Once upon a time, every games console maker had a platforming mascot. Nintendo had Mario, Sega had Sonic and Sony had a bright orange marsupial who’d get blown up by TNT boxes, sliced in half by medieval knights and abducted by stray UFOs.
His name was Crash Bandicoot and now he’s back again in the N. Sane Trilogy. A remastered collection of the original Crash Bandicoot, Cortex Strikes Back and Warped games for PlayStation, this compendium is bottled nostalgia for a certain vintage of geek. You know, the ones who spent their formative years obsessing over Oasis, Andy Cole and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
It’s been been two decades since that era of nerdery reigned supreme, and while a Buffy revival remains nowhere to be seen, the PS4 exclusive N. Sane Trilogy is due out on June 30. Can it live up to our hallowed memories? We leapt our way through three of the compendium’s levels to find out.
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy: an icon reborn
From planking to Tamagotchi and Dunston Checks In, there are loads of things that seemed utterly brilliant at the time and total nonsense today. Crash Bandicoot is not one of them, but his new PS4 Pro-friendly gloss can’t disguise the fact he’s a beast born of a very different era. One where you traverse across an entire hub world in a matter of seconds, are directed through a level in pretty much one direction and will die a helluva lot before completing the thing.
Super Mario 64 had already blown apart that formula just months before Crash Bandicoot’s release in 1996, and it hasn’t come back into vogue since. Hence the world hasn’t seen a new outing for Crash since 2009’s ill-received Mind Over Mutant.
If anything, it’s this simplicity that makes what we've played of the N. Sane Trilogy so much fun. You haven’t seen a game like this since the last time around, so blasting through a level in four minutes of perfectly executed jumps, slides and spins feels fresh once again. What made these bombastic romps so good at the time wasn’t their originality, it was their execution and that’s been expertly captured by Activision’s remastering team.
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy: The same game, only different
So what’s new about the N. Sane Trilogy? Not that much, and that’s a very deliberate thing. Activision has done its best to rebuild every level as it was, only with an added gloss. Of the three Warped levels we were reintroduced to, each one was the same but every so slightly different. So the two-headed fiends in Double Header were now carrying roast turkeys as clubs instead of run-of-the-mill wooden batons and the rocket-firing menaces from Gone Tomorrow now have a target on their back that you have to destroy.
Everything is that bit bolder, brighter and more characterful than ever before, and that most certainly includes Crash himself. Whether he’s acending to heaven as a winged angel or playing an ill-fated game of apple volleyball with an Aku Aku mask, your favourite bandicoot is hilarious company. And with three console generations having passed since his first incarnation, Activision has been able to wring new shades of joy and anguish out of his furry little face. So you'll feel that extra bit guiltly about chortling over his many comical death animations.
Although the N. Sane Trilogy is by far the best-looking Crash game ever made, it’s not especially impressive for a modern platformer. Ratchet & Clank, Super Mario 3D World and Rayman Legends all have that extra bit of added polish, but that’s probably down to Crash’s decades-old heritage and the fact his developers were working across three games at once. Expecting 60 unique levels to be jaw-dropping in their own right is probably a bit much to ask.
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy: great platformer, awkward racer
Just as the N. Sane Trilogy retains everything that made the original Crash games so riotously entertaining, it also keeps the bits that didn’t work so well. You can see why motorbiking was chucked into Warped for the sake of variety at the third time of asking, but these bits still feel like an unnecessary extra with awkward handling and robotic AI. To put it another way, they’re not as fun as simply jumping across giant laser walls or spike traps.
Now if someone wants to go ahead and whip up a Crash Team Racing remake we'd be very much OK with that. With that rose-tinted memory still untainted, biking across the tarmac of the Orange Asphalt level felt like a poor substitute.
Similarly, Crash’s controls remain a tad pernickety. Leaping towards a hard-to-reach crate will often leave you sailing down a bottomless pit, while the marsupial’s double-jump demands an odd level of precision for such a commonplace move. None of this is enough to tarnish the N. Sane Trilogy, but it does underline Activision’s steadfast refusal to tinker with a cherished series.
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy initial verdict
For a trip down memory lane, the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy seems to do the job. From what we’ve played so far, it faithfully recreates all your favourite bits from the franchise’s first three offerings while retaining the few rubbish bits you’d forgotten about. That’s enough to lay the groundwork for a full-on Crash revival further down the line.
For now, we’re just happy to spend a few more hours with an old gaming legend. Even if a lot of that time was spent sending him hurtling into the great beyond. Some things never change.