Two decades on, Crash Bandicoot isn't the industry icon he once was. But a new collection that resurrects his three original adventures with beautiful new visuals and animations is a reminder that these games deserve to be remembered and preserved.
Crash Bandicoot, Cortex Strikes Back and Warped were fascinating games on the original PlayStation. While Sega and Nintendo worked to translate their biggest platforming games from 2D to full 3D, Crash stuck with a middle ground that kept the marsupial on a linear path while also allowing for branching stages and circular set-pieces.
What makes the N. Sane Trilogy extra special is the love and care that developer Vicarious Visions (most recently known for its contributions to Skylanders) has dedicated to bringing these games into 2017 without breaking the original magic.
Taking the most basic blueprints that original developer Naughty Dog (which went on to create Uncharted and The Last of Us) used to plan the stages, Vicarious has built on that with shiny recreations of the graphics and subtle improvements. In a way, you can think of this as being the bones of the original games, but with brand new flesh, skin and organs applied.
The result is a trio of games that feel familiar enough to please nostalgic gamers — every crate, wumpa fruit and secret is exactly where you remember it — but are also modern and polished enough for a new audience to enjoy. It doesn't hurt that this kind of game — where discrete stages can be played over and over again in pursuit of collectibles, unlockables and fast times — is very much back in vogue right now.
In all three games the blocky, indistinct look of early 3D PlayStation games is replaced by the bubbly, smoothly animated look of a Saturday morning cartoon (and is rendered in 4K, if you have the equipment for it). The sound and music has been overhauled too, bringing the catchy tribal earworms of the series beyond the shallow stereo sound of the PS1.
While they're all equally gorgeous though, the first Crash game is clearly the least special of the bunch. The kernel of greatness was there, but many of Naughty Dog's design decisions made for frustrating deaths and a heap of repetition. It's enough to warm the cockles of a nostalgic Crash fan's heart, but it's not a great way to introduce newcomers to the series.
Thankfully all three games are available from the start, so there's nothing stopping players from dabbling in Crash 1 and then getting absorbed in the greatness of Cortex Strikes Back. The perfect middle point between the first game's ruthlessness and the series later turn toward longer and more exploratory levels, Cortex is a set of fantastic platforming challenges surrounded by just enough variation to keep things fun.
The third game, Warped, is no slouch either. The difficulty eases off but in its place are even more secrets, even more vehicles and even more level variation. The introduction of new skills for Crash also makes this feel like the most modern game of the set, so it might be the one to go to for young gamers looking to discover an old classic.
Throughout, there are smart little tweaks to make the experience better without breaking what made the original games so good. This includes a universal save system, extended cinematics, and the ability to play as Coco Bandicoot in each of the games (she's functionally identical to Crash, but the choice is still nice).
There have also been some quality of life changes and some aspects of later games applied retroactively to the more spartan original. Time trials are present across the trilogy now as opposed to only appearing Warped and, in a fun touch, you can use the controller's directional pad to control Crash exactly how you used to in the original games, or you can use the stick for more granular, freshly tuned control.
While so many retro revivals either just give the original game a coat of paint or completely remake it from the ground up, this is a return that feels like a perfect middle ground. On the one hand it does allow for some of the less good parts of the classic design to shine through (especially in the original game), but on the other hand the commitment to accuracy works to preserve a series that remains incredibly influential and often overlooked. Combined with smart touch-ups and a beautiful modern presentation, this is a blast for old Crash pros and newcomers alike.
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is out now for PlayStation 4.