Thursday, July 06, 2017

Game Review: Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

"Considering the circumstances Activision truly have put Wumpa fruit, sweat and tears into giving us a brilliant remaster of the games we all remember."
Crash Bandicoot first came out in 1996 and was developed by Naughty Dog. They went on to make two sequels, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back in 1997 and Crash Bandicoot 3 Warped in 1998. After that Naughty Dog released a spin-off kart racing game called Crash Team Racing before leaving the Crash Bandicoot series to make other incredibly successful video game series in Jak and Dexter, Uncharted and The Last of Us.
No matter where your feelings lay with the other Crash Bandicoot games released between 2000 and 2010 it’s safe to say the series went downhill from then. From mixed reviews to negative reviews to different developers and different publishers, to an unsuccessful reboot in 2007, things have been frustrating for both Crash Bandicoot fans and anyone who has helped create any of the games at any point in its history. Activision, who have been the publisher since 2008, had a video game series that from 2010 to around 2015 or so, they didn’t know what to do with. It was like Activision were standing right next to a Nitro box in a Crash game, anxious to move around it just in case it explodes in their face but also they wanted to move forward. There was potential in the Crash Bandicoot series, but they didn’t know how to make it a success.
In around 2014 or 2015, rumours went around that Crash Bandicoot was going to have a reboot. Activision had to many times play down the rumours, mainly because they were just that, rumours. Even Naughty Dog had to emphasise that they don’t have the rights to the video game series anymore, and, even if they did, they don’t know if they would have made another Crash game. But the rumours turned into hype – fans wanted Crash to return. A beloved franchise and once mascot of the Sony Playstation, fans reminisced over how good the original Crash trilogy was. They wanted a new Crash game, or a remake. Crash Bandicoot, like Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario before it, had become a classic platformer that fans would talk about as being some of their favourite childhood memories. Surely the Crash Bandicoot series couldn’t stay in limbo?
Crabs always go sideways. It's just a fact.
And then in 2016, Activision announced they would fully remaster all three original Crash Bandicoot games. It wasn’t Naughty Dog, but Activision, partnered with Vicarious Visions (who worked on the series from 2002 to 2004), would redo the three games in full HD and with some new features too.
I would like to say, the circumstances that were handed to Activision were difficult. Firstly, the original trilogy is very well loved by a large selection of fans. They needed to redo the games to please them, but also keep the games open to newer fans who haven’t played the games before. They were taking on the three games originally done by Naughty Dog, a completely different developer, using very outdated coding, lots of which they were unable to reuse. Most importantly (in my opinion) they also needed to get the “feel” of the original trilogy correct, something intangible that made those games so great in the first place. Let’s get on with the review.
If you’ve not played Crash Bandicoot before, it’s a 3D platformer where you control Crash (or in some levels Coco, his sister) where you have to go from the start of the level to the end. In Crash 2 and 3 you’re also expected to collect a crystal placed somewhere in the middle of the level. You can jump and spin enemies and crates, the latter which gives you extra lives and “Wumpa Fruit”, which you get an extra life when you collect 100 of them. Other crates exist in the game like arrow crates which you can use to jump extra high on, TNT boxes which count  from 3 to 1 before exploding and exclamation crates which unlock a crate somewhere else in the level. In Crash 2 and 3 you can also do a slide attack and crawl, as well as do a belly flop and a high jump by doing the slide attack quickly followed by jumping. In Crash 3 you also can unlock other special abilities every time you defeat a boss. In Crash Bandicoot 1 you get a gem for collecting every single crate in a level and completing the level without losing a life. In Crash 2 and 3, they made this easier by only the need to collect all the crates. One thing that was added in Crash 3 was Time Trial mode, where you had to repeat levels as quickly as possible, getting time bonus crates along the way. Earning fast times gets you Sapphire, Gold and Platinum relics respectively. In the Crash Bandicoot remaster, they’ve added this feature into Crash 1 and 2 as well.
Nothing like a bit of breakdancin' before beating up a massive robot with torpedoes!
