Foreword: I really loved the old games so this is going to essentially be an essay. Sorry.
It’s been a long time coming but Crash Bandicoot is back. The orange mascot of the original Playstation has returned with the games that made him popular which now all have a fresh coat of paint. The question is how has this series aged? Many people feel nostalgia for these games but do they hold up today?
This remake has been developed by Vicarious Visions who have a history with the series reaching back over a decade. They made the GameBoy Advance games which were actually some of the better post-PSone Crash games after Naughty Dog had moved on. The 2D side scrolling levels in these games were closer to the original formula than any of the other spinoffs that came after such as the Crash of the Titans games, which ditched the loved formula for a God of War ripoff. Vicarious also made the decent Crash Nitro Kart which looked and played the part but didn’t have enough content.
I have always been a Crash Bandicoot fan. These were the games of my childhood. Of all the games on the original Playstation, Crash and Spyro were my favourite games and I’m sure I’m not alone in that opinion. When I heard that this remake was happening I went back and played through the originals with my friends to get excited for the remake. What we found was pretty interesting and something that we honestly didn’t remember. The first game in its original state is broken.
The original Crash Bandicoot has some great levels and laid a good foundation for the later games but many of the mechanics from the later games were not here yet. I’m fine with things like the slide ability and relics not being in the game but it was also missing key features that make the games actually fun. The saving system is shocking as you can only save by completing the bonus stages on each level. This doesn’t sound too bad but you could only attempt the bonus stage once per level attempt. Now on the earlier levels this isn’t too bad as they are pretty easy but on later levels with Dr. Brio and Cortex bonuses they were so difficult that it would be almost impossible to do on your first try. This meant that every time you ran out of lives, which happens often as the first game can be difficult, you could lose your progress from the last 5+ levels if you hadn’t managed to save.
In addition to this, the core gameplay mechanic of collecting all boxes to get the gem for each level was also completely ridiculous in the first game. Even after getting a checkpoint, the boxes that you had broken beforehand would respawn if you died. This meant that to 100% the game you had to break every box on every level, including those hard as nails bonus stages, without dying once. It’s pretty much impossible.
I’m grateful to say that Vicarious Visions realised how obtuse this system was and has done away with all of the problems I have listed. Broken boxes stay broken after a checkpoint has been reached, saving is done by autosave each level meaning if you lose your lives you just go back to the start of the single level and bonus stages are now accessed by a teleporter after the three tokens are found. In addition to these changes, bouncy boxes that contain 10 fruit now only take 5 bounces to break instead of the original 10. This was brought over from later games and is such a nice little quality of life change that removes the hassle from some of the bonus stages where there were heaps of these boxes.
Now that the original Crash Bandicoot is playable we can move onto the graphics of this remake. They are beautiful and perfectly fit the tone of the games. They managed to maintain the character from the old graphics while bringing a new stylised look to the game. I was initially worried from some of the initial footage that this would look more like Skylanders and some of the footage looked a bit too washed out. I’m glad to say that Vicarious took this feedback on board because it now looks stunning.
The difficulty of the original has been maintained in the form of the coloured gems though. On 6 specific levels you must complete them traditionally, getting all boxes without dying. These levels include 2 of the hardest, in my opinion, with the Lost City and Slippery Climb levels. These feature difficult platforming and are probably the longest levels in the game. These coloured gems are required to get many other clear gems so to get anywhere near 100% you must complete these. I’ve had to think long and hard about this but I think I like this feature. While it may alienate some of the casual gamers I think that it is important to have something challenging for skilled players. In Crash 2 and 3, coloured gems would usually be on a separate, difficult route as an optional challenge. The first game was not designed with this in mind so I think Vicarious had to make a tough decision to maintain some level of challenge to 100% the game. It may be tough and frustrating but with perseverance these levels can be rewarding upon completion. They are of course completely optional so there is no need to stress yourself out if you just want to finish the game.
Speaking of difficulty, I’ve seen quite a few reviewers complaining about the level of difficulty here and I want to address some of their complaints. Lets start with possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard: the Crash Bandicoot is as hard as Dark Souls argument. I know it’s now a thing to compare every hard game to Dark Souls but this is just a terrible comparison. Dark Souls is the definition of inaccessible: takes hours to understand the mechanics, many important features of the game are not explained to you and if you die you lose heaps of progress and it is possible to lose all your souls which you need to level up. In Crash you literally spawn about 20 metres back. Sure it can take a little while to get used to Crash’s weighty jumps but come on now.
Another argument I’ve seen is being annoyed that enemies follow a set path and do not go out of their way to attack you. You know what other game has this? Mario. I’ve thought about this and I believe that Crash Bandicoot is the most accurate translation of the original 2D Mario games (that are considered to be some of the best games of all time) to 3D. They both feature jumping over holes as a main mechanic, landing on enemies heads to kill them, feature and invulnerability powerup etc. In platforming games, enemies are obstacles that prevent you from getting to the end. This isn’t an open-world game with an in depth combat system. It’s a platforming game.
Now that that’s out of the way, back to Crash Bandicoot. The addition of speed run relics is a great improvement to the game that encourages replayability. They may not be for everyone, especially in the first game as it feels like getting gold relics is harder than in later games, but it is well featured with leaderboards to compare yourself to your friends and world leaders.
One feature that I would have like to see would be the addition of either ghosts or replays for relic runs. A system similar to the Trials Evolution model would be fantastic as it could help players get better at the levels by seeing how to improve your time and it is always fun to see how the best in the world do it. I think this would be a great feature as some levels such as The High Road are impossible unless you learn to abuse the level which you can’t expect new players to figure out for themselves.
