Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy - Overview


Note: This information reflects all the patches up to June 29, 2018. For the original overview, click here.


After vanishing off the face of the Earth for the better part of a decade, Crash was revived by the studio behind most of the brand's Game Boy Advance output. The talented folks collectively known as Vicarious Visions aimed to take the bandicoot and his fans back to the franchise's roots, remaking the original PlayStation platformers for a whole new generation and long-time fans alike. Let's take a look at the N. Sane Trilogy and see how it stacks up against the beloved originals that started it all.

Crash stands on the beach while spinning a Wumpa fruit on the tip of his finger.The stunning graphics are leaps and bounds above the original trilogy and every other game in-between.

The N. Sane Trilogy fits all-new versions of Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2, and Crash Bandicoot: WARPED into one modern package. The presentation is the first change you'll notice: comparing the limited (though beautifully-aged) visuals seen in the original PlayStation to the beastly hardware from 20 years later is like night and day. Vicarious Visions' proprietary engine lifts everything to an almost pre-rendered movie quality, thanks to the much more realistic lighting and environments, the amazing special effects (such as fur and water), and, of course, higher resolutions than ever seen in the franchise before.

Originally a timed PlayStation 4 exclusive, this collection was released on the Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and (for the first time) PC exactly one year later. The games will look as good as your platform of choice will allow them to, so keep that in mind if you have more than one option. If you're moderately savvy with technical jargon, the base PlayStation 4 and Xbox One models let you enjoy these games in 1080p. The PlayStation 4 Pro model bumps up the resolution to 1440p, and the Xbox One X and PC releases go full 4K (Ultra HD). You also get HDR compatibility on the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One models that support it, though its implementation doesn't exactly improve much (and some may argue actually makes things look a bit worse). The Nintendo Switch version, on the other hand, only runs at 720p in docked mode, and it has a lot of compromises compared to the other platforms, such as the lack of realistic fur, simpler lighting, and a lack of reflections, to name a few (thankfully, it does still look great for its hardware). The games run at 30 frames per second on all consoles, but you can double it up to 60 if you're playing on a computer with the right hardware.

Crash is zapped by the Evolvo-Ray while being overseen by a nervous Nitrus Brio and a maniacal Cortex.The real-time cutscenes look like excerpts from a CGI movie.

The cinematics take full advantage of the new graphics engine. The characters move with such fluidity, the environments are rendered so beautifully, and the scene transitions are done so professionally, that it would be easy to mistake these scenes for excerpts from a CGI movie. It becomes even more impressive when you realize these are all being rendered in real-time, which means there is no discrepancy between cutscenes and gameplay — the actual game looks just as good while you're playing, even if the lighting looks a tad awkward in certain places, and the animations are noticeably better in the cinematics. Overall, this is a gorgeous, sharp-looking remake with a ton of detail and bright, vivid colors. The impact is even greater for those who remember the original games, since comparing all the differences and looking at the gargantuan improvements becomes an absolutely joyful experience, regardless of the more subjective little things that only die-hard fans will notice.

Going back to the cinematics for a moment, there is actually a pretty important issue that is often overlooked: the complete lack of subtitles. This was the norm in the early days of the PlayStation era, but as the years went by, more and more games started having optional subtitles for accessibility reasons (ranging from hearing issues to lack of familiarity with the available languages' spoken form). The Crash series has always been very backwards in that respect, but the fact that the N. Sane Trilogy still doesn't feature subtitles in any form is simply inexcusable for a 2017 title. Deaf players continue being unable to fully understand the story as a result.

Crash stands on a metal surface in front of a few patrolling robots and an acid-spewing pipe.The realistic lighting and special effects breathe new life into these classics.

