PAX East 2017: Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy Jumps Like the 90s Never Ended

Remasters are nice but there’s always a question of necessity.  Does a PS3 game really benefit that much from a PS4 release? The Crash Bandicoot games don’t have this problem, though, because there’s no way to avoid the dated look of the originals. All three did fantastic things with polygonal platforming in their day, but that was the late ’90s and even though they still play just fine it’s hard to ignore that the original is over twenty years old and looks it. Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy is knocking the edges off the low-poly art but preserving almost everything else exactly the same as it was, making for a collection that’s as much about preservation as it is remastering.

It’s hard to overstate that Crash is a character that succeeded in spite of its design. The PS1 was at a stage in its life that it needed a mascot and Robbit or the Toshinden crew weren’t going to cut it, much less purple polygon-head-thing.  Crash Bandicoot came out and was a fantastic platformer with a weird main character, but it was early days in 3D design so the game not only got a pass looking more creepy than cute but became a major hit. His career hit the skids post-PS1, but under Naughty Dog’s wing everything Crash was in was a hit, including a cart racer before doing that became the joke of mascot spin-offs. Crash may not have been quite the right character for the job but the timing was perfect and Naughty Dog was transforming itself from the Rings of Power/Way of the Warrior studio into the AAA powerhouse it’s still known as today.

Still, great as the Crash games were, there’s no question how dated they looked, so the recent announcement of Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy was welcome news. The PAX East build had three levels available, one from the original Crash Bandicoot and two from Crash Bandicoot 2, and they played exactly like you might remember. Crash runs, jumps, and spins his way through the old familiar levels, but everything looks fantastic this time around. Crash is properly fuzzy, level geometry and textures are nicely detailed, and while the game plays the same it looks like something you’d see on a modern console. The trilogy isn’t identical to its original incarnation, though, because certain aspects of the games really could use a once-over. Not the difficulty, of course, but things like adding the end-of-level box count to the first Crash, plus camera angles and draw distance that were a product of the PS1 limitations.

The original Crash games had a camera that looked almost straight down, which was a design choice more about helping the PS1 than the player. While the camera doesn’t look off into the distance forever, it is angled to give a better view of what’s coming up. While it wasn’t on display, I did ask after Bridge to Nowhere, which was a level from the original crash where the fog blocked out the view of the bridge roughly fifteen feet (literally) from where Crash was standing.  The fog is retained, for purposes of atmosphere, but the draw distance is said to be much less claustrophobic. Like any of the small handful of changes in Crash N-Sane Trilogy, the point is to update and preserve the games with minimal interference to the original design.

That’s the important thing about N-Sane Trilogy; the developers aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel but rather do the metaphorical equivalent of fixing the tire pressure and adding a touch of chrome. No spinners or LEDs, though, because there’s a fine line between snazzy and tacky. Crash Bandicoot was one of the defining series of the 90s console scene, and N-Sane Trilogy is every game, level, obstacle, and difficulty spike rebuilt from the ground up to be as faithful within reason as possible. If you loved Crash then this is the definitive collection, and if you’ve never played before but always meant to then there should be no better way to get up to speed with the series.