Friday, September 15, 2017

Crash Bandicoot
N. Sane Trilogy

Release date: June 30th, 2017
Developed by: Vicarious Visions (orig. Naughty Dog)
Published by: Activision
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Available on: PlayStation 4

Reviewed by: TheyKeepOnRising
Estimated play time: 30-35 hours
Completion: Platinum Trophy (Crash Bandicoot 1)

An overdue remaster to the classic platforming trilogy.

Many will remember Crash Bandicoot as the mascot of the original PlayStation back in the 1990s, much like Mario for Nintendo, or Sonic for Sega (back when Sega made consoles). It was a strange time when most videogames were intentionally difficult to pad their length, and platforming was the most popular genre by far for all the console systems. Crash Bandicoot, developed by Naughty Dog and published by Activision, set itself apart from the competition by featuring 3D environments, immersive camera angles, and characters full of colorful expressions. Soon, Crash would star in two more main games in the series, and his popularity soared in the United States to the point where he was even a mascot at some amusement parks.

Eventually Naughty Dog would end their relationship with Activision to pursue their own path, creating many more successful titles such as the Jak and Daxter series, the Uncharted series, and the universally acclaimed The Last of Us. While we know this turned out to be a great move for Naughty Dog as a company, this effectively put an end to the Crash Bandicoot franchise, as Activision retained ownership over the property. In the end, Mario would go on to star in countless more Nintendo games, Sonic would find himself in a downward spiral, and Crash Bandicoot simply vanished from existence... until now!

Crash has never looked this good.

The Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy consists of the three main Crash games: Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, and Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped. All titles have been remastered and packaged into a single product for $39.99 USD at launch. Crash Team Racing, the battle racing spin-off game, was sadly not included. The remastered trilogy was developed by the studio Vicarious Visions, a game developer whose catalog consists primarily of titles such as the Bee Movie game for the Nintendo DS. All jokes aside, Vicarious has nailed the remaster, updating all the visuals and audio to high-quality modern standards, and leaving the stage design and mechanics mostly in their original form.

Visually, the games look just like how you remember Crash Bandicoot, but in reality, Crash has never looked this good. The enivornments are lush, the enemies are cartoony and stylized, and even the crates have enough detail to see through their cracks to the other side. Crash himself now has fur you can see, something I wouldn't even think to address. The lighting and fog effects look fantastic, especially on interior levels where glowing green slime and electrical traps litter the stages. In my entire time playing the trilogy so far, I have not found even a minor gripe with any of the visuals, and that's impressive.

Was Crash always this hard?

The stages themselves are largely unchanged in terms of layout or enemies, so for new players who haven't experienced Crash yet, be prepared for some fast-paced and often frustrating platforming. Some of these stages, particularly in the first Crash Bandicoot, are downright despicable creations from hell (you know the ones). The difficulty only intensifies as you attempt to complete the bonus challenges for each stage: collect all boxes, collect all boxes without dying, or complete the level without dying in a ridiculous fast time. As a veteran of Crash, I found myself asking "was Crash always this hard?" since I remember doing quite well back in the day, but turns out there was a seemingly minor change that has caused this interation of Crash to be more challenging than ever before.

Behind the scenes, Crash himself has had more than a visual update. With his sleek new look comes a new rounded collision box, which is a standard feature in modern videogames, but a pretty dramatic change from the squared box of the original games. Jargon aside, this means that players will now need pinpoint accuracy for the platforming sections, because Crash can now slide off edges and needs to be closer to attack or jump on enemies. In most stages, this can be barely noticeable, while a few stages will see a pretty significant spike in difficulty. There were several times when I needed to jump on a turtle enemy and missed by hair, resulting in Crash dying and losing my progress. Despite all this, the stages are still possible to complete, just be prepared for dozens of deaths that may feel unfair.

In addition to the increased difficulty, there are also noticeably long loading times, paired with constant loading screens. Simply getting to the title screen of the game from starting the game can take a solid minute of loading, then the game loads again after you select which game to play, and then the game loads again after you select a level from the hub. The result is a significant amount of downtime, which is completely unacceptable for a remaster of a classic PlayStation title. The long loading times serve as a one-two punch with the difficulty, because there is no quick restart option (outside of time trial mode), so you would need to quit the stage and re-enter it from the hub, with long load times from both quitting and entering the stage. For some challenges, you may need to retry a stage several times, and the frustration from the failure and waiting builds fast.

Make no mistake, the game is an absolute blast.

With everything I've mentioned so far, the game may sound more like a headache than entertaining. But make no mistake, when Crash Bandicoot is firing on all cylinders, the game is an absolute blast. There is so much satisfaction from navigating the twists and turns of an underground labyrinth, narrowly avoiding death by collapsing platform, and hitting that checkpoint box to seal the deal after a difficult section. Completing a bonus challenge and receiving a gem or relic feels like a badge of honor due to the concentrated effort required by the player. The game is a rewarding experience in short burst, and the stages are varied enough and of perfect length to compliment this.

The last thing worth mentioning is the sound and music, both of which have been completely redone for the remaster. I've played many remastered games, and more often than not, it's the music that tends to overstep its bounds in terms of creative liberty. Fans of Final Fantasy X will remember the PS Vita remaster changed the music so much, fans complained until the original unchanged soundtrack was brought back in the eventual PS4 release. I'm happy to report that the soundtrack in the N. Sane Trilogy is neither understated nor overstated - but comfortably where it should be. Whether it is the hissing and whirling of mechanical traps, or the upbeat xylophone tune of N. Sanity Beach, the audio of the game has been lovingly composed to remain as faithful to the original as possible.

- Excellent visuals
- Great soundtrack and sound effects
- Original gameplay mostly unaltered
- Challenging optional content
- Fun in short bursts
- Three games in a single package

- Occasional unfair deaths
- Uneven difficulty spikes
- Unacceptable long loading times
- Needs "quality of life" improvements

Verdict: Buy

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