But the game that made Nitro Fueled a viable option was the Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy. As of February of this year, the game has sold over 10 million copies worldwide following its June 2017 release.
It was a complete remastering of the first three games in the series that were originally released on the PS1 in the late ‘90s. Vicarious Visions developed the game using the blueprints from Naughty Dog, the original developers of the game, and brought the series back to life with modern graphics and controls.
Crash had been dead for nearly a decade, and this return to form renewed interest in the zany Bandicoot. But was nostalgia for an old IP the main reason for the success, or does this remaster stand out on its own merits?
Almost two years after its release and in preparation for Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled, let’s take a look at the N-Sane Trilogy and see how it holds up.
The Crash Bandicoot series tells the story of an evil mad scientist, Dr. Neo Cortex, and his failed efforts to create a mutant army of animals and take over the world.
The only force that can beat him is Crash, a bandicoot that was turned into a mutant by Cortex but not made obedient to him.
He escapes from the scientist’s lab and falls on N. Sanity Island. From there, he must travel through the dangerous jungles, to ancient ruins, sketchy temples, dangerous bridges and finally the factories and laboratories of Cortex.
Subsequent games have Crash traveling the world and time itself to collect crystals, an energy source Cortex and his many, many minions plan to use to power his evil schemes.
These stories are told in two cutscenes, one at the beginning, and one at the end. The second and third games include periodic messages from Cortex and his lackeys at certain points, but the stories are simple backdrops to throw you into some rich, exciting and challenging environments.
In short: the story is simple enough and lets the gameplay speak for itself. The stories are well written and some lines of dialogue or visual gags get a solid chuckle out of me.
The first game especially tells its story through the environments you play through. Crash starts out deep in nature and jungle lands, before getting closer and closer to the industrial haven that is Cortex’s fortress. It’s a nice juxtaposition that tracks your progress without forcing you to watch a cutscene every 10-15 minutes of playtime.
Let’s start with the obvious. While the graphics of the original Crash games are beautiful and vibrant considering the hardware used, the “N-Sane Trilogy” take the spirit of those visuals and crank the dial to 11.
The game wouldn’t look out of place when compared to contemporary platformers like Ratchet and Clank, Super Mario Odyssey, A Hat in Time or Yooka Laylee. Crash’s personality is on full display here, as are the very exaggerated movements of Cortex, in particular.
Cutscenes from previous games are brought to new life, with the original stiff animation replaced with exhilarating production quality reminiscent of a high-quality CGI film.
The environments are lush and detailed, with several moving parts going on in the background that sometimes make you forget you’re playing a very linear hallway style platformer.
The water effects are beautiful as are the skyboxes, especially in the medieval levels from Crash Bandicoot: Warped. Those levels stand out as the prettiest ones in the entire collection.
Landscapes and enemies that looked murky in the PS1 saga now are fully realized visions and easily identifiable.
Visually the game improves 12-fold on the solid base Naughty Dog set up two decades prior.
Likewise, the soundtrack does an admirable job of retaining the spirit of the originals while adapting it to fit a modern style, with many of the tracks having a dynamic quality to them.
Josh Mancel’s original tracks are updated largely for the better, though some compositions have been unnecessarily meddled with, such as the exaggerated guitars in the “Hang Eight” theme.
Despite this, every track is still unique and sets the atmosphere of level perfectly. In terms of presentation, the N-Sane Trilogy knocks it out of the park.
Yet a breathtaking presentation can only take a game so far, so how is the gameplay?
It’s tough. The Crash games put an emphasis on precision platforming and precarious jumps. Mind you the original game was released in 1996 at the advent of 3-D platformers. It was also released weeks before Super Mario 64, a benchmark in platforming that essentially wrote the rulebook on how to do these games.
Crash has three abilities. He can jump, slide and spin attack his enemies into the stratosphere. Future games would add more moves to his repertoire, such as double jumps, a ground slam and a bazooka that shoots wumpa fruit.
Most levels are a gauntlet of small moving platforms that Crash has to avoid, with enemies walking around to keep him at bay.
They usually start off fairly tame, easing you into the upcoming challenge. Sometimes levels split into branching pathways, and you will have to go through each path if you want to 100% a level.
In Crash 1, the goal is just to make it to the end of the level and break every box without dying, netting you a box gem. In its sequels, the objective is to find a crystal that’s usually placed near the end, but those games are a bit more forgiving, as you’re allowed to die and still get a box gem.
It gets crazier when you add in special colored gems that open up new pathways to levels that let you break every box. Then there are death routes, which are only accessible if you make it to them (usually they’re located halfway through a level) without dying.
