|Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy
|Vicarious Visions, Naughty Dog
|June 30, 2017
|ESRB E 10+
You don’t need to be a cultural anthropologist to notice the fairly consistent nature of nostalgia trends in media and general culture overall. Typically it will become extremely fashionable (particularly in the United States) for nostalgia about a particular era to come into fashion around 20 years after that period has passed. The reasons for that are fairly obvious, as that is around the time that being an adult has worn its welcome down and those individuals are looking back to their childhood with rose colored glasses. This has been a common trend for a long time, but some eras are filled with more nostalgia than others, usually depending on how much that previous era was defined by that particular theme. I could provide many examples through the years for other mediums of entertainment, but video games are starting to get old enough to partake in those trends as well. Now that we are well into the 2010s it was almost inevitable that nostalgia caught up, and so here we have the unexpected (to some) hit remaster of the Crash Bandicoot games from the PlayStation 1 era, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy.
Naughty Dog is one of the most fascinating video game developers in the entire history of gaming. They have made a few other side projects, but you can really define the entire company by how they grew during each console generation. For the PlayStation 1 they created four Crash Bandicoot games: Crash Bandicoot (1996), Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (1997), Crash Bandicoot: Warped (1998), and Crash Team Racing (1999). By the time they had made the 3rd game (the racing game was basically created at the same time as the third game, using many of the same assets, but more on that later) you can tell that they had pretty much explored the Crash Bandicoot world to the maximum that they were interested in, and definitely pushed the hardware of the PlayStation 1 as well. For the PlayStation 2 they moved on to the Jack and Daxter series, and then on the PlayStation 3 they did Uncharted and The Last of Us. So they have really changed over the years and grew as a studio with each step. However, the Crash Bandicoot series did not stop when Naughty Dog wanted to stop making them, so the rights were sold and development moved to other studios, eventually settling on Vicarious Visions and Activision. There were many Crash Bandicoot games made over the years,15 overall prior to this remaster, but they never again reached the peak visibility (and many would say quality) of those PlayStation 1 games by Naughty Dog. So even though it was Vicarious Visions doing the remake without Naughty Dog involved, it was still very understandable that these were the three games that they chose to remaster.
The Crash Bandicoot games on PlayStation 1 were about a young, intelligent, and resourceful bandicoot named Coco. While busy inventing devices to help make the world a better place she was constantly being interrupted by her older brother Crash getting into trouble with his group of no-good friends. Their gang was led by this mad scientist type of hoodlum named Cortex, who constantly picked on her older brother and kept on getting his underlings to knock Crash around, who was never very bright and kept on going back to the gang because he was bored. So naturally Coco had to step in and show her older brother that Cortex was a really bad influence and that he should stand up for himself. Eventually Crash realizes that Cortex is bad news, but by the third game they realize that he was only such a bully because he had a bully of his own, the older brother of Coco’s tiki idol. It was a really mean tiki that continually picked on his younger brother until his brother finally cut all ties, and then the bad older brother moved on to Cortex. Now that tiki is really abusing Cortex, and Coco helps Crash to free their erstwhile friend from his tormentor.
Not the story that you remember from the games? Well, play these games again with the thought that Coco is the hero and you will see my point. That is actually the far more interesting story, and all the events become better when seen through that lens. Crash is a bit lovable, but he is such an idiot. Cortex is also an idiot as well, but more like Doctor Frankenstein from the classic Mel Brooks comedy, Young Frankenstein. Crash meanwhile belongs on the MTV show, Jackass. He was the Sony mascot that they were looking for to compete with Mario and Sonic, to varying degrees of success (much better against the latter than the former). Eventually you are able to use his sister for most levels, but you have to wait until after the first boss to do so in the first game. Crash is always a silent character, but his sister and Cortex both have some pretty great voice acting, even in the first game.
What really set these games apart from the Mario and the Sonic games (of that time) is that these games were set up like a 2D platformer, only the plane of interaction was moved 90 degrees to take advantage of the PlayStation’s 3D processing capability. There is some movement within that plane, but never more than the width of the screen, so it is not the same as the open environments featured in Super Mario 64. There are even some levels, or sections of levels, that feature Crash moving into a full on sidescrolling 2D platformer. But generally you just see the back of Crash as you move through the stage, unless it is a stage that moves towards the camera. Those particular stages were particularly stressful because he was always being chased by something (usually a boulder in the first game, but they changed it up for the next two games) and you often had a very short time to respond to pits and obstacles when they came on camera. Crash could jump or spin in the first game, and enemies had a variety of responses based on whether they were jumped on or spun into. Some were obviously only susceptible to one of the two, and some were invulnerable and just needed to be avoided.
The first game really set the tone for the series, and each game built on it from there. Three things really ended up making the series what it was in the future. The first is in the crates peppered throughout each level. Originally there were no crates in the levels, but the developers found that it made the levels a bit too quick and easy. So what they did was added crates that needed to be broken to earn rewards, but would also feature potentially dangerous TNT and Nitro crates as well as some switch puzzles involving disappearing crates. The second defining thing was the boss design of the game: even the first boss of the first game (seen above) was quite a bit different than other games, and provided a welcome relief from the game becoming too monotonous just going level to level. The bosses were never too difficult—the challenge was always in finding the strategy of how and when to actually hit the boss. All of them typically died after only three hits, but the point at which they could be damaged was usually a pretty small window. The last feature that really set the series apart over time was the racing levels, starting with the warthog in the first game. The warthog levels could be very difficult due to the increased speed at which you moved through those levels and the lack of tiki protection (tiki absorbs one hit). But the warthog levels of the first game continued into the next ones, but started to also include flying in the second game and even wave racing in the third.