Again if you’re not familiar with the story of Crash Bandicoot, it’s not the most important part of the game but a brief outline is that Dr Neo Cortex create a machine called the Evolvo Ray which is used to mutate animals into super beasts. They experiment on Crash who Cortex was intending on being the leader of an army of animal soldiers. They try to put Crash into a machine called the Cortex Vortex which rejects Crash and allows him to escape his lab. Instead, Cortex kidnaps Tawna, Crash's girlfriend to experiment on instead. Crash decides he needs to rescue Tawna and defeat Cortex. In Crash 2 and 3, the story continues at the defeat of Cortex at the hands of Crash, where Cortex is hell bent on getting revenge on Crash by using crystals to power up the Cortex Vortex, to try and destroy the earth.
Comparing this to the original trilogy released between 1996 and 1998, naturally the graphics have had a complete overhaul. To be fair, these aren’t the best graphics on the Playstation 4 but they were never meant to be. They were meant to be crisp, polished and easy on the eyes. Activision have done a splendid job of making Crash look brilliant. Being a big fan of the original games, there are a couple of things I would have changed (like make Crash look a bit goofier than he does comparatively to the original) but I honestly can grasp at straws in terms of thinking of anything negative to say about the redesigning of the games. The redesigns of all the boss enemies look spot on too.
Being a massive fan of the original games, I was a little concerned when I heard they were remastering the soundtracks of the original games. The music in the original games has a big place in my heart and the job Naughty Dog did in the original would be hard to beat. But, pleasantly, I barely notice any difference when actually playing the game when hearing the music. It does sound almost identical most of the time and the few changes are welcome because they often substance rather than subtract, such as add native jungle sounds to emphasise the area of the world the games are set in.
It's not realistic enough. Surely Crash would be sweating buckets, being next to all those grills??
When it comes to the sound of the game, overall it does sound very crisp and each individual sound correlates well to what’s happening on screen. But – and a big but – perhaps its nostalgia, but for me, Activision have replaced many of the key sounds from the original games that didn’t need replacing. Think of Sonic as an example – can you imagine if they changed the sound of collecting rings? Or Mario, when he jumps into one of the tubes? These sounds are over 20 years old and are iconic parts of the respective games. When it comes to Crash Bandicoot, there are also classic sounds, completely omitted from the remaster which disappoints me as a guy growing up with the games as a kid. For instance, getting an extra life has a very mild “kerching” sound compared to the brilliant one from the original games. The “whoa” sound that Crash makes is completely changed too. The glorious “aaaaah” noise when collecting a crystal is replaced. Just these little things, these iconic sounds, should have remained in the game in my opinion to remind people that these are the foundations of a 20 year old classic platformer that should be in place in every Crash Bandicoot game ever released in the future. But never mind!
Speaking of sound, the voice actors have done a good job in the remaster overall, and most of the dialogue remains untouched too, with some subtle changers here and there mainly for clarity. My only bug bear with this remaster however is Cortex. That’s not to say that Lex Lang has done a bad job as Cortex, but when Clancy Brown offers his services to completely redo his work from Crash 2 and 3 and they don’t even consider him, it stings a little. Cortex from the trilogy is one of my all time favourite villains and Clancy Brown brought that life to life in a massive way during this period.
One thing that was a criticism of the Crash Bandicoot, but was improved on slightly in Crash 2 and 3 was the controls and mechanics. In what was a stumbling block in the original trilogy, the game play mechanics, combined with the controls, are “almost” identical, for good or for bad. As stated earlier in this review, for me an imperative factor in this transition was to make the games “feel” the same, the intangible quality that was so specific and evident in the original games but lacked in other titles, the feeling so hard to define, HAD to be present in this remaster. And the result? It’s 99% there. And I emphasise 99%. Sometimes the game play mechanics feel a little “off”, sometimes the controls are a little stiff, but overall they do feel the same, very much so. There’s one or two things that are different in the mechanics, again, something hard to give examples of, but one thing is the ice levels in Crash 2 – gliding across the ice doesn’t “feel” the same as the original games, they definitely got that wrong and you have to mentally adjust to that if you’re playing comparatively from the original from 1997.