And you will die a lot. Many of the games’ bottomless pits and obstacles require a bit of trial and error or require your jumps to be just right. Other times, you just have to get in a certain rhythm to make those jumps reliably.
Overall, the controls are solid for the platforming sections. Crash is responsive and does moves with no delay. It is immensely satisfying to make it through an especially challenging level.
However, something feels off in many levels. Mainly in the first game, there were too many instances when I would die due to just barely clipping the edge of a platform.
The hitboxes of enemies and Crash himself also feel wrong, as you will take a hit if you don’t jump right in the middle of a foe. There are also moments when a jump doesn’t cover as much area as it should.
The camera placement is also a problem, as it puts the focus right behind Crash and causes issues when depth perception is required. You’ll have to take many more leaps of faith than you may want to. You will fall to your death several times due to this.
In a vacuum, these issues aren’t that bad and are minor annoyances at worst. Yet it all comes to a head in levels like Road to Nowhere and Sunset Vista. The two bridge levels fall victim to all three issues.
You will land on a platform and miraculously slide off it. There is a section with turtles that you must jump on. If you don’t hit these turtles right at the very edge of the platform and if you don’t hold the jump button all the way through, you will die. It is infuriating and I’ve gotten many a game over from those levels.
Other than that the platforming is tough but fair, and the other two games are much better with those issues.
The games are challenging, but are doable with patience and practice. It is certainly not the Dark Souls of platforming (I hate that if anything is remotely challenging, it gets labeled as “The Dark Souls of x”).
A Variety of Styles
Besides platforming, Crash will take control of vehicles in his levels. Sometimes it’s an airplane, jetski, motorcycle or jetpack, and sometimes you’re riding a hog, polar bear, a tiger or even a baby T-Rex.
These sections are fun and add some variety to the gameplay without overstaying their welcome.
Some of the controls feel off, however, as the jetski is way too jittery and making tight turns is impossible, making some levels a major pain to complete, especially if you’re going for the box gems or the relics.
Another hallmark of the series is the time trial mode. It challenges players to make it through a level as quickly as possible. There are “time crates” scattered throughout the level that will pause time for either one, two or three seconds, depending on what it says on the crate.
Beating a trial earns you relics, and there are three variants to collect: sapphire, gold and platinum.
It’s a nice feature that forces you to play the game in a different way. You aren’t stopping to hit every single box, you take more risks with your jumps and you utilize abilities like slide jumping and the Crash Dash more often than before.
Time trials started in Crash: Warped, but are added to the other two games in this collection. Don’t try getting relics in the first game. It won’t end well.
Finally, let’s talk about the boss battles. In all three games, after beating roughly five levels, you get to face a boss from Crash’s colorful rogue’s gallery.
Some of these include the ironically named Tiny Tiger, a huge, muscled up big cat, Ripper Roo, a crazed kangaroo that loves explosive crates, Dingodile, an Australian unholy mix of dingo and crocodile that has a flamethrower and N-Gin, a mad scientist with a short fuse and a missile sticking out of his head.
The fights are pretty easy and all follow a familiar pattern. Some bosses you have to dodge a barrage of attacks and then hit them when a weak spot opens. Sometimes you spin their projectile attacks back at them. The N-Gin fights are a lot of fun, as one requires you to battle his mech in space.
Some of these fights are fairly uninspired, (to beat Papu Papu in Crash 1 you just have to jump on him a few times while he spins around) but they’re short and easy and don’t take too much away from the game, and the set pieces can be admired for their beauty.
Crash Bandicoot is a dated series of games. They symbolize 3-D games at their (not Sega) genesis and include all the growing pains that come with that.
The levels are designed to be failed over and over again to add time to the experience, the bosses are laughably easy at times and while the controls work and are tight most of the time, it’s impossible to clear certain sections without dying an unfair amount of times due to the level design.
Yet, the game looks and sounds outstanding, and every unfair death leads to another breathtaking level.
Even though there are some kinks to the gameplay, once you get in a groove there’s a treasure trove of fun to be had. I grew up on these games, and they were a treat to come back to a decade later.
However, if you don’t have nostalgia for these games you may get frustrated. I recommend being patient, and maybe starting off with Cortex Strikes Back if the first game gets to be too much for you.
This is platform gaming at its finest and it can be an acquired taste. But I think it’s worth it.
Next week I’ll take a look at Crash’s PS1 companion Spyro the Dragon, and his set of remastered games that released last year.