Nine out of Ten. Yup, I’ve just broken the cardinal rule of review writing and given you my score right up front. I know it may seem a little crazy, but let me give you a few, what I think are, reasonable reasons for why I have let the ‘bandicoot’ out of the bag right at the start. Firstly, I have to admit that sometimes I’m one of those readers that as soon as I see a review of a game I’m interested in I dive straight down the page and check the score, summary and good and bad points before even reading the entire article. Blasphemous I know, but I’ve got a feeling I’m not the only one – so why not crash the news up front? Secondly, this is a remake of what many consider to be a beloved childhood game (myself included). So that means many of you have already played the original game multiple times and already have your mind made up about what you think the score should be. Plus, this game has already been on the PS4 for a year – so odds are you may have already seen the great review Dawid did for us then. This review then is really about the details of the upgrades and especially how it looks and feels on the Switch. So all this being considered I decided to try something a little different – start up with the score, give a little information about what the game is and how it came about and then break down the reasons for, first, why I did not score it a perfect ’10’, and then why I did nonetheless give it a very high ‘nine’. So here goes…
In a darkened lab a bandicoot-shaped creature emerges from the shadows…
In a darkened lab Doctor Neo Perivinkle Cortex (yeah, I didn’t know that was his middle name either) uses mad science to change the animal inhabitants of Wumpa Island into his own personal army and take over the world. However, when he aims his Evolvo-Ray at a certain rowdy bandicoot, he inadvertently creates his own nemesis. You are Crash and along with Coco, your intelligent, tech-savvy sister and Aku-Aku, your very own Ancient Guardian of the Wumpa Islands, you have to take on Dr Cortex, Uka-Uka and a wonderfully mischievous band of evildoers including a muscle-bound tiger, an Australian dingo and crocodile cross-breed and even a crazy physicist with a missile lodged in his head. In the trilogy, it’s up to you to defeat Cortex and protect the beautiful Wumpa Islands, by collecting various crystals, gems and the like and classic cartoony platforming at its best.
The original Crash Bandicoot series was developed by Naughty Dog and in a lot of ways became Sony’s mascot and a real challenge to Nintendo’s Mario. Over the years the Crash Bandicoot franchise has been passed from pillar to post with several developers adding to the series with varying amounts of success. However, for many, the original series has never been matched. After a decline in results, it seemed Crash may have been gone for good. However, a few years ago rumours began to surface that publisher Activision still owned the rights to the games and were keen to bring the originals back. This finally came true last year, when Vicarious Visions (along with Toys For Bob) developed the new series for PS4 (the three original games had been developed exclusively for the PlayStation and had never appeared on other platforms). Then in a rather pleasant surprise it was announced that it would arrive on other platforms a year later. The Switch port is of particular interest as it apparently came about because of a single engineer’s attempts to prove that it was possible.
So thanks to him, we have the game that I scored nine of ten. So why not the perfect ten…?
A million fur-less deaths
The first Crash Bandicoot game I ever played was Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped. I absolutely loved it. In fact, it’s in my personal top five games of all time. Later, I also tried going back to Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and thoroughly enjoyed it too. However, the same could not be said about my attempts at the original game.
As a kid I could not work out why I just did not enjoy the game, however, going back now for the review I finally realised why. The original Crash Bandicoot game (as well as the sometimes painfully accurate remake) is ridiculously difficult. Well, that is only partially true. While the entire trilogy does suffer every now and again from the odd difficulty spike, the original Crash Bandicoot game has difficulty ‘Mount Everests’. I actually enjoy a tough platformer every now and again, however, the problem with the original game is that the difficulty ramps up seemingly randomly. Start off the first few levels and you’ll easily rack up 20 or so extra lives – then hit a level like “Temple Ruins” or “Road to Nowhere” and by the end of them some people (not mentioning names of course) may have not only lost all 20 lives, but also had to shyly get through the Game Over screen several times and possibly almost lost a controller due to a small rage quitting incident too. Then, just like that, you may complete the following level without even a scratch and these wild differences seriously affect the pacing of the first game.
Start off the first few levels and you’ll easily rack up twenty or so extra lives – then hit a level like “Temple Ruins” or “Road to Nowhere” and by the end of them… you may have not only lost all 20 lives, but also had to shyly get through the Game Over screen several times and possibly almost lost a controller due to a small rage quitting incident too.
The issue with the difficulty is an interesting one. It was there in the original releases of this game. In the days when these types of platformers emerged, difficulty, in general, was probably at a higher level, and even the sudden tough spikes were probably more easily accepted. The development team has actually commented on tweaking the physics a little (Crash falls a little quicker than he did in the originals and Crash may fall off edges of platforms a little more easily). On one hand, I wish that Vicarious Visions and the Toys for Bob team had done something to smooth this kind of thing out (and if anything made it little easier and more balanced). But on the other I also understand their reasoning to remain as faithful to the original as possible and keep the difficulty that many would have remembered growing up, even though sometimes this means keeping issues with depth perception (especially on moving platforms) and a non-user controlled camera in the game. Unfortunately, what it boils down to is this: particularly when playing through the first game – you will die and you will feel cheated; Either the platform was closer/further than you expected or the camera just did not catch up with you in time. It is at those times that you may hate the game that you should already but will soon love.