However, I emphasise the mechanics and controls are almost identical, “for good or for bad”. Why? Crash Bandicoot is HARD. Especially the first game. The second and third games are a lot easier than the first, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that overall as a package, this game, even though it’s aimed at a younger audience, is a tough nut to crack. And while the controls and mechanics are almost identical to the original games, this could throw some people off. Aiming for that ambitious jump? Good luck. You’ll go, “how did I not make that jump! This is ridiculous!”. You’ll swear there was enough space between you and Nitro boxes. If you do Time Trials, be prepared for trial and error, getting far into a level before falling down a pit at the end. This game requires a lot of patience and it’s something a lot of modern day gamers may struggle to adapt to, when, generally speaking, games are easier than they were in the nineties.
No joke here. I love this picture, it's totally badass.
A final thing about the mechanics - if you’re someone that completely mastered the original Crash Bandicoot series (something that I actually did only 2-3 months ago), I would like to stress that this game isn’t identical. I said earlier that it’s 99% the same, but those 1% moments make a big difference. I got Game Over on Crash 2 a good few times in my run through that game, despite the fact that in my run through the original game only 2-3 months ago I finished the game with 82 lives and didn’t get Game Over once. There’s just certain parts of the remaster that are just harder than the original. I can’t put my finger on what makes those moments harder, they just are. You point and go – “I didn’t lose so many lives on this part of the game on the original!” – and you just can’t put into words what it is. Trust me on this, it’s not me being bad at the game, it’s just legitimately harder! That being said, if you’re not someone that played the games over and over again, and you only played Crash on occasion, you probably won’t notice. But it is super hard regardless!
This next paragraph is for those who have played the original trilogy and want to know what’s added into the game, or what remains on a subtle level. I mentioned it earlier briefly but you can now play as Coco in Crash 1 and 2, something you weren’t able to do before. Coco in these games plays almost identical as Crash does and is purely there as for novelty purposes, in the end her presence completely goes against the story of the game but they did justify that by saying that she “uses the time machine from Crash 3 to relive Crash’s old adventures”. Coco can’t play every level however, but she can play most of them. Also, she can’t be used to go against the bosses either. As stated earlier too, you can now do Time Trials in Crash 1 and 2. There’s also a leaderboard, so you can compare your times to how people are doing around the world, which is nice. Also, if you beat Crash 2, you can unlock the Spint Shoes (also named Crash Dash) ability from Crash 3, which is definitely required because some of the Platinum times that you need to beat are just crazy. The password saving system from Crash 1 has been removed and replaced with a simple system similar to Crash 2 and 3, and the bonus levels from Crash 1 allow you to try as many times as you wish, which too is similar to Crash 2 and 3. When you get Game Over, Uka Uka from Crash 3 is the one to give you the bad news, regardless of what game you’re playing. This, in my opinion is a bit odd, mainly due to the fact that he was imprisoned up until the story of Crash 3 so there’s an error of continuation. The jet pack levels of Crash 2 gives you an option of inverting the up and down buttons to down and up, if that makes sense, so those who found the controls confusing in the original game can change them in the Options menu.
Overall, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is a brilliant remaster of the original games which came out, 21, 20 and 19 years ago respectively. Activision considering the circumstances, truly have put Wumpa fruit, sweat and tears into giving us the games we all remember playing two decades ago but with very polished look, remastered audio, some subtle but very justified changes to the games and have truly given it a whole new lease of life. Everything from the original Crash trilogy is there, all the good and the bad and you can’t fault Activision in many ways for the job they have done. And this game is great value, available in the UK for £25-£30 at base value, a bargain compared to most new games that have come out. The question really now is, what happens from here? Do Activision bring out a Crash Bandicoot 4, in a similar style to these three? Or do they bring out a version of Crash Team Racing? Early reports are saying this game has sold tremendously well, so this certainly won’t be the last time we see Crash Bandicoot on our consoles!
Rating: ****1/4 stars
As an aside, this is what rating I would give the original Crash Bandicoot games released in the late nineties in comparison:
Crash Bandicoot - ***3/4 stars
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back - ****1/2 stars
Crash Bandicoot 3 Warped! - ****3/4 stars
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