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REVIEW: Crash Bandicoot remaster still a little creaky

  • reviewed on Nintendo Switch / rated E10+ / $39.99 / released July 2018
  • OFFICIAL SITE: crashbandicoot.com
  • PURCHASE LINK: Amazon
  • FINAL: You should TRY this game. 3 out of 5 stars

Crash Bandicoot had his own video game boom-to-bust in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. PlayStation’s answer to the likes of Mario and Sonic, Crash started out as one of Sony’s key game stars until he, well, crashed into irrelevance. Now out for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PC, “Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy” collects the first three “Crash Bandicoot” PlayStation games, remastered for today’s high-definition world. The set was released for PlayStation 4 last summer.

So how do Crash Bandicoot’s original adventures hold up, twenty years later? They’re largely okay, but there’s no avoiding the games’ creaky feel.

The first offering in the trilogy is the marsupial’s first appearance, naturally, and it is also the most difficult. This remaster of 1996’s “Crash Bandicoot” contains the series’ most obnoxious elements, some of which would be iterated on to better effect in the sequel games. It is extremely unforgiving, requiring plenty of memorization of enemy patterns and path layouts. All of the three games push you through complicated sequences of jumps and attacks, but the first game is easily the most brutal. The rope bridge levels in particular simply have no room for error, and the camera angle often makes your jump distance impossible to judge.

To help soften the challenge, “Crash” recognizes when you’re failing too frequently and starts handing out extra lives and tiki mask power-ups (the masks let Crash endure a single hit by an enemy.) There are also bonus paths in every level that offer a nice reward and, moreover, let you attempt them as many times as you want without counting against your life stock.

“Crash Bandicoot” is still a bear of a game, and you’re better off putting it aside when you get stuck so you can enjoy a confidence-boosting jaunt in the trilogy’s two less-frustrating options, “Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back” and “Crash Bandicoot: Warped.”

These two sequels add much-needed improvements. In “Cortex Strikes Back,” the series drops the first game’s forced linear map so you can pick which upcoming level you want to tackle. In “Warped,” Crash himself gradually earns new abilities – like a double-jump and a bazooka – that you can use when re-visiting levels to collect all of the hidden boxes and gems.

From a historical perspective, it’s interesting to have these three games right beside each other. You can see the franchise shift from a vicious “only the strong survive” video game into a more relaxed “maybe you want the option to explore” structure. This path would eventually lead Crash into more forgettable appearances, but “Cortex Strikes Back” and “Warped” definitely found a way to turn Crash’s jump-and-spin mechanics into something far more enjoyable.

The remastered trilogy makes everything look nice, but it misses the chance to smooth out the games’ twenty year old rough spots. It would have been great if the trilogy entirely abandoned the concept of a “game over” screen, given that you can restart a level anyway even if you run out of lives. And the trilogy preserves the original games’ often-unpredictably-funky collision design, which controls how close an enemy and Crash can be without the former killing the latter. There are many, many times when you die and you would swear that the baddie was not close enough to touch you. And why is some of the onscreen font work jaggy and not high-def crisp?

The “N. Sane Trilogy” includes two all-new bonus levels, which is a nice touch for diehards. You can also play as Crash’s sister Coco in all three games, when originally you could only play as Coco in “Warped.” Getting through all three games is probably a 15 to 20 hour ride, which you can stretch further if you want to find every hidden collectible and master every challenge.

“Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy” is a faithful remaster (almost TOO faithful) of a classic video game series. Like a lot of older games, it unfortunately retains problems that modern releases have long solved. If you enjoyed Crash before, you’ll probably enjoy his new graphical polish, but more improvements would have helped beef up the overall package.

“Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy” is available for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. This review is based on product supplied by the publisher. Images courtesy Activision.