When Sony announced the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy during E3 2016, fans who had been longing for the world's favourite orange marsupial to return rejoiced. Finally, players could experience the adventures of Crash in his bid to defeat Cortex in HD, admire the environments with better graphics and animations, and just re-live the nostalgia trip we all yearn for every now and then. But there's a hitch: We're in an age where virtual reality is the ground-breaking thing, and expansive, enthralling games like The Witcher 3 and Breath of the Wild are winning Game of the Year awards, and so how well is a platformer that relies heavily on nostalgia and doesn't introduce anything new to the genre going to fare?
The first thing you hear when you boot the game up is the booming voice of the nefarious Dr. Neo Cortex: "Activision presents... a smashing blast from the past!" It's made explicitly clear the route Vicarious Visions has opted for; they're not focused on introducing new elements or revitalising Crash, their goal was to simply take the original three Crash Bandicoot games and make them look impressive for the current era. For the most part, they've achieved that. From the first level where Crash wakes up on N.Sanity Beach, to Cortex's lab in the second game, to riding Pura the tiger along the Great Wall of China in the third, every environment is rich and full of life.
A special mention needs to go to levels like Ruination in Cortex Strikes Back. The night sky illuminated by the occasional lightning flash, when you can see parts of the level in the background such as a gorilla throwing logs looks incredible with the modern aesthetic. Things like the amount of detail in the foliage in a lot of the early levels in the first game, or flickering lights that are found in so many of the industrial-style levels, add a lot of detail and charm that simply wasn't possible on the PS1.
Despite looking very impressive, sounding far better than the originals with remastered audio, and playing just like it did the first time(s) around, it's hard to recommend the N.Sane Trilogy to anyone that isn't playing it for nostalgic purposes. While the gameplay was impressive when the original released in 1996, since then the platforming genre has evolved and there has been plenty of titles that improved upon the concept. Just this year, Yooka-Laylee was released and while it was inspired by Banjo-Kazooie, it was a fresh adventure that introduced new ideas rather than a simple rehash like the Crash remaster.
Mechanically, there isn't much new to note. All the levels are near-identical to their original releases, with not much new to discover at all. The first game still has the three types of tokens (Tawna, N. Brio, and Cortex) while the latter two games have secret levels and routes unlocked by completing the prerequisites for the gems. The games were often infuriating back in the day toward the latter levels, largely due to the clever layout and design of each area. That hasn't changed; expect to be effing and blinding your way through some of the more challenging stages if you're going for all relics and gems with 100% completion.
While infuriation is a regular feeling, that's also where the Crash games have always excelled. Completionists will be right at home with the N.Sane Trilogy, as there's often two, three, or even four gems and medals to unlock by achieving different unspecified objectives such as breaking all boxes without losing a life, discovering a secret path behind a fake wall, or reaching the end of a path before a timer runs out. Combine that with going for a platinum time trial relic on every single stage, and there's plenty of reasons to spend considerable time in each area. On top of that, the time trial feature first introduced in Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped has been implemented in all three titles, including a global leaderboard, which is a great addition for the speedrunners who fancy their chances at setting some records.
It's not easy to say, since Crash is a beloved franchise to many, but a brand-new game with our favourite bandicoot as the protagonist would've been preferable. Instead, we're left with three games that we've already experienced, and mechanics that truly feel lacklustre given the plethora of other games on the market. Crash's simple spin and slide mechanics found in the first two titles don't offer much in the way of variety, and while Warped offers more abilities like the double jump and fruit bazooka, along with more interesting levels like ones with Coco on a jet ski or Crash traversing the bottom of the ocean, there's still not enough side-content, nor an engaging storyline, to make the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy a must-have game in 2017. The introduction of Coco as a fully playable character is a nice touch, and it's well done, but ultimately it doesn't add the kind of variety needed to elevate the game from nostalgic curio to modern essential.
As a stand-alone experience, unless Crash Bandicoot was one of your favourite gaming characters in the '90s and '00s, his debut on PS4 isn't worth the purchase. While it is charming, looks fantastic, and has a plethora of content for those motivated to 100% it, you'll be done with the game incredibly quickly if you just want to experience everything once. The memories of playing the originals seem to be sugar coated, as getting frustrated with seemingly unfair deaths was a common occurrence, then finishing a level with boxes left standing despite obliterating every wooden cube that you came across is nothing short of exasperating. If you want to experience a good modern platformer, pick up Yooka-Laylee. If you're happy with next to no new additions to the Crash games and have the drive to replay levels over and over, then the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy would be a worthy purchase.