To finish off in the topic of presentation, let's talk about the music. The original composer, Josh Mancell, had no input on the new tracks, and even though the N. Sane Trilogy doesn't change up the melodies too much, a lot of instruments sound different, and there was a deliberate artistic choice to make the new music sound like its own thing. It's a little concerning, however, that there are entire instrument layers missing from certain tracks. This happens most frequently with the animal sounds from Crash 1, and it makes the affected tracks feel more repetitive and simplistic to varying degrees. Thankfully, these tracks are the exception and not the norm. The remaining changes are more subjective, and it's easy to pick up some new favorite tracks along the way while disliking certain changes, because unlike the graphics, the original games' music still holds up fine today (audio clarity aside).

The outskirts of a medieval village.The level design is exactly as you remember it in all three games.

Now let's talk about the most important thing: the gameplay. The levels are perfect recreations of the originals, since the developers were actually able to reuse the level geometry from the past. Everything (and literally everything) else was remade from scratch, which brought the opportunity to improve certain things. Crash's controls and physics have been unified across all three games, so you'll get a consistent experience from beginning to end, plus the ability to finally play Crash 1 with analog movement. The controls are most similar to the original version of Crash 2 (more specifically, Crash's momentum is cancelled when you stop moving in mid-air), which is a very reasonable choice given how prominent floating crate formations are. Jumping will take a bit of time to get used to if you're coming off the original games, but it works perfectly. At first glance anyway...

There's an issue with Crash slipping off edges now (even when you're jumping in place), which means the tolerance for landing on something is much lower. There will be plenty of occasions where you successfully make a jump but end up slipping off the platform or crate anyway. You can and should blame this on the game, since none of the layouts have been altered to accomodate this new and sometimes frustrating quirk. It becomes particularly noticeable when you're bouncing repeatedly on a crate and slip off after a while, despite not touching the controller.

Unfortunately, that's not the only thing that's amiss with jumping. The distance covered when you jump from one place to another is unchanged, but after bouncing on something (like, say, a crate or an enemy), Crash slows down and doesn't reach as far ahead. This means bouncing off things hinders Crash's movement just enough to make precision platforming unforgiving at times. This is at its most prominent in The High Road, a level from the first game where you need to bounce off turtles across long pits from beginning to end. There's no sugarcoating it — You will die here a lot. It's actually pretty baffling that this level in particular has never been fixed since release (maybe throw in an extra wooden plank or two to accomodate the shorter bouncing distances).

Crash slips on ice.Some changes like ice-skating take some time to get used to.

Ice-skating has been changed too, but it's easier to get accostumed to the new handling compared to precision platforming. Once you realize Crash skates faster than he used and know when to slide, you'll start getting a grip on the new controls bit by bit.

Now let's talk about the many improvements the new versions have to offer. Crash 1 benefits the most from this update, since it originally had the most limitations and dubious design choices in the trilogy. For instance, you'll be happy to know that saving actually works properly now. Not only is an auto-save feature present in every game, but you no longer need to beat bonus rounds to save in Crash 1. You can save your progress between levels or just let the game do it for you, making progression that much more enjoyable. The only downside is that Crash 1's map system means you still need to beat all the levels in order, so forget about skipping The High Road or any other brick walls you may come across.

Another major and very welcome change in the first game is that you can lose a life and still get a gem. This is because checkpoints now remember which crates you've broken, just like they always did in the sequels (you can also check how many crates you're missing at any point in every game, which used to be a feature exclusive to the third game). Crash 1 does open up exceptions for the colored gems, which still require you to do perfect runs. Doing this intentionally is a weird design choice (especially given how many levels require colored gems to actually break all the crates in the first place), and if you mess up your run, you'll be forced to exit and reenter the level, since the developers weren't kind enough to give you a "Restart Level" option (it does show up in time trials, so it's clearly an oversight rather than a limitation). On the flipside, Crash 1 now lets you retry bonus rounds if you fail, but the added lenience is balanced by these having become obligatory for gems, making things consistent with the sequels.

Dr. Nitrus Brio stands in his lab with some beakers in hand. Crash is standing in front of him, while a sentient blob with a face looks menacingly at the latter.Like many things in the new versions, the bosses are more balanced.

