NOTE: This review is for the remaster of this game that is included as part of the recently released remake collection of the first three Crash games, Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy.
If it’s not apparent from this blog, I was always a Nintendo kid in the 90s. That said, even I had some experience with Naughty Dog’s break out platformer, Crash Bandicoot, and hell, I even feel some nostalgia for it. Unlike most other games though, Crash is a game I never beat, since I didn’t actually own a PlayStation–I just played a lot of it because my cousin owned it. By extension, I also haven’t revisited the game since, which makes playing this remake (Don’t let them trick you, it’s not a simple “remaster”) all the more interesting, since I don’t really remember much about the game.
Crash Bandicoot was a headliner in PlayStation’s early days, taking advantage of the vacuum in the still fledgling PlayStation lineup for mascot platformers like your Sonics and Marios. Crash, however, took a very different approach to translating the experience of a platformer into a 3D space. While Super Mario 64, which came out in the same year, totally reworked its core game mechanics, Crash plays like a 2D platformer dragged kicking and screaming into a 3D space.
This remake is fascinating, since a lot of effort went in into keeping the gameplay intact from how it was in the 90s. For better or for worse, Crash Bandicoot does indeed play exactly like it did 20 years ago. If it isn’t obvious, though, there has been a massive overhaul to the game’s visuals. The game looks stunning, and it does look like something that really belongs in our current generation of games. Unfortunately, I think the gameplay could have used some touching up too.
Straight Outta ’96
Even today, you can clearly see the inspiration that this game takes from Sonic the Hedgehog and Donkey Kong Country, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Crash‘s levels can take several forms. They can be linear hallways with the occasional branching path, winding corridors that twist and turn, or sidescrolling levels reminiscent of a typical 2D platformer. It’s a nice variety that keeps the game fresh from beginning to end, and there are some truly brilliant levels in here.
At the same time, even this fundamental structure can be an issue. With the hallway levels, the camera is often placed at a strange angle, and you have absolutely no control over it. There are several moments in this game where tricky jumps can become a total nightmare because you just can’t judge the distance between two platforms well. Even worse is the instances where you have to run towards the camera, which is a ghastly game design sin, and makes finding all of the boxes in the aforementioned branching levels an unpleasant task.
But when Crash works, it works well. The main jist of the game’s levels is simply reaching the goal at the end. However, to fully complete a level and earn its respective gem, you have to break all of the boxes in a level, and in some cases you have to do this without dying a single time. Yeah, Crash can be a really difficult game, but in most instances, the drive to keep you going is there
N. Teresting Level Design
The reason why the game still has appeal despite these issues is because the level design can be really strong. The game continues to throw new challenges at you at every turn, and it results in some awesome levels. One level has you scrambling in a dark room, lit by a time-limited Aku Aku lamp. Another has you traversing a temple where the platforms can disappear under you. Others you have to skillfully hit switches at the right time to proceed. The variety is great, and is one of the strongest features of this game.
But, even here it hits some snags. When a level is bad here, it’s BAD. Like, I don’t know how this made it into the final version of a game bad. One example that stands out clear as day is the level “The High Road.” This level features a bridge with wood planks that fall out from under you when you step on them. Eventually, you reach the main gimmick of the level–you’ll get to gaps that are just way too wide for Crash to make it in a single jump. The trick is to jump on the nearby turtle enemies to flip them over, then jump on them to do an extra high jump and make it to the other side.
This. Sucks. A lot. You have to be pixel perfect with not only how you place the turtles at the very end of the bridge, and then pixel perfect with where you place your jumps. It’s not just un-fun, it’s insanely frustrating. The game isn’t very forgiving with failure, meaning that you have to redo the level over and over (and over) as you try to hope the stars align for you and you make it to the other side. It’s one thing to feel like it’s your fault that you lost, but another is when you feel it’s the poor level design that’s holding you back.
The thing is, there are other design mishaps like this here and there. The auto-run levels where you run on the back of a hog can be frustrating, and rely entirely on dying over and over until you memorize the layout of the level. Some require you to make frustrating diagonal jumps in poorly lit environments where it’s nearly impossible to judge where your jump is going to land. And then there’s the bosses, which serve as a nice pallete cleanser between chunks of levels, but rarely have much depth of their own.
Oh, and there’s the difficulty. I don’t mind hard games, nor do I mind dying over and over until I get better at a game, but I have problems with this game’s learning curve. That is, in that there is absolutely none. There is no gradual progression in difficulty from the beginning to the end, giving you a chance to get better at the game. No, difficult levels just kind of randomly happen, and for all you know, the next level could be easy as dirt. This part of the design just doesn’t make any sense to me.
But even with all of this, this game kept me coming back. Why?
It’s got a hell of a soul, man. Just look at that guy! The game has a ton of personality. Crash himself is just such an emotive and fun character. Main baddies N. Cortex and N. Brio are both hilarious, and each of the game’s bosses are a visual spectacle. The music is charming, and the sound design as a whole is just brilliant, from the wacky enemy sounds to the excellent voice acting.
Enjoy Your Stay At Wumpa Island!
In many respects, Crash Bandicoot has aged terribly. I find it terribly hard to forgive this game for the many moments of frustration I experienced. But even then, it still kept me coming back, 100%-ing levels and doing the newly added time trials. It’s the occasional moment of brilliance and the excellent visual update that make this blast from the past worth checking out.
Just keep in mind that this is a game from 1996, released at a time when people were still trying to figure out the best way for a platformer to work in a 3D space. In that respect, Crash is an interesting answer to that issue. With an open mind, and a lot of patience, the first Crash Bandicoot is really enjoyable. For the relatively low asking price of $40, I’d say I got my money’s worth from this so far, and this is without counting Crash 2 and 3, which are included in this trilogy.
- The visual update is stunning, and this is the closest I’ve ever seen to a playable animated cartoon. The environments, characters and enemies are just beautiful.
- The music is awesome, and still has a classic vibe to it. A lot of the music leans towards more ambient sounds, but it really works well here.
- At its best, this game has many creative and fun levels that use Crash‘s mechanics very well.
- There is a ton to do, with 32 levels, each with its own secrets, bonus levels and time trials.
- The difficulty can be enjoyable, and you get a real sense of accomplishment from nailing a really difficult level.
- The learning curve is a total mess, and there is no sense of progression.
- A handful of levels are atrocious and frustrating, and unfortunately, this remake does nothing to address them. They cross the threshhold from difficult to just plain badly designed.
- The camera angles can be an issue, making judging your jumps much more difficult than it should be.
- Levels that require you to run towards the camera. Just… NO.
- “The High Road.” I will never get my sanity back after all the frustration this level caused me.