Long ago, in a period historians refer to as the 1990s, the mascot reigned supreme. These anthropomorphised animals had bad attitudes and big sneakers, and would often spontaneously breakdance, which was the style at the time. And one of the most notorious of these creatures was Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot, a denim-clad marsupial who spun onto the original PlayStation in 1996, becoming the stupid, grinning face of the new CD-powered console. And now, for the first time, he’s on PC.
The N. Sane Trilogy is a remastered collection of the first three Crash Bandicoot games. There have been some tweaks to the physics that hardcore Crash fans and speedrunners have taken issue with, but for most people it should feel exactly the same as it did in ‘96—and that’s the problem. This is a platformer from the oldest and creakiest of schools, with punishing jumps, traps that demand pixel-perfect precision, and enemies who can kill you in one hit.
Some people will love the sound of this, of returning to a bygone era when 3D platformers were pure and unsullied by the trappings of the modern videogame. But for me it feels like going back to a time when games were a lot worse than they are now. Hell, Crash even felt outdated back then, overshadowed by games such as Tomb Raider and Mario 64, which makes its linear levels and frustrating design even harder to stomach in 2018.
The fixed camera angles make gauging many jumps difficult, which is a problem in a game where falling down a pit means being thrown back to a checkpoint or the start of a level. The elaborate Looney Tunes-style death animations are amusing the first time you see them, but waiting for them to slowly play out when you just want to get back into the action and try again is extremely tedious. And Crash just doesn’t feel satisfying to control, with simple, weightless physics and a short, stiff jump that I hated in ‘96 and still do.
This kind of basic, timing-based, pattern recognition platforming just isn’t entertaining anymore. Especially when I could be playing one of the many 2D PC platformers that, in the 22 years since Crash was released, have taken the genre in interesting new directions. That’s a lifetime when it comes to game design, and Crash feels like a dusty old relic from the past, even if those beautiful, crisp remastered graphics try their best to make you think otherwise.
This is, at times, an astonishingly pretty game—especially at 4K. Everything is big and chunky and tactile. The characters and enemies are wonderfully, expressively animated. In terms of maintaining the look of a classic game and simultaneously updating it for modern hardware, developer Vicarious Visions has done a remarkable job here. But the downside of those sumptuous, expensive visuals is that they highlight just how archaic the game is.
It’s authentic, though, and that’s exactly what some people will want from a Crash Bandicoot remaster. If you’re looking for the same experience you had back in his low-poly heyday, you’ll be well catered for. But if you have no investment in the series, no nostalgia, and are looking for a fun, well-designed 3D platformer—a genre woefully underserved on PC—you’ll be disappointed. The addition of auto-save is one of the few concessions it makes to modern game design, but otherwise it clings stubbornly to the past and rarely lets go.
It’s not all bad. The gruelling, repetitive first game has aged badly, but the second, Cortex Strikes Back, has some well-designed levels that are an enjoyable test of concentration and dexterity. It almost feels like a rhythm-action game at times, memorising patterns, maintaining your momentum, and it can be exhilarating in the moment. At least until the next cheap death, of which there are many. The third game in the trilogy, Warped, is the most varied of the three, although time has been cruel to those racing levels.
As a lovingly crafted and doggedly faithful remake of the first three PlayStation-era Crash Bandicoot games, the N. Sane Trilogy is pretty much perfect. The problem is, those games arguably weren’t that great in the first place, and have only gotten worse with age. There’s fun to be had here, but also a lot of frustration as you wrestle with design decisions that were made over two decades ago, in an era when three-dimensional jumping and movement was still very much being figured out. We desperately need more 3D platformers on PC, but ones that look to the future, not the past.