For many of us, Crash Bandicoot was the first game we ever played or owned. After a brief stint with the Sega Mega Drive, I was given a PlayStation for Christmas 1998 and there began a life-long passion for games. In amongst other gifts, like Disney pyjamas and art sets, lay the PlayStation and three games: Porsche Challenge, Croc and Crash Bandicoot. I don’t recall specifically asking for those games, but my dad ensures me that I was definitely excited the PlayStation and Crash leading up to Christmas. What I didn’t realise at the time was that Naughty Dog, much like in recent years, had produced one of the most revolutionary titles in modern gaming, with near-3D graphics and a banging soundtrack, that influenced the rest of my gaming life.
I was surprised to find my PS1 still worked, more so when I discovered that my dad had kept aside all my games, including the original Crash game right through to Crash Bash. He also kept Spiceworld for me, but that’s for another time. I have been rattling through the first game in the last few days, content to discover that I am still absolutely terrible at it. I can’t seem to keep Crash still on any of the platforms, stationary or otherwise, and I’d forgotten how the lack of camera movement doesn’t exactly help any of my endeavours to collect all the boxes. I’m amazed that after almost two decades and several cheat codes and game guides later that I still can’t seem to collect every item in the game; clearly the mark of someone who let their dad play more of the game than they did.
The level designs are just as challenging as any modern games’ and require a great deal of patience and problem solving to complete at times. Like many older games, there are rhythms and patterns to discover that allow for easier boss fights than I remember and a quick and steady progression through the earlier levels. I still held my breath when being chased by the giant boulders and threw my controller away during the wall climbing levels because I kept missing my jumps and the spinning platforms wouldn’t stay still. I believe Crash has always been a great social game for that reason: If you get too frustrated, or you’re just plain crap at it, you can pass the controller to your friend and laugh at their misfortunes instead. It will also be absolutely hilarious to stream when the remake hits the PS4; stay tuned for that.
One theme that prevailed throughout the trilogy was Crash – and Coco – riding through various locations on other animals; a bit weird when you consider they are sentient animals themselves, but that’s neither here nor there. I loved riding on the hog again and slamming into the jagged pillars; the polar bear, baby T-rex and tiger riding levels are some of my favourites. I recall being particularly good at speeding running and time trials for the levels in Crash Bandicoot: Warped where Coco is a cute tiger, careering her way over the Great Wall. These levels called for quicker reactions and a lot of concentration that hadn’t been seen in many PlayStation games released at the same time, adding both a familiar concept to the trilogy and a newer, exciting gaming aspect to the wider field.
At a time where games such as Zelda and Spyro had fairies following them, Crash’s guardian angel was a tribal mask – Aku Aku. Aku Aku provided us with three levels of protection and the most memorable sound bite to date, as well as looking totally badass and having an actual personality compared to the small, vacant, glowing orbs that followed our other favourite heroes. Naughty Dog introduced his brother, Uka Uka, in Warped, adding another level of depth to the father-figure, tired-of-your-shit-Crash personality of our revered protector.
All three games are present in the top PlayStation games of all time and it is worth considering what an incredible feat Naughty Dog managed to pull off: A trilogy where each game was better than the next. There have been few game developers or – even more broadly – film directors who have not only been able to make the “perfect” trilogy of films but a trilogy where each addition surpasses its predecessor in all aspects. One such trilogy I can think of that achieves such status is the original Star Wars trilogy, but that’s my opinion and I’m sure you can think of various trilogies that have been particularly successful.
In a similar vein, the graphics, controls and overall feel of the game improved with each instalment, which still gives me a real sense of awe given the limited capacity of the PlayStation and the development tools available at its creation. I am still amazed that the team at Naughty Dog were able to improve the graphics so substantially between the first game and Cortez Strikes Back, as well as have the over-the-shoulder camera move around much better and introduce new moves, such as the belly-flop, to Crash’s somewhat limited repertoire. The same can be said of the difference between CSB and Warped, with the introduction of a playable Coco, a motorbike and even WW2 inspired aeroplane missions. Whilst the remake has Crash and co looking better than ever, that sense of nostalgia and wonder we felt as we saw each game improve will ultimately be lost; each game will be of the same standard, presumably, as there is no point in creating a deliberately bad handling game. It does take away some of the challenges for me as the originals foibles make it that bit more frustrating yet hilarious to play, whereas I wonder if this remake is going to be more smooth sailing and wearisome than vexing.
I have no doubts that the N. Sane trilogy will be a huge success and there have been hints that after its initial release on the PS4 that publishers Activision is considering releasing it onto other platforms, which again removes the exclusivity the original trilogy had over other platforms and games. The developers at Vicarious Visions have produced what is set to be an outstanding looking game that will no doubt revive the series and hopefully lead to a new and original Crash game that emulates everything we loved about the game. Besides the lovely soundtrack and our favourite marsupial, the level design is the other most important feature of the game, which Vicarious Visions and Activision have hopefully captured well. If all goes well, then I am looking forward to laughing then seething in frustration as I relive my childhood this summer. The N. Sane Trilogy will be released on 30/06/2016 and is available to pre-order from the PlayStation Store.