Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy: Our first take

The ‘Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy’ is a playable Warner Brothers cartoon

Remakes, remasters, reboots, and spiritual successors comprise an inordinately large amount of the new releases these days. As gaming as grown explosively over the last several decades the snake has looped around to eat its own tail, mining for those sweet nostalgia nuggets, worth their weight in gold as the average gamer grows into more disposable income.

Crash Bandicoot, PlayStation’s original wacky marsupial mascot, is back to reclaim his throne with the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, which remasters all three of the original games for the PlayStation 4. Sony and Activision have teased a return for years: Every reference to the franchise, such as when SIEA President Shawn Layden prominently wore a Crash t-shirt at PSX 2015, sends old veteran PlayStation fans into a frenzy.

While fans have been ready, simply bringing Crash back is slightly more complicated than you might expected. Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, and Crash Bandicoot: Warped were originally developed by Naughty Dog (of Uncharted fame) for the first PlayStation between 1996 and 1998. First published in-house by Sony, the Crash license bounced between several large publishers in the early aughts before settling at Activision in 2008. Accordingly, the task of developing him has been passed to Activision-owned studio Vicarious Visions, best known for its work on the Skylanders franchise.

On June 30, returning fans and new players alike will be able to relive his adventures, looking better than ever. Vicarious Visions said it’s making changes to make this version of the series more appealing to modern players, So while the N. Sane Trilogy is a remaster, it will also present the games in a whole new light.

“Crash comes home”

Naughty Dog created the series originally, but N. Sane Trilogy developer Vicarious Visions has a long history with Crash, going back to 2D platformers for the Game Boy Advance in the early 2000’s. He has since joined Vicarious Visions’ own wildly popular Skylanders franchise. “So really it’s Crash comes home,” game director Dan Tanguay told Digital Trends during a preview event in New York.

“We actually started with the original level geometry from the first games,” Tanguay explained, “and, you know, it’s simple, it’s grey mesh, but it provided enough of a framework that we could build on top of it, not only for the art, but also just to really kind of nail the handling, and honestly the handling took a lot longer than we expected.”

The original trilogy provided a rock-solid foundation for Vicarious Visions throughout the process, freeing them up to be more creative in the execution once they’d nailed the basics.

“The levels, in terms of beats, position of crates and things like that, are all as close as we could get them,” Tanguay said. “We really wanted to preserve the original puzzles, the original challenges. If we preserved that, then we have the room to maybe change the appearance of some enemies a little bit,” for instance replacing the clubs that giants wield with big turkey legs.

“Outside of the art, that isn’t to say that we didn’t make changes. While we wanted to preserve that original challenge, a lot of times, especially in the earlier games, those challenges weren’t as obvious to players, especially more modern players. We spent a lot of time with the bosses in particular, making sure they telegraph their moves sufficiently to keep them challenging, but fair.”

Fans of the original games will feel right at home with every jump, spin, and splat as Crash comes comically flying at the television glass when an enemy knocks him out.

Fans of the original games will feel right at home with every jump, spin, and splat as Crash comes comically flying at the television glass when an enemy knocks him out. That vibrant, cartoony sense of humor is central to what Crash is all about.

“It’s like a cartoon that you can play. A lot of people like saying whenever a new cartoon game comes out: ‘Ooh it’s like I’m playing a Pixar movie!’

“In terms of humor, though, he’s a lot more Warner Brothers. That kind of tone and celebrating classic animation is very key to him, as opposed to other characters and that’s why I think the death animations stand out because he dies in a variety of funny ways. The enemy designs–especially the bosses–have a very classic ‘WB’ feel to them.”

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

Crash’s tone, Tanguay explained, is silly and accessible, but with a slight, knowing edge. The world is happy and fun, but brutal, with a horrible death befitting Wile E. Coyote around every corner (“There’s a sense that everything in the environment is trying to kill you—which it is.”).

“After going back to the original games, of course, and the original concept art, we decided we should really go back to the things that inspired Naughty Dog, like Animaniacs, classic Warner Brothers, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Using the tools that we have 20 years later, how can we capture that in a game again? Hopefully the results will show that we did our homework.

“We’re pretty proud of the final result. Members of our QA team are dyed-in-the-wool Crash fans –this is the game from their childhood–and so when they say “yeah, I think we got it” we’re in a good spot.”

Retcon Artists

The N. Sane Trilogy remakes are faithful to the original games, but they are far from slavish reproductions. Naughty Dog learned a lot over the course of making the first three Crash Bandicoot games, letting Vicarious Visions pick and choose from the series’ best ideas and retroactively apply them to the earlier entries.

We decided we should really go back to the things that inspired Naughty Dog, like Animaniacs, classic Warner Brothers, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

This includes special abilities like the double jump, or power-ups like the fruit bazooka, both of which were introduced in Warped, and give Crash more ways to approach a given challenge. Similarly, vehicles were sometimes available in the second game, but came into their own in the third, radically mixing up gameplay with sections on motorcycles, biplanes, jet skis, and more. Expect more of these throughout all three games. The time trials, introduced in Warped, will be available for all three games, so fans can compare their skills across the whole trilogy.

The visuals are of course the most obvious improvement over the original, which was itself famously good looking for the time. In our demo, we saw a classic jungle level, a romp through medieval fields, and a futuristic cityscape, all rendered with gorgeous detail that takes full advantage of the hardware. Our demo, shown on a PS4 Pro, ran smoothly at a crisp 1440p resolution.

Crash into me

Fans of late-90s 3D platforming have a lot to look forward to when the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy comes to PlayStation 4 June 30. One of the most iconic characters from turn-of-the-millennium gaming is back with the same great, proven gameplay and a fantastic visual refresh. It was clearly a labor of love from fans of the series, as director Tanguay told us: “The team really just had a lot of fun making this game–hopefully it shows.”