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Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy review

It’s easy to look at games like Crash Bandicoot through rose-colored glasses, especially when nostalgia is the driving factor. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is a true remaster in every sense of the word — levels, user interface and music all remain heart-wrenchingly consistent with the originals.

Naughty Dog, the original creator of the Crash series for Sony, wasn’t actually involved with this remaster. Publisher Activision now owns the rights to Crash Bandicoot, and with the help of developer Vicarious Visions, it’s done justice to the series. Everything from my childhood is still intact — the music, style and dialogue.

But the best games of your youth don’t always hold up twenty years later. Crash Bandicoot is unfortunately no exception. After the dust settled, I slowly came to realize that it wasn’t always the fun time I remembered. I still cherish the hours I spent with the series when I was growing up and will always think fondly of the games. From a critical standpoint though, nostalgia doesn’t make a game good. It does nothing to cover up how frustrating and limited certain design choices were.

The N. Sane Trilogy includes the first three Crash games that were originally released for the PlayStation 1, and the premise is relatively simple across all three games. Crash is played from a limited 3D perspective as you collect crystals, break open boxes, collect Wumpa fruits and beat bosses across a variety of levels and environments. The running, jumping and spinning through enemies is the same, but this time around the remastered games give the option to play as Coco, Crash’s sister. Coco has the same abilities with her own special animations. It’s a purely cosmetic difference, but still a welcomed option.

In terms of gameplay, the remaster itself doesn’t depart much from the original series. The most noticeable changes are revamped graphics that breathe a new sense of life into familiar settings. I won’t deny that the first level I saw took my breath away — it was like seeing my favorite sketch finally get colored in. The sound effects and music were relatively untouched, but I appreciated that. There are few sounds as satisfying as collecting a Wumpa fruit or breaking open a crate, and it was all there.

N. Sane Trilogy offers some other small improvements to the series. Auto-saving helps it fulfill some modern expectations, but these concessions don’t feel like enough. I expected the remaster to stay true to the gameplay of the originals but it turns out, it’s a strange, jarring sensation playing a high-definition game while still dealing with the literal pitfalls of poor camera angles and design.

These classic Crash games are short, but there are time sinks due to unforgiving and frustrating design choices from the time period. There’s absolutely no margin for error on many of the jumps in these games, and a majority of them are tiny or viewed from an awkward angle. Some levels mixed 2D side-scrolling elements with just enough 3D to completely throw off my depth perception. I would tilt the analog stick just a hair too much and fall off the platform, dead. Or I would jump to a moving stone in some water and not land exactly in the middle, and Crash would pass right through it and drown. Being unable to advance in a game because you can’t come in first place in a racing level ends up being more time-consuming than challenging.

In other ways, the remastering adds its own problems. While a lot of care has been taken to enrich the different worlds of Crash Bandicoot, the new, detailed rendering actually threw me off at times. In the One Thousand and One Nights-inspired levels like “Hang ‘Em High” and “High Time,” Crash has to jump on a series of trampolines to get from one sliver of balcony to another until he reaches the top. The more elaborate decoration on these balconies sometimes gave the illusion that there’s space to jump onto when there wasn’t. Similar things can happen when playing levels where Crash has to run Indiana Jones-style from a boulder toward the camera, rather than away from it.

The runner levels where you’re either mounted on a baby polar bear or jet ski are good at breaking up the monotony, just as they were in the original. But as novel as these sections are, there’s still too many demands placed on unstable mechanics. Part of me was expecting the steering on the baby polar bear to be tighter, less unruly than its PlayStation 1 counterpart. But it wasn’t. My threshold for dealing with trial-and-error platforming was apparently much higher back in the day and I found it much more difficult to adjust now.

That frustration is multiplied by old-school game structure. Many modern platformers give you options, and let you choose different paths according to your preference and skill level. With Crash, there are no other ways to move ahead or progress, no other levels you can play except the ones you’ve already finished. You just have to play it over and over until you win. The game is too often about accommodating mechanics in one specific way, rather than enjoying Crash’s fundamental mechanics and design.

Wrap-up

There’s a golden glow around memories that gets brighter with age, but it also tends to distract from old frustrations. If you’re ready for a quick trip — and I mean quick — down memory lane, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy doesn’t disappoint. Vicarious Visions’ faithfulness to the series satisfies some nostalgic cravings, but once the novelty wears off, the cracks can’t help but show.

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy was reviewed using a pre-release download key provided by Activision. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.