By Mike O’Brien | ★★★★✰
Disclosure: Activision provided Quench with a review copy of Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy for Nintendo Switch.
Few of gaming’s icons can claim the legacy of Crash Bandicoot. Though it’s had a number of titles over the years, none have equaled the impact of the original trilogy by Naughty Dog, who’ve since moved on to more adult pursuits in Uncharted and The Last of Us. That legendary trilogy had been lost to the annals of history it seemed, trapped on the PlayStation forever. But Vicarious Visions has emancipated the world’s most famous marsupial in one of the best, if not the best, video game remakes of all time: Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy, which after a long year of PS4-exclusivity, has finally come to Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC.
If you’re unfamiliar with Crash Bandicoot – a serious explanation is owed if so – it’s a series of platforming games about a manic marsupial on a vendetta to destroy as many boxes as humanly possible, and also save his loved ones and the planet should the time for such trivialities be found. The gameplay is a mix of 2D and 3D platforming, with vehicle segments dotted throughout. Whilst most levels are a series of tricky traditional platforming, some have you running towards the screen and away from an enormous boulder, whilst others have the player navigating an unstoppable hog on a warpath. One thing is clear though; regardless of the objective, Crash games are notoriously difficult and demand every fibre of your determination.
So how well does the N Sane Trilogy capture the essence of old-school Crash? Seasoned gamers are no strangers to reiterations, and more often than not, some of the magic from treasured titles is lost in translation. Amazingly, there’s no such compromise with Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy, a game which far surpasses its source material in almost every way. From the tropical vibes to the downright ACME-corp sound effects, the spirit of Crash is perfectly intact here.
That’s not to say it’s exactly the same. Visually speaking, Crash himself and the world around him have been drastically transformed into HD. In nerd terms, you’re looking at a total technical overhaul, with modern AAA standards in texture detail, foliage quality, animations, ambient occlusion, lighting, and performance. Viscerally, that means luscious flora, an adorably fuzzy Crash, carvings with excellent depth and texture, and wonderful lighting that brings the whole experience together – and you better believe those wumpa fruits look as delicious as ever. Every inch of this game is brimming with detail and life in ways that weren’t imaginable in 1996, yet it’s somehow exactly as you remembered it, too. Balancing recreation and evolution with such major strides is no easy feat, and Vicarious Visions deserves a massive pat on the back.
Music has enjoyed more subtle evolution than visuals, where the little touches Vicarious has added to the soundtrack are just as delightful. While visuals have received a complete overhaul, the music has been faithfully reconstructed and then expanded on. Melodies are exactly as you remember them – but listen a little closer and you’ll notice a handful of welcome new bells and whistles. On ‘N. Sanity Beach’, probably the most famous track in Crash history, extra percussion, the smooth hum of an organ, and much higher sound quality overall really makes Crash pop into the 21st century. Diegetic sound has received a nice boost as well, with Crash’s footsteps making a different sound for each kind of terrain, whilst animals in the background of the stage make some ambient noise as well. The most noticeable improvement is in the level ‘Boulder Dash’, which YouTube user T’Henix has demonstrated below:
The gameplay changes are where the N-Sane Trilogy gets very curious indeed. Avid players of the original trilogy will know that the three games play a little differently when it comes to Crash’s jump. Its arc in the original game is somewhat floaty, whilst Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back has a weightier jump which descends more quickly. Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped sits somewhere between these two – but in the N Sane Trilogy, all of the games feature Crash Bandicoot 3’s jump. That’s not the only difference: whilst we see him as a roguish fuzzy maniac, what we’re actually controlling is an invisible jumping box that collides with the game’s geometry. This is called a hitbox, and in the original trilogy, Crash’s hitbox was flat at the bottom. The N Sane Trilogy however is developed in the Unity game engine, where hitboxes are ‘pill-shaped’ by default. Sounds like a very specific technical detail I’m sure, but the implications have a universal impact on gameplay: since these pill-shaped hitboxes are rounded at the bottom, landing on the edge of just about anything can cause Crash to slide off to his death. Consequently, Crash’s universal jump mechanics and his new hitbox create incongruities between gameplay and level design. The levels in the first game in particular are designed with a floaty jump and the ability to land on edges in mind. However, since neither of these are present, and the level design has not altered to reflect these changes, the N-Sane Trilogy – particularly Crash 1 – is significantly harder than its original counterparts. If you’re having trouble visualising this issue, or just fancy laughing at YouTube user Not Isaac’s misfortune, have a look at the video embedded below:
