3D platformers have come a long way since their inception, but back in the mid-'90s, the genre was a wild west of ideas and applications. It’s weird to think of something as straightforward as moving around in a 3D space being a technical challenge, but that was absolutely the case, as the flood of mediocre attempts to cash-in attest. Thankfully, there were some efforts that proved to be more memorable than Bubsy 3D, and although Super Mario 64 was undoubtedly the king at the time, Crash Bandicoot gave people a very different kind of 3D jumping simulator. The titular bandicoot makes the leap to Switch in the form of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, but have the years been kind?
This offering is a trio of the first three games released in the series that have been remade from the ground up with all-new assets - the classic example of a remake. You take control of Crash as he runs through a series of linear levels smashing crates, grabbing fruit, and eventually making it to the end. This is true for the most part in all three games, but there are occasionally levels that mix things up. These include riding a motorbike in a sort-of race, riding a jet ski, riding a polar bear, basically an awful lot of riding other things.
The core gameplay is probably closest to something like Super Mario 3D World in design, but with more long corridors with only the occasional branching path. The primary objective is just to get to the end in the first game, and in the other two you’re required to find a Power Crystal that’s usually in plain sight and then reach the end. It’s a simple premise and works in the game’s favour; there aren’t a huge amount of mechanics or moves to learn and remember - it’s just good old-fashioned 3D platforming, just not as open as a Mario outing.
However, the way in which you control Crash is quite different. Despite having an analogue stick at your disposal the original games were designed with a D-Pad in mind, meaning your directions are notably limited. This is actually a benefit, as many times you’ll want to just move forward and not drift one or two degrees left or right, potentially throwing you off course. You can use the D-Pad instead, and for some, this may well be preferable. The game boasts analogue input with the stick, but really it’s not worthwhile. Crash walks or runs but there’s nothing in between - and walking was never something we found useful whilst playing, again likely due to the original games’ design.
As for the actual jumping and platforming, well, that’s a meaty subject. The levels are fantastic to run through, but Crash feels strangely floaty and jumps can take a few frames to kick in, which means enemies you feel you should miss end up catching you out. Various jumps also feel unusually challenging, especially in the first game. What appears to just be a standard chasm can require near-perfect timing or you’ll just hit the edge of the platform and slide off. This is supposedly due to the hitboxes used for Crash, which are rounded rather than square. We repeatedly failed on several jumps time and time again when it felt like we really should’ve been able to make it. It’s a real shame as it can render an otherwise brilliant level frustrating and repetitive. We do want to point out that these levels are the minority, and most of the stages are devoid of any ludicrous leaps.
Speaking of difficulty, these games are seriously tough at points. Some levels we breezed through, but others were really troublesome, causing us to drain all of our lives and have to restart the stage from the beginning. The first game sometimes hides pits behind objects that only reveal themselves when you’ve got just a split second left to react, which feels like a very cheap move and is thankfully not something that happens in the two later games. It really feels like a call back to the platformers of the period, which if anything is a testament to just how accurately the developers have managed to replicate these games.
For long-time fans of the series, it’s brilliant to see the older games realised so precisely with modern graphics. However, we can’t help but feel that a remake is the perfect chance to make changes and fix issues that classic games had. N. Sane Trilogy sometimes feels like a missed opportunity in that sense; the developers did throw in additional checkpoints to take the edge off, and its absolutely a boatload of fun for a majority of what the games throw at you, but then you’ll come across one section that spikes the difficulty up to an enormous degree without warning, and it’ll really take the wind out of your sails.
Against normal logic, if you're new to the series and having a tough time with the first game, it might be worth playing the games in reverse order. The later games do have more mechanics to learn, but they’re still fairly straightforward by modern standards so it shouldn’t be an issue - and they give you the practice you need to play the first game without tearing out every follicle. This collection has clearly been designed with those who have played the originals in mind, to the point that there’s basically no hint of a tutorial beyond a bit of text popping up on the side of the screen when you start a new game for the first time. Various techniques aren’t explained to you, such as body slamming to gain a tiny bit of extra height, and whilst it doesn’t seem to be required for standard progression, these advanced moves are often mandatory in bonus rooms, and they’re never explained.
When you do get through each game though, there’s plenty to keep you coming back. Unless you smash every single crate in a level you won’t have properly completed it and obtained the illustrious gem that definitely looks more like a diamond. There’s also a time trial mode in each level, meaning for 100% completion you have to play each stage at least twice. The crate challenge often involves taking hidden paths as well, so chances are slim that you’ll smash every crate on your first run - and when you spread that over three games, that’s a serious amount of replayability. Oh, and the Switch version also gets the two bonus levels that have just launched on other formats, too - right out of the box.
Where the game really excels is in its visual design. Every single screen is absolutely bursting with colour and tiny details, and Crash’s Jim Carrey-style rubber face is always ludicrously expressive, and it's perhaps this aspect of the game that has benefitted the most from the HD face-lift. Whether it’s celebrating after completing a level or glancing worriedly behind him as he’s chased down by a colossal boulder, the character really feels alive - he did back on the 32-bit PlayStation, but here his personality really shines.
N. Sane Trilogy is locked at 30fps, and we weren’t able to find a single instance of a dropped frame. The resolution isn’t as perfect a story though, as we've had it confirmed by Digital Foundry that we're looking at a 720p image upscaled to 1080p when in TV mode. You'll also see a lot of anti-aliasing and motion blur, which makes for a softer image than we’d like, but on the plus side, there’s not a single saw-toothed edge to be seen. Portable play is much the same, although the game looks even softer than when on the TV, as you might expect. It’s been very cleverly handled though and still looks pleasing to the eye despite this.
All in all, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is a ruthlessly faithful recreation of some of the earliest successes in 3D platforming. Levels are slick, gorgeous to look at, and recreate the feel of the originals superbly. However, newcomers to the series may be put off by the steep difficulty spikes and little to no explanation of some of the finer mechanics. All the fun and the foibles of the original three games are here, for better or for worse, and despite some odd design choices it still manages to be a really enjoyable retread of some old classics, warts and all. This is definitely worth a look if you're a fan of 3D platformers, but just as was the case back in the '90s, Crash isn't in quite the same league as Mario when it comes to playability, inventiveness and entertainment.