Crash Bandicoot is a much improved game now that it has been remade with the aid of hindsight. The annoying issues with the game have been cleared up meaning the game now offers more fantastic and pure Crash levels that complement the future games.
Crash Bandicoot 2 is the best Crash game. It takes what was good from the first game and turns it up to eleven with more varied level designs and the implementation of the great slide mechanic which allows great rhythm. The game is hard enough to be challenging without having too much frustration. The only level that comes to mind as frustrating would be trying to 100% Cold Hard Crash as too much backtracking is involved.
Crash 2 introduces the warp room mechanic which improves on the first game’s navigation between levels. A welcome feature is the ability to access the bonus warp room with the secret levels by going down below the first floor. Previously these were only accessible by entering one of the secret entrances which could be a hassle.
The levels all look beautiful with my standout being the river levels. The flowing water looks fantastic as you jet over it. Bosses are now replayable which is a nice touch even if they are pretty lame. The Komodo Brothers are notoriously easy as they barely even try to attack you. The final boss is still a joke too but that’s not Vicarious’ fault.
As mentioned earlier, coloured gems are now separated from the clear gems and are attained usually by extra pathways that are more challenging than the normal way. In my mind this was the best addition to the game’s formula as it meant that challenging sections could be incorporated into the levels without making them too hard for casual players. These are sometimes accessed by “death-routes” which are platforms that only appear if you haven’t died up until this point in the level. This is the perfect way of incorporating the element of staying alive into a more accessible solution as you could just decide to go for the route this time instead of collecting the boxes.
Another great new feature in the second game are the nitro crates which explode upon touching them. By allowing these to be detonated with a special box, usually at the end of the level, this allows precision platforming challenges without requiring the player to manually break these boxes. These crates often fill the alternate routes as this means the average player could still get the clear gem for breaking all boxes.
Crash 2 also adds secrets which unlock bonus levels. I’ve always thought these were clever and they aren’t too hard to find without using a guide. They aren’t obvious but the game does hint that there may be something there. The bonus levels are great fun and usually are harder versions of a themed level such as the night polar bear level.
I loved Crash 2 and think it represents the best the series has to offer. Plenty of memorable and pure Crash levels as well as the best gimmick levels of the series with the polar bear riding sections. The jet-pack levels are pretty disappointing but the worst is yet to come in that regard. Crash 2 just nails the core gameplay and improves upon the foundations of the first game in every way.
Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped is the game that I always seemed to remember as my favourite when I was a kid. Coming back now things have changed. The actual Crash levels here are fantastic with the time travel setup leading to some great level themes such as the Arabian, Egyptian and Futuristic themes. The problem is that there are just too many gimmick levels in this game. Gimmick levels are what some reviewers consider to be “variety” but I call them what they are. Underdeveloped, boring and just not fun mini-game style levels that have very little in common with what makes these games great.
There are four motorbike levels and it controls just terribly. There are four jet ski levels which are better but they aren’t very inspired and the bonus level is just painful to 100%. The three flying levels are just boring and the two underwater levels control terrible with Crash being unable to turn away from the obstacles in his way with any form of precision. That adds up to a total of 13 levels that just really aren’t that fun. The levels where Coco ride’s Pura are great fun but that’s just more of the polar bear levels from the last game.
The upgrades in Warped are another addition I could have just done without. The slam upgrade does nothing, double jump and spin tornado ruins the level designs as you can just fly past obstacles and the bazooka is terrible because it kills the pacing of the game and makes it too easy. Sprint is a fine addition but it just means that nobody should bother attempting the relics until you finish the game as the times you get will be blown out of the water with sprint.
Now with all of that being said, Crash 3 can still be great fun to play and to 100%. All the secret paths and coloured gems return and the normal Crash levels here are probably the best of the series.
Crash 3 was the game that first introduced the relic speedrunning mechanic to the series and I think that will be its greatest legacy. Speedrunning is so much fun once you learn the levels and sharing the times on leaderboards is a great extension of the original vision here. Overall, my opinion of Warped has dipped. It is still fun to play through and I’d definitely recommend playing it but nostalgia had repressed the bad parts.
Summary and Final Thoughts
Vicarious Visions have done a fantastic job with the remake of this game. The only games that I can think of with remakes/remasters as good as this would be Resident Evil and maybe Halo. The look of the game is great and they managed to keep the feel of Crash’s movement the same which is great. The PS2/Xbox/Gamecube Crash game, “The Wrath of Cortex” tried to recreate the formula but the controls were too floaty and the levels were too wide meaning the magic was lost. I’m glad to say that this was not that case here. The including of Coco as a playable character was a nice addition too. She may just be a skin but both her and Crash have personalised death animations which are always fun to see.
Overall, Crash Bandicoot: N.Sane Collection is great and amazing value for some of the prices I’ve seen it at. The first game is vastly improved, the second is a classic and the third has some great levels but gets bogged down with filler. Overall though, there is plenty of replayability here and you definitely get value for your money. I’d consider it a must play for anyone who liked the earlier games but I think most people could enjoy this game if they’re willing to spend some time getting used to it. If any new players are struggling I’d suggest just getting to the end of the first before moving on to 100% the second and third before returning to the first game with a better grasp of the controls to beat the harder levels without dying. I really think Vicarious Visions have proven themselves here and I hope that we get to see an original game from them soon.