When Crash Bandicoot hit the scene in the '90s, it didn't take long for him to become the de facto PlayStation mascot. He didn't reach the same level of popularity as Mario or Sonic, but the original Crash games were charming platformers that resonated with audiences thanks to expressive characters and diverse environments. And unlike his peers, Crash was born in 3D; Mario and Sonic merely adopted it.
With the arrival of the N. Sane Trilogy collection, we now have the chance to revisit the first three Crash games in style, and while they look better than ever, they're otherwise direct replicas of the original games. Developed by Vicarious Visions, the N. Sane Trilogy collection features remastered versions of Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, and Crash Bandicoot: Warped. Gone are the rudimentary character models in favor of more realistic-looking creatures and environments, and a new lighting system bakes a measure of realism into the otherwise cartoonish world, giving the games a quality similar to 3D cartoons from the likes of Pixar or Dreamworks.
While it's easy to look at these games and appreciate the care that's gone into their presentation, actually playing them stirs up conflicting emotions. There's no way around it: they remain dated despite their fresh look. Enemies rarely react to you, preferring instead to follow pre-determined paths and animation loops. And many obstacles are needlessly discouraging; Razor-thin tolerances for success and one-hit deaths make for a frustrating pairing. You can control Crash using an analog stick now, but smoother pivots and jumps don't alleviate the otherwise stiff gameplay lurking behind Crash's goofy exterior.
Not all levels are out to get you, however, and for the most part the N. Sane Trilogy offers a modest challenge that's perfectly suited for casual enjoyment. The ease at which you can fly through some stages allows you to experience a wide range of scenarios as well: you will carefully navigate the electrified waters of an eel infested sewer one minute and ride on the back of a tiger through a gauntlet of angry locals atop the Great Wall of China the next. There are also a handful of levels that allow you to reenact the famous boulder sequence from Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, though you may be running from a massive polar bear instead of a boulder depending on the particular game in question.
This is all to say that Crash is what it's always been: a charming collection of platforming challenges that shift gears from one stage to the next. By putting three games next to each other, the N. Sane Trilogy overflows with nostalgia. The warm and fuzzy feeling you get from seeing familiar Crash levels presented in a way that mirrors what you held in your imagination is undeniable. But so too is the reality that Crash games aren't timeless. No amount of lighting or funny animations can make up for the rudimentary 3D platforming on display. You could even say that the look of these games belies their true nature.
The culprit behind Crash's dated feel is the passage of time. Vicarious Visions, for its part, succeeded in revitalizing Crash from an artistic perspective while preserving the charm that made him appealing when he first showed up, but years have passed since the original PlayStation was relevant, and we are well past the formative years of 3D gaming. It's easy to imagine how a dyed-in-the-wool Crash fan will fall in love all over again via the N. Sane Trilogy, but if you're experiencing Crash for the first time--or the first time in a while--it might pain you to realize that Crash's original adventures aren't as inventive or surprising as they were 20 years ago.