Other small gripes some may have is the slightly lower quality visuals of the Switch version, the difficulty of bosses and the repetition of the ‘Crash formula’. So in terms of the former, yes, reflections have been removed and some effects are not the same and even Crash’s fur may not be there in its full orange beauty as it is on those other platforms, but unless you already have a the PS4 or XBox One version to compare side-by-side the visuals will just not be an issue – it looks great both on your TV and in handheld mode. Then, if you happen to play through all three games in one or two consecutive sittings you will notice a distinct Crash level design. That slight repetitiveness may bother some, although it didn’t get to me. And again, I found that, especially in Warped, the addition of power-up abilities, the different locations and particularly the pet and vehicle levels always kept me interested. Finally, some of the boss levels are short and not too difficult, but again this did not bother me – I died sufficiently often to not find them too easy. Strangely, I did feel that in two of the three games the second-last boss was tougher than the final one which was a bit off, but when the graphics are good enough that you can hilarously notice Papu Papu’s plumber-style low hanging island skirt – the zany humour is enough to make me enjoy all of them.
Now having spent quite a substantial amount of text space explaining the negatives above, you may wonder why I gave this game a nine. So let me get right into it. This game get’s so much right. Considering that this game is better described as a remake and not a remaster (for an explanation of the difference check out Dawid’s great post here) and that the development team did not even have the source code from the original games it astounds me at how great the game not only looks, sounds but more importantly, feels.
It’s always a funny thing to go back to a childhood classic. Our childhood memories of games are always seen through rose-tinted glasses and often look better in our minds than they ever did in real life back then. This is even more the case when the game is one as popular as Crash Bandicoot. Over the years we have seen Crash’s look evolve and the crisp modern appearance often gets transposed to the original game in our head. We remember it looking much better that it did. To prepare for how visually stunning this version is – I suggest first going onto YouTube and checking out some original PlayStation gameplay. Once you have done that, you will soon realise that what this updated trilogy does so well – is give us the Crash that our memories had created – the visuals throughout the game look exactly like we would want them to look and better than they ever did. I played both on the TV (1280×720) and in handheld mode (approx 853×480) for extended periods and was never disappointed and never even noticed that it very occasionally drops slightly below 30fps – it ran as smooth as Cortex’s beautifully bald patches.
To prepare for how visually stunning this version is – I suggest first going onto YouTube and checking out some original PlayStation gameplay. Once you have done that, you will soon realise that what this updated trilogy does so well – is give us the Crash that our memories had created – the visuals throughout the game look exactly like we would want them to look and better than they ever did.
The sounds in the game will also pull you right back to your childhood. All the cinematics look great and hearing Cortex, Coco as well as N.Gin and Dingodile in particular took me right back to sitting in my parent’s lounge in front of my TV. The music is as beautifully charming as your remember and now clearer and more crisp. Even now while I am typing I am humming along to the Crash main theme.
Now to the all important “How the game feels” section. Here is where the game really shines. Despite my issues with the difficulty in Crash Bandicoot. In my opinion, Crash Bandicoot 2; Cortex Strikes Back and Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped really are close to platforming perfection in this updated version. The main storyline of collecting crystals in the two latter games are just tough enough to provide a good challenge, yet not so much that the game lingers and overstays its welcome. The levels are distinct and varied enough to keep you interested and ignite a sense of adventure – from snow and ice covered levels where Crash will slide around and be more difficult to stop, Arabian-themed levels magic carpets and tall buildings really emphasize verticality. Then delve into the vehicle and pet levels where hopping on a ridiculously agile small polar bear or tiger and hopping along the Great Wall of China is sharply contrasted with roaming around a Route-66-like highway on a Harley-esque motorcycle that handles like a ocean liner, or even diving through the open skies in old-school biplane dog-fights.
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped really are close to platforming perfection in this updated version.
My favourite genre is what I like to call cartoony-platformer (either 2D or 3D) and these games are right up my alley. A mixture of timing crouching, jumping and spinning mechanics works so well again and again in these games, and despite the depth issues of the first game – it seems the later games just built on what worked and improved on what didn’t. By the time you play Warped you really feel that just like Naughty Dog before them, the game you are playing is one of those all time greats of the genre. Running around and exploring the worlds feels great, the cinematics are filled with just the right kind of humour and crazy-ness and time-travelling the works really well. All the platforming is also well-paced. Starting you off slowly and building up the difficulty as you go along, the addition of new abilities works well and makes you want to go back and try earlier levels again and again.
Bonus platforms fly-by
Additionally what really aids in replayability is the different items to collect in this game as well as the additions made specifically for the remake. Collecting all boxes still gives you a clear gem, and not only are the secret paths for extra gems and bonus levels back from the originals but time trials (from Warped) are now also available for the first and second games. Coco is also now playable throughout the games for most levels.
Two levels have been added that were not available in the originals. The first is an addition of a previously unreleased level for the original Crash game “Stormy Ascent” that was deemed too tough to be included, and the second is a brand new level “Future Tense” for Warped developed exclusively by the new team.
To Crash or not to Crash
Finally, you can dive into any of the three games right from the start. So that means you can decide how you will manage the tougher first game. Feeling brave and up for a challenge – start and battle through the first game and then follow the story ending off with the best of the three. Otherwise, tackle two and three first and once you’re in love, use the first game as an ” expert mode”. The decision by the development team to give you the choice is very clever for that very reason.
So that’s it, despite having never appeared on a Nintendo console – in my opinion, this port is somehow a match made in marsupial heaven. Sure the visuals are toned down from what you’d get on the PS4 or XBox One, but they are somehow still just how you remember them and so much better than they ever were. Yes, the first game is still ridiculously tough, but the second and third games are virtually perfect and Vicarious Visions and Toys For Bob got the feeling right. And when it comes to nostalgia its all about the feeling. And after playing this game I echo the timeless words of Nina Simone… “I’m feeling good…”