The dynamic difficulty from the sequels was carried over to the first game. Fail to reach a checkpoint too many times and you'll be granted an extra mask or two for protection, and if you're still having trouble, you'll get an extra checkpoint on your way to the next one. Certain things were also tweaked, such as the addition of visual hints here and there (like marks on the floor in Toxic Waste that let you know where the bouncing barrels will hit). This sort of hints are present in every game, but only where things used to be frustrating, unpredictable, or unfair, which makes the games more accessible to newcomers without taking the meat of the challenge away. Arguably, the same can't be said about the new text hints you get while loading a level, since most of them are either useless or reveal secrets that are fun to find on your own. It's worth noting that the bosses in the first game are actually harder now, since you no longer get free masks for each battle (also, Papu Papu has 5 hit points instead of 3). This is entirely justified as the bosses were never particularly tough anyway.

Crash 2 had very few glaring issues to begin with, but it does have similar improvements of its own (such as replaying bosses no longer being a secret feature). Unfortunately, backtracking is still as awkward as it's ever been, marking a hugely missed opportunity. Now that a fixed camera is no longer necessary to compensate for the demanding graphics, it would have been nice being able to turn it in a 180º angle, or even just have it zoom out more when you're running towards the screen, the same way it happens in chase levels. The rest is mostly kept the same, though Polar is now considerably looser in control, which will take you a while to get used to.

Coco rides Pura on the Great Wall of China while some Lab Assistants in Chinese garbs train in the distance.Pura and the vehicles feel different. Some changes are more intuitive than others.

As for WARPED, there are a number of changes with its vehicles and alternate gameplay schemes. Pura's top speed is insanely fast, for one, and drifting with the motorcycle works differently, since hitting the brakes actually impedes that ability. Swimming underwater is kept more or less the same, though the sub has a nasty tendency to lock your vertical movement after a boost if you're holding up or down.

The biplane deserves special mention for being one of the most improved things in the entire collection. Aiming at an angle used to be horrendously awkward, as the biplane constantly snapped back to being parallel to the ground. This has been fixed, so you don't have to fight with the controls to aim anymore. Not only that, but you can also slow down in case you want to focus on a target, and there's an aiming reticle to make shooting more intuitive. Thanks to the improved draw distance, you can also shoot things from much farther away. The biplane is the perfect example of how to revamp something in all the right ways, and you will never want to go back to the original versions of these levels after this. The only downside here is that you have to sit through the intro with Crash/Coco waving at the player whenever you lose a life or restart a time trial.

The jet-ski is a funny case. If you're used to the way it handled previously, then you're going to have a hard time adapting yourself to the new controls and physics. The camera is always placed directly behind it, which is a plus, but how much you like the new physics depends on the way you play (the key to changing your trajectory is to stop accelerating while turning, or you'll just end up sliding in an arch; another thing that should be in the loading screen hints). Compared to the original jet-ski, the new one runs slower, which might be something intentional to help you with precision, but it's kind of an odd choice when the developers could have gone with analog acceleration (you can now use the pressure-sensitive R2 button, but the jet-ski ignores how hard you're pressing it, sadly). This vehicle is unique in that it's better suited for newcomers rather than long-time players, but practice makes perfect, and there is a good chance the new controls will grow on you regardless of your history with WARPED, since they do the job quite well once you understand the ins and outs of steering.

Coco runs from a giant rolling boulder in the middle of the jungle.Coco is now fully playable in all three games.

The N. Sane Trilogy isn't just made of changes, tweaks, and alterations, though. It also brings brand new stuff to enjoy, such as a fully playable Coco. Don't let these words scare you, because even though Coco's never had it good as a platforming character in the past, this time she can be chosen at will, and she plays just like Crash, for better or worse. Coco doesn't have quite as many death animations as her zanier big brother, but she finally reacts to hazards like you'd expect her to. She's much more expressive than ever before, no longer being a stoic and unfunny counterpart to our goofy protagonist. The difference between both characters is purely cosmetic, sure, but it's an appreciated bonus for those who like Coco or simply want a break from Crash. It's worth noting that the boss fights and most vehicle levels except the bi-plane ones are still restricted to each character, so you won't be riding a jet-ski on the open seas as Crash or fighting Cortex with Coco, for example. The classic on-foot levels, however, are fair game for either bandicoot.

