Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy brings Naughty Dog’s jorts-wearing marsupial to PC for the first time.
Long ago, in a period historians call ‘the ’90s’, the mascot reigned supreme. These anthropomorphised animals had bad attitudes and big sneakers, and would often spontaneously breakdance. One of the most notorious of these creatures was Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot, a denim-clad marsupial who spun onto the original PlayStation in 1996, becoming the stupid, grinning face of the console. And now, for the first time, he’s on PC.
The N. Sane Trilogy is a remastered collection of the first three Crash Bandicoot games. There have been some tweaks to the physics that hardcore Crash fans and speedrunners have taken issue with, but for most people it should feel the same as it did in 1996 – and that’s part of the problem. This is a game from the oldest and creakiest of schools, with punishing jumps, traps that demand pixel-perfect precision and foes who can kill you in one hit.
Some people will love the sound of this, of returning to an era when 3D platformers were unsullied by the trappings of the modern videogame. But for me it feels like going back to a time when games were a lot worse than they are now. Hell, I even remember thinking Crash felt outdated back then, which makes its linear levels and frustrating design even harder to stomach in 2018.
The fixed camera angles make gauging the start of a jump difficult, which is a problem in a game where falling down a pit means being
thrown back to a checkpoint or the start of a level. The elaborate Looney Tunes-style death animations are amusing the first time you see them, but waiting for them to play out when you just want to get back into the action is tedious. And Crash just doesn’t feel satisfying to control, with weightless physics and a short, stiff jump that I hated back in 1996 and still do now.
Honestly, this kind of basic, timing-based, pattern recognition platforming just isn’t entertaining anymore. Especially when I could be playing one of the many PC platformers that, in the 22 years since Crash was first released, have taken the genre in interesting new directions. That’s a lifetime when it comes to game design, and Crash feels like a relic, even if those crisp remastered graphics try their best to make you think otherwise.
This is, at times, an astonishingly pretty game – especially running at 4K. Everything is big, chunky and tactile. In terms of maintaining the look of a classic game and simultaneously updating it for modern hardware, Vicarious Visions has done a remarkable job here. But the downside of those sumptuous visuals is that they highlight just how archaic the game feels to play.
It’s authentic, and that’s exactly what some people will want from a Crash Bandicoot remaster. But if you have no investment in the series, no nostalgia, and are looking for a well-designed 3D platformer – a genre woefully underserved on PC – you’ll be disappointed. The addition of autosave is one of the few concessions it makes to modern game design, but otherwise it clings stubbornly to the past.
It feels like going back to a time when games were a lot worse
It’s not all bad. The gruelling, repetitive first game has aged badly, but the second, Cortex Strikes Back, has some well-designed levels that are an enjoyable test of dexterity. It almost feels like a rhythm action game at times, memorising patterns, maintaining your momentum, and it can be exhilarating in the moment. At least until the next cheap death. The third game in the trilogy, Warped, is the most varied of the three, although time has been particularly cruel to its motorcycle levels.
As a faithful remake of the first three Crash games, the N. Sane Trilogy is pretty much perfect. The problem is those games arguably weren’t that great in the first place, and have only gotten worse with age. There’s fun to be had here, but also a lot of frustration as you wrestle with design decisions that were made over two decades ago, in an era when 3D jumping and movement were still being figured out. We need more 3D platformers on PC, but ones that look to the future, not the past.