new features, gameplay tweaks and the ability to play as Coco all make it an even more enjoyable experience than it was twenty years ago. Just understand while Crash may feel a little better in your hand, he doesn’t always respond as well in some of the environments in the game.

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Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back opens with Cortex’s defeat from the first game. He ends up falling from the sky and landing in ancient ruins that have some power crystals. Later up in the Cortex Vortex space station Cortex and his assistant Dr. N. Gin discuss the potential and how they could control the world and have it do Cortex’s bidding. The only way to truly harness the power of the crystal he found though is to possess all of the twenty five slave crystals that work with it. Cortex decides to trick Crash Bandicoot into helping him after using a portal to trap him in a series of five warp rooms that go to the areas where these crystals reside. The story is only real weak part of this game and it’s a platformer so a strong story is not only unnecessary but also not the point. The point is the tight gameplay and challenge which Cortex Strikes Back summons in full force.

The first game was interesting in that you’re traveling across the Wumpa Islands and getting closer and closer to Cortex’s castle but the warp room format serves the sequel really well because there are no limits to where Crash can travel to without requiring further suspension of disbelief from a jumping and spinning bandicoot working with an evil and mad scientist. Crash will go from snowy tundras to lush jungles to riding a polar bear to traveling through ancient ruins to flying with a jetpack in a space station with no gravity. Yeah, Naughty Dog brought it all and the levels are consistently enjoyable and provide ample challenge. If you want to just blow through the game in a few hours, you absolutely can but for those who want additional challenge it’s certainly there. There are forty two gems to collect that can be earned by completing specific challenges, from harder sections of levels to just collecting every box in a level. There are specific circumstances that were vague in the original release but with some hints on the loading screens players will now have a general idea of where to start. The challenge isn’t sacrificed. It’s just that players will have a better idea of what the challenge actually is.

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Getting one hundred percent completion is by no means an easy feat and that’s now more true than ever with the time trials being added. With Crash’s new abilities, he can now slide, crawl, and belly flop across a wide variety of levels and the new graphics and tweaks help make this one of strongest games in this remake. It’s my personal favorite and the favorite of many but there are also a lot of people who have a special place in their heart for the third game.

Crash Bandicoot 3: WARPED is a damn good game. It really is. It features all the aforementioned tweaks and features level design that in some cases has Naughty Dog at the absolute top of their game. Platforming in this game is smooth and the graphics were great back in the original release and are simply stunning in this remake. The story is a bit more epic this time around too. The improvements are big in this game but there are a few shortcomings as well.

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The story opens with Crash, Coco, and Aku Aku heading to stop Cortex aboard the Time Twister Warp Room Station. Cortex is working with Aku Aku’s evil brother Uka Uka and the evil Dr. N Tropy to collect crystals through time to finally achieve world domination. The plot might be simple but it’s certainly epic as well. There are just as many levels as there were in Cortex Strikes Back (25 plus five secret levels and boss battles) but the overall package does manage to feel a little slower. There are less platforming levels. There are a fair amount of levels where you ride a tiger, man an underwater vehicle, pilot planes, drive a motorcycle, and more. While these may sound fun (they can be) they tend to break up the action and throw some gimmicky concepts at players who are here to experience classic Crash Bandicoot action with more polish and finesse. The platforming levels absolutely possess those traits but there are less of them. What’s here is still polished and solid though. It just feels like there’s less of it. There’s still plenty of challenge and the previously mentioned improvements in the first two games are all here which certainly makes this the definitive version and the best one to experience, whether you’re replaying it or enjoying it for the first time.

The collection as a whole is great and it’s so nice seeing Crash Bandicoot getting some love again, especially after all the abuse he’s experienced at the hands of Universal and Activision in mediocre and half baked releases from 1999 up to now. These releases aren’t perfect though. Game specific issues aside in the first game, I do have a few issues with the overall package. While these don’t detract too much from the overall experience they are certainly worth mentioning.

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The graphics look incredible. They really do. The lighting, shadows, consistent frame rate, smooth motion blur, and new textures and engine all do so much to showcase these games authentically in how they were originally meant to look while also utilizing all the new technology changes over the past twenty years since Crash Bandicoot was first introduced to the public. However there are some jarring things that stand out. Some of the animals (like rats and hippos for example) are more on the realistic side which clashes with the cartoony aesthetics of both Crash, the environments, and some of the other enemies.

The load times are pretty high for an updated release of old games. And to further add insult to injury Naughty Dog designed the original releases to load very fast at their original release. There’s also a bit of a lengthy load at the main menu before you’re even able to select a game and this is after an unskippable sequence that plays every single time you boot the game up. There are also loads that feel a bit long after each ‘Game Over’, which you’ll see plenty throughout each game (especially the first game with its control tweaks).

Overall this is great package and I can recommend it to anyone whether they grew up with the bandicoot or are meeting him for the first time. I’m more optimistic about his future because of how well Vicarious Visions and Activision handled this remake and hoping we get a similar remake for Crash Team Racing and maybe even the original three Insomniac developed Spyro the Dragon games. There may be a few issues but Crash Bandicoot has never looked better. Naughty Dog’s hard work is showcased in its full modern potential and it looks and plays fantastic.

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