Two extra levels are also included. The first one is called Stormy Ascent, and it's a level originally removed from the first game for being too difficult. The level became well-known after a Crash Mania user known as Hacc found it in the original disc's files, and its popularity led the developers to include it here as an optional bonus. The other level is brand new and made specifically for the N. Sane Trilogy. You'll find it in WARPED under the name Future Tense. As you might have guessed, it takes place in the futuristic city setting, and it's designed to make use of Crash's unlockable super powers and provide completionists with new obstacles to overcome. Besides adding some things that weren't possible in the original games, it also incorporates elements from another level removed from the original Crash 1 as a nod to the hardcore part of the fanbase. This level's expansive design and originality with recycled assets feels very much like something you'd see in a successor to the original trilogy (arguably moreso than some of the previous efforts in some ways).

Time trials are now present in every game, as are trophies.

If you've always liked WARPED's time trials, you'll be pleased to know that they're now present in the first two games as well (thankfully, however, they're also entirely optional). You even get the speed shoes power in Crash 2 after beating the final boss. More interesting, perhaps, is the inclusion of online leaderboards where you can check how well you're ranking and indirectly compete against other players (sadly, these aren't present in the Switch version).

It's a bit of a shame that time trials still remove checkpoints, especially if you're not good at these and just want to beat the minimum requirements to go for 100%. Thankfully, the only time trials you actually need to beat to get 100% are still WARPED's, which arguably has the shortest and easiest levels, as well as the lowest requirements. As such, it's a bit hard to call this a flaw, since it's up to you if you want to spend over an hour trying to do a perfect run on the first game's Sunset Vista.

This being a 2017 title, there are, of course, achievements to conquer. These optional tasks are scattered throughout the trilogy, and they range from mundanely easy to ridiculously hard. Each game has its own set of achievements, and they're fun time-wasters for anyone who wants an extra challenge after getting everything there is to collect.

(wheeze)

An in-depth look at three remakes is a lot to digest, but suffice to say that if you weren't there for the franchise's origins or you simply want to get reacquainted with these old favorites, the N. Sane Trilogy does have you covered. With spectacular graphics and a slew of new features and improvements, these timeless classics are richer than ever. Precision platforming may have become a little more frustrating in some places, but this is still a truly fun experience; one that reminds us why Crash was such an icon in the late nineties.

The good

  • The characters and environments look amazing
  • Outstanding cutscenes above anything previously seen in the franchise
  • Some things are more accessible thanks to some subtle hints and tweaks
  • The unified physics make Crash easier to control in the first game
  • The camera in jet-ski levels is much better. You might also prefer the new controls
  • The biplane is perfect
  • Optional time trials in the first two games
  • Online leaderboards for time trials (excluding the Nintendo Switch)
  • Coco is fully playable in every game
  • Dynamic difficulty has been added to Crash 1
  • You can lose a life and still get a clear gem in Crash 1
  • Bonus rounds in Crash 1, though mandatory for gems now, can be replayed with no penalties
  • The awful save system from Crash 1 is gone and all games auto-save now
  • All bosses and hidden levels in Crash 2 are now easy to access after being unlocked
  • You can check how many crates you're missing in any level from any game
  • Two new optional levels are available, both very challenging for even long-time players

The bad

  • Crash covers less distance after bouncing on something, making some segments an exercise in frustration
  • He also slips off edges very easily
  • Crash 1 remains as linear as ever in terms of level choices
  • Backtracking is still awkward and frustrating
  • A few music tracks are missing instruments and feel poor compared to the originals
  • There is still no restart option unless you're doing a time trial
  • Still no subtitles despite this being a 2017 title


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