Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is billed as a blast from the past when you boot it up, and it's not playing around. Vicarious Visions has done an outstanding job sprucing up Naughty Dog’s iconic 90s adventures, but don’t let the lick of paint deceive you: these are the exact same games that you enjoyed huddled in front of a 14-inch CRT in your brother’s bedroom – down to the very last crate.
Not quite a remake but much more than a remaster, this compilation is an unusual yet excellent proposition: rendered in (not quite native) Fur-K on the PlayStation 4 Pro, the game seriously looks the part – but beneath the high resolution textures and glossy lighting, you’ll find the original level layouts present and correct. It means that, while the package may not look like you remember it, the memories will still come flooding back.
Indeed, this collection makes a mockery out of insinuations that the titular orange tuft starred in some forgettable forays – virtually every single one of the anthology’s 100 or so levels will occupy bytes in your brain’s on-board hard drive. Whether it’s the reverse bolts of Boulders, the bear-back action of Bear Down, or the greased lightning of Hog Wild, there’s a memorable moment waiting beyond each warp window.
There’s no question that Crash Bandicoot is the purest of the trilogy: conceptualised prior to the ground-breaking Super Mario 64 (although released roughly around the same time), Naughty Dog set about re-imagining the classic side-scroller with polygonal visuals. Its solution? To send the hero into the screen, rather than across it. This inaugural platformer provides a sterner test than you may be used to today, and the focus of its design makes for a very traditional experience.
Vicarious Visions has, however, attempted to soften the difficulty somewhat. Additional checkpoints have been placed in the midst of particularly tricky segments, and the insta-Aku Akus that you’re equipped with after multiple attempts can be a God send. Still, the challenge in this first game is a far cry from the hand-holds of more contemporary titles, and even the addition of auto-save is unlikely to quell irritation from those short on patience.
Its successors are much better balanced, with Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back introducing the Warp Rooms that would go on to become a staple of the series – and dialling down the difficulty just a touch. The ambition is greater here, with the sassy star equipped with slide and ground-pound attacks, extending the platforming options. The levels are also much more complicated, with vehicles like jetboards incorporated into the on-foot action.
But as is so often the case with console exclusive trilogies, it’s the final game in the series that brings everything together – and wraps it up in a fantastical time travelling aesthetic. Whether you’re navigating the Arabian monkey bars of Gee Whiz or commandeering Crash’s sibling Coco through tropical climes in Makin’ Waves, the outstanding Crash Bandicoot: Warped never seems to run out of ideas.
Even better, many of the concepts introduced in the all-important third game have been retrofitted into its predecessors with this resurrection. For example, you can now play as Coco in the first two titles, and the time trial-inspired Relics have been incorporated as well. In fact, the latter system has been enhanced furthermore by the introduction of online leaderboards, which not only plot out your position against the best in the world but also your friends.
Credit must be given to how seamlessly these new features have been implemented – as though they were always there. And it also must be mentioned how cohesive the package as a whole is: it’s easy to hop between the three games at will, and the aesthetic is consistent despite the technological evolution that the originals went through. The only major gripe we have is that the loading times err a little too heavily on the long side for our tastes.
You also have to appreciate what you’re buying here: these are 90s games in a new shell. That means that the levels are short and repetition is high: you’ll need to attempt stages multiple times in order to gather all of the MacGuffins required to 100 per cent each title – it can all seem decidedly old-school, but in the collection's defence, that’s kind of the point.
And we daresay for many the rose-tinted glasses will be swatted off immediately, but we found the releases rather refreshing. The reality is that, even in a year of Yooka-Laylee, there’s nothing quite like Crash Bandicoot anymore. From its vibrant environments to its heavily emotive cast of hero characters and pantomime villains, the game has an endearing disposition that’s been lovingly brought back to life here.
Tough as nails but just as tight as you remember, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is tasty trip down memory lane. The visual upgrade is nothing short of spectacular, and while the design of these iconic platformers is firmly fixed in the 90s, they’re surprisingly playable today. This is a comprehensive compendium of a trilogy that set PlayStation on its way, and while not everyone will care for the old-school sensibilities, Vicarious Visions has pitched this package just right – doubters must now dine on Wumpa pie.