Once a mascot for the original PlayStation Crash Bandicoot slid down a slippery slope shortly after going multi-platform and hasn’t seen a major release since 2010. But Activision and developer Vicarious Visions have gone back to the drawing board remaking everything in the celebrated Naughty Dog trilogy. Since I named the site after this marsupial, it should give you a sense of my nostalgic history with this icon from humble beginnings when he was calling out a certain plumber at his headquarters back in the day. Packaging three games into one for a reasonable price, is the quality equal to the quantity?
Covering all three games, Crash is a failed experiment by Dr. Neo Cortex to lead an animal army to world conquest. Escaping via the scenic view, the Taz inspired guinea pig road trips back to Cortex tower on a diet of Wumpa fruit to save his girlfriend, Tawna. When the scientist eats his own ammunition, Cortex decides to “save the world” (the title already spoils the twist) by “inviting” Crash to a warp room to gather all the needed crystals to absorb a deadly energy. After that goes awry, he along with the recently freed demon mask, Uka-Uka, build a time twisting machine to collect crystals with the master of time, Dr. N. Trophy.
Platformers of the past never focused as much on story like today. You could argue that giants like Mario and Rayman have kept the same cookie cutter narrative to this day. But it’s the characters that keep the simple stories going. From the heroes, to the sidekicks, to the bosses, to the cronies, their clashes never lose the charm and likable madness from beginning to end. Best part is that there’s a smorgasbord to choose from if one isn’t your cup of tea.
The main highlight in advertising and the game itself lives up to expectations despite the lack of 60 frames per second. Rather than a slightly touched-up remaster, it’s a fresh remake as evident by the opening cutscene transforming Crash from a stack of polygons to a living, breathing, anthropomorphic being. Animal hair looks incredibly realistic without coming off as uncanny with the comedic timing, facial expressions never look like something grounded from madness and the environments are so incredible in realism they can sell their own postcards. And let’s not forget the hilarious death animations. This might be the first game since Dragon’s Lair to encourage players to die, and not just for achievement reasons (wink wink). With all this glamour the color saturation does take a hit when going for a more realistic approach. Plus loading times are a complete lag when booting up a small room or level. You could cook half a dozen hot pockets by the time it’s ready. Not to mention the creepy black background with a floating mask that’s not controllable and hints that could potentially spoil the bosses, making them even less surprising. This definitely would’ve benefited from having a mini-game to pass the time while waiting.
Professional voice actors are back from the most recent entries like Jess Harnell, Debi Derryberry, Corey Burton, Lex Lang and Maurice LaMarche improving their delivery and meshing with the endless insane (no pun intended) facial reactions. Finally the soundtrack dodges the Turtles in Time Re-Shelled trap of erasing iconic tunes for generic, elevator music. It’s a shame that Josh Mancell wasn’t brought back on to the project to redo his iconic percussions and beats, but it’s a nice interpretation with a different spin.
As a pioneer to 3D platforming in the mid 90’s most of the mechanics hold up save a few for the sake of loyalty that backfires. All three games have the same goals no matter the story: traverse one danger to another down a linear corridor, gather crystals, defeat bosses, and for anyone who wants the true ending, collect the gems. This was a time when true endings had to be earned instead of given freely in a tough but fair treatment. Coco is now playable which is a nice having another member of the family in on the action and even having picked up her brother’s signature drill spin. There’s auto saving with the option to revert to manual saving for nostalgic sake. Bosses are in a reality of their own, but are still a cake walk even with the added health.
That said the gameplay might not be for younger gamers in spite of the colorful, cartoon approach. Noted for the high difficulty, this can be a chore to play through at one point or another, so gamers ten and up would probably have a lot more patience. Who’ve thought an orange jogging rascal would be sitting next to Dante and Simon Belmont in driving players to see if their controllers would sprout wings mid-air. Then again Super Meatboy and the Battletoads occupy the same position. But going over the individual changes, let’s find out which is the best.
This has the most improvements since the original featured many dated tropes: password saves, limited directional pad movement and breaking every box without dying to acquire the level gem. Only the colored gems require that sadistic practice, but it’s a fair trade. Analog control is finally implemented and thank the developer because moving around a 360 environment with a flat four-way intersection was a pain in the thumbs. But the addition of the relic trials is very jarring when most of the levels weren’t designed with them in mind, coming off as a new, unfair torture for the platinum relics (I’m looking at you High Road). Thankfully all bonus stages don’t count towards a death and can be replayed until victory is grasped. The additional box counter ensures no more free haircuts when one, tiny, box is forgotten after braving the level equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle. So even the hardest moments feel like an insignificant scratch than a sucker punch to the jaw. This is definitely the definitive edition with the updates, even with the bare bones results compared to the sequels.
Crash Bandicoot 2 Cortex Strikes Back
More or less a straight remake with everything intact, analog support and the aforementioned time trial addition. They’re not as intolerable as the first with the new running power-up, but they can be a chore in later stages. The ice physics are more manageable this time making directional change a breeze. What more can be said except it’s just like 20 years ago.
Crash Bandicoot Warped
Ironically the fan favorite suffers the most drawbacks. Not bad, but the changes are felt more often. The opening cutscene is less intimidating without the blackout cinematography building up Uka-Uka’s presence after he’s freed and the vehicles are where loyalty is betrayed. Not the animals, but the jet-ski and motorcycle. They’re a chore to even make a left turn at Albuquerque or veer off the edge of the earth before turning into a necessary ramp. Being faithful to the past is one thing, but missing an opportunity to fix what’s not up to snuff is disappointing. But aside from that, what you see is what you get: More power-ups, more level variety and a satisfying conclusion.
There were a lot of improvements made to Crash Bandicoot The N. Sane Trilogy, though it doesn’t completely eclipse the original, save the first game. But it’s a strong par for the course on its own and in comparison. Any negatives outside the stiff vehicle controls, unnecessary time trials and patient testing load times are from welded fan goggles through two decades of loyalty to Naughty Dog’s first glory days. However newer gamers who aren’t platformer enthusiasts might have a hard time getting used to what’s essentially a representation of console wars that could put politics to shame. What do you think new generation? In the meantime who knows what other properties in the Activision vault can rise from the grave in the future.
Pros: Fantastic HD Overhaul, Improved Controls, Easier Game play, Three Games in One, Catchy Soundtrack Remixes
Cons: Vehicle Controls, Loading Times, Added Time Trials