s someone who has played the first three Crash Bandicoot games over and over again the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy it delivers exactly what I wanted, the platforming for better or for worse retains the demanding and occasionally punishing challenge of the originals, while coating it with a fantastic visual and audio polish that makes returning to the experience feel fresh.
Vicarious Visions has done an impeccable job in retaining the tough but rewarding platforming of Naughty Dog’s original trilogy, while giving every level the sheen of a playable Saturday morning cartoon. Jungle foliage’s look lush, fire and water effects are dazzling, though never distracting enough to make me loose more lives, and everything form futuristic cityscapes to temple ruins glow with a beauty that I didn’t expect, and Vicarious Visions has smartly made the visual update meta to the game play as well, enemies that may have been previously difficult to read now have better tells that don’t rob the experience of its difficulty.
The trilogy sounds better than ever too thanks to an HD update to Crash’s soundtrack, which has always been an infectious ear warmer of drums and marimba (seriously I need the soundtrack now), but it’s the little touches that really impressed me this time around. The way the patter of Crash’s footsteps changes from sand to concrete, or a polar yelps mixing with the cries of whales bring the wacky, weird, and beautiful levels to life.
The original Crash Bandicoot is easily the weakest of the bunch, Crash’s limited move set and over reliance on waves of enemies, rather than intriguing platform challenges makes for a rougher experience, especially when put side by side between Cortex Strikes Back and Warped. There is still fun to be had with the original entry though, and it’s easy to see with the solid foundation on which the next two games were built. Vicarious does include some needed quality of life tweaks like box counters and time trials, and the hints added to loading screens never feel like a cheat, but instead a simple gesture towards the obscure aspects of the games, but for those jumping into the trilogy for the first time the original Crash won’t be the best first impression.
However having years to reflect on them and returning now to the trilogy in this new form Cortex Strikes Back on a whole stands the test of time as the best overall package. There is an excellent blend of truly challenging core platforming and extra objectives, secret levels, death routs and gems all make a return. The second entry offers a smart balance of maddening difficulty but also makes me feel that overcoming every obstacle will take just one more try (even if it takes just a dozen more) and it’s that balance that optimizes what made these games such great platformers over a decade ago that has allowed the second the third entries to stand the test of time.
The trilogy rounds out with the also fantastic Warped which doesn’t quite strike as great of balance between design and difficulty, levels like Future Frenzy and Toon Time are a blast to explore, with more creates to smash and a smarter paced to the obstacles throughout stages but they are never all that difficult. I ended my run through in Warped with dozens more lives than I had when I finished Cortex Strikes Back. The challenge comes mostly when Warped switches things up with vehicle missions, Coco’s aerial levels are boring, but the real struggle comes with Crash’s underwater and racing levels, swimming with Crash is challenging because of how loose he can controls underwater, not because of anything in the layout or levels, for all my love of Crash Team Racing the routes in Warped are a chore to play thanks to stiff driving controls.
The N. Sane Trilogy delivers one O.K experience and two great ones and they are all made better by Vicarious Visions enhancing the solid foundation that Naughty Dog created years ago. Thankfully those original maddening yet rewarding challenges have stood the test of time mechanically, and Vicarious Visions has done a great justice to them with a gorgeous level of polishing and care.