Speaking of level design, the three games offered in this collection may all be Crash titles, but they do have significant differences. The first Crash Bandicoot game is a gruelling test of raw platforming, and it certainly does ask plenty of the player. Even without the aforementioned technical changes, Crash Bandicoot is one of the most difficult platformers to hit the big time. Some levels in the game are fast-paced reactionary rollercoasters of little difficulty and great delight, but others are ruthlessly demanding. Pitfalls are an instant death as they should be, but without Aku Aku by his side, Crash dies if he comes into contact with any obstacle or enemy. In a game where checkpoints and lives are so reluctantly provided, Crash’s unforgiving nature can feel utterly demoralising when it routinely sends you all the way back to the start – but it does make victory oh so sweet.
Of all the games, Crash Bandicoot shows its age the most. This game is old enough to vote, and it can really feel like it. Whilst one must understand that Crash Bandicoot debuted in the formative years of 3D platforming, the N Sane Trilogy has preserved Crash Bandicoot so well that even its imperfections have survived the journey. The fixed camera angle for instance is serviceable for most of the game, but can make levels which require the player to jump from foreground to background a frustrating ordeal due to wonky depth perception. Level design features some unwelcome 90s tropes in some levels, with many pitfalls, obstacles, and landing areas obscured by indestructible boxes and the level’s own geometry. Lastly, 3D movement has evolved a tonne since Crash’s heyday, meaning he’s not as buttery smooth as today’s alternatives.
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is by far the best of the collection. It’s a clear indication that Naughty Dog learned mostly from its predecessor’s shortcomings, offering a much less repetitive experience at a streamlined pace. Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped sits somewhere between the two games, overcoming some of Crash Bandicoot’s biggest blemishes, but disrupting the pace and flow of the game with some very unfitting racing sections.
In terms of technical performance, Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy performs near-unanimously well. The PS4 and Xbox One families all run the game at 1080p and a locked 30fps, with their more powerful iterations receiving a resolution boost. The PC version stands tall above the rest, offering fantastic optimisation and a 60fps limit. The real point of interest is the Nintendo Switch version of the game. Whilst docked, you can expect 720p 30fps output on a TV, but in handheld mode this drops to 480p 30fps. I approached the Switch version with some trepidation considering these compromises, but I must say, it doesn’t look bad at all. The lower resolution is definitely noticeable, but with the Switch’s small screen and Crash’s gorgeous art style, I don’t consider it a real limitation of the game. The Switch version has some other compromises – no ambient occlusion is present, and in many cases foliage shadows have been removed completely – but for most users, this won’t prove problematic. The one real criticism of the Nintendo Switch port I have is that it has approximately two to three frames of input lag. In an unforgiving game already made a little sluggish by the passage of time, latency is most unwelcome. That said, load times are lightning fast, making Crash on the go joyfully convenient.
Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy is a remarkable remake of now-unremarkable legends. Save for the two aforementioned technical differences of Crash’s jump and hitbox, these games play exactly as they did two decades ago. For those unfamiliar with Crash, you may be left wondering what all the fuss is about as you navigate an ancient climate of 3D platforming without the graces of modern gaming you may be accustomed to. But for people looking to relive that experience and jump on the nostalgia train, it’s hard to ask for more. For a reasonable £30, Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy beautifully packages three of the most beloved games in platforming history, and whilst these experiences are marred by age, they’re definitely worth a look for those who feel platformers have gotten a little too soft these days.