Crash Bandicoot - N. Sane Trilogy (Vicarious Visions Game, PS4, 2017)
There is a general rule in life; you don’t mess with a classic. You are almost certainly setting yourself up to fail. Volkswagon tried with the re-launch of the ‘Mini’ and while the German version of the British classic car may be a solid vehicle and has racked up good sales, true fans of the original will say that the new model has none of the character that made it’s predecessor so revered. In recent years we have seen modern remakes of classic BBC comedies: ‘Yes Prime Minister’ and ‘Porridge’. ‘Yes Prime Minister’, despite being penned by the same writing team was an abhorrent mess, a complete insult to the class and quality that oozed from the original, and ‘Porridge’ (again from the pen of the original writers) while not quite as deeply unpleasant was still extremely forgettable. In a nutshell, if something has already been nailed, there is little point in trying to improve it.
This brings me round to the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, remade, updated and released for the PS4 in 2017. Comprising of a collection of the three original Crash Bandicoot platform games originally produced by Naughty Dog and released for the PS1 in the 1990s, but having had a full-on 2017 makeover, I was more than interested to see the finished result.
This review will assume you are at least familiar with the Crash platform games, but if you need a refresher you can find my review of the original PS1 Crash Bandicoot here. A very short summary is that they were particularly good platform games, with a terrific variety of colourful levels, coupled with a perfectly executed learning curve and difficulty level, making for an extremely tough but rewarding gaming experience. What I will be doing with this review is providing a comparison between the gameplay of the originals and the remake, trying to provide an answer to the question; have they improved or ruined a classic?
On a positive note it has to be said that first impressions are good. The front end menu is crisp and clear and you can instantly dive into any of the three games, there is no ‘unlocking’ required. The original games were well drawn and colourful, but the remakes look stunning. Everything is instantly recognisable but redrawn in significantly higher detail. The screen grabs here do nothing to convey the brightness and crispness on display. Crash, who was previously a collection of large polygons has become a beautifully drawn character with visible fur. The levels have also had a full on makeover and look quite wonderful for it. They are rich and vibrant, with added details like the grasses and plants that sway in the breeze. Upstream (one of the early levels in the first game) is jaw-droppingly beautiful with really excellent water effects.
So it looks better, but we could have guessed that, the killer is: ‘how does it play’? And the answer is very, very, very close to the original, but not quite the same. There are subtle differences to the gameplay. Nothing that would cause any kind of problem to the first time player, but to a player like myself that has invested many hours in the original games, they take a little getting used to. The game mechanics have changed ever so slightly. This is possibly due to Crash standing on a smaller ‘footprint’, so distances from enemies and those required for jumps have changed fractionally. Ultimately the problem is that Crash's jumps seem to be not quite as far. You have to be much more precise in your take off point to ensure you land safely and you find yourself slipping off the edges of platforms more than you did in the originals, again probably due to Crash’s smaller ‘footprint’. This doesn’t sound much but it means that in the first week of playing I was spin or jump attacking enemies, only for me to finish a millimetre before I reach the ‘contact’ zone, leading to a loss of life. And not once or twice, but again and again and again. It isn’t my imagination, it really is different. And when something changes that has grooved its way into muscle memory from hundreds of hours of play, it takes quite a while to adjust. Also some of the ‘into and out of the screen’ levels seem to have greater inclines and this also affects your take off and landing spots. As before, this wouldn’t affect a new player in any way, but it did mean that I, as a seasoned player, have had to re-learn how to play, making what is already a tough game significantly harder.
Another difference (but this time for the better) is the save game function. This was a gripe of mine in my original review of Crash 1; you could only save at the bonus stages and while your progress was saved your accumulated lives were not. This has been corrected and you now have three user-save slots and an auto-save slot for each game, accessible simply by pressing L2. You can then return later on and your exact progress (including accumulated lives) is loaded up. Be careful though, because once you have selected a save slot, pressing square saves and pressing x loads, and more than once I have pressed x by default and accidentally loaded a save file that was previously there rather than overwrite it with a new one which is what I meant to do, losing a huge chunk of progress in the process.
I have also noticed that if you struggle really badly with a game section the game will help you out after so many lives have been lost by throwing in additional checkpoints to make things a little easier (I don’t recall the original ever doing this). There are other minor gameplay changes, like the way you negotiate the bouncy boxes that propel you vertically (in levels such as ‘Native Fortress’). To get the higher jump you can now just hold ‘x’ whereas previously you had to time your ‘x’ press with landing on the box. This makes life considerably easier. The ‘ten' apple boxes which previously required up to ten jumps to get ten apples now only need five jumps and are no longer timed, and finally, if you fail on a bonus level it can now be replayed over and over until successful without losing any lives.
You can still rack up huge numbers of lives which is just as well as certain levels will eat through them at an alarming rate. My first attempt at ‘Native Fortress’ in Crash 1 was hugely problematic and when I reached ‘Road to Nowhere’ (which is a horrifically difficult level) on my first attempt burnt through over forty lives attempting to clear it. This level, maybe more than any other, causes difficulties for the player that is used to the old game with the changes in jumping mechanics.
However, despite those minor gripes it remains a seriously impressive and fun game. So to answer the question ‘have they ruined it?’, I would say, with a degree of surprise, no. Credit where it’s due, by and large they haven’t messed around with stuff for the sake of it. The levels are still the same, in the same order, with the same difficulty. Have they improved it? Well from me it is a tentative thumbs-up. There is no doubt that the games now look utterly fabulous and most of the tweaks have improved things. For the new player to the games, with no baggage from the originals affecting their gameplay I would say that these are inarguably stunning platform games, certainly as good as any that I have played. I was always a huge fan of the Crash series and the remake really has done the original games justice. They look amazing, with a wonderful variety of levels and, importantly, they retain that fabulous difficulty and learning curve that made the originals so good to play. Hugely frustrating and rewarding in equal measure, but scrupulously fair. The gameplay is spot on and the whole package is dripping in quality. The only slight caveat I have to mention is that those overly familiar with the originals will have to work through the frustration of relearning some of the basic game mechanics before reaping the rewards. That aside, I was pleasantly surprised that just for once, a ‘classic’ has been remade and has come out of the process genuinely better for it. Volkswagon and BBC take note, it is actually possible…