Crash hurts. No, not just my poor nostalgic soul gazing through the years at younger me imagining what potential she had and would subsequently squander, but it physically and mentally hurts. How did you contort your thumbs into those positions? Did you really just spend endless nights trying to spin every single crate and not die once, for a measly white gem? To which the answers are with youth, dexterity, and yes, there was nothing else to do because YouTube didn’t exist. Here we are then at the return of a 21-year-old series that the PlayStation community has been positively clamouring for for years. Was that PSOne Classic version just not enough? Well, Crash Bandicoot is back. But does the orange marsupial stand the test of time? Well, let's share this Wumpa fruit and talk it over. I like salt on mine...
Load up the first game of the trilogy and you'll feel like you haven't washed up on N. Sanity Beach in years, but the truth is you never arrived on this particular patch of sand in the first place. The N. Sane Trilogy isn't a remaster in the traditional sense, but a complete rebuild of all three games in the series. This isn't HD paint to hide Crash's rough edges. He's been entirely reconstructed from the trainers up, and it's immediately clear when you take control. It looks like the Crash experience you remember - complete with rose tinted 'didn't it always look like this?' moments - but this is an all new engine and completely new game. First off, what this means is that it looks utterly, eye-meltingly gorgeous. Whether it's the lush jungles of Hog Wild, riding an adorable tiger across the Great Wall of China, or the underwater diving sections of Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, it's ludicrously pretty.
However, and you knew this was coming, what it also means is that Vicarious Visions has had to bring the feel of Crash to effectively a brand new modern slate. PS4 demands the exact platforming controls required to navigate relentless levels and sometimes it just doesn't deliver. As someone who could play many of the original levels with their eyes closed after hours of agonising practice - shh, I had books too, ok? - it's difficult to get used to. Regardless of whether you steer with the directional buttons or the analogue stick, the first game especially is utterly unforgiving. I still don't know the quite right way to play, switching back and forth desperately between control schemes hoping one will eventually click. The stick feels far too unwieldy for exact jumps while the D-pad can't quite match the twitch controls of the original. While this is sometimes caused by 1996's level design that makes the Binding of Isaac feel like a summer getaway, it's frustrating to come to terms with the fact that you know how to make that jump perfectly, it's just not nearly as easy to do it here.
It's not all doom and gloom though, the N. Sane Trilogy is a perfect reminder of just how gloriously inventive the series is. While there gradually becomes a pattern to what the franchise loves - why don't you run forwards into the screen and still survive? - you're never bored. Electric eels trap pools with sinking platforms, giant dinosaurs stampede in pursuit of Crash as he leaps lava pools, and there's still the horribly tense Lights Out where platforms plummet from under your feet as you speed through each section before being plunged into darkness. All of that is here and it positively shines in a sparkling new engine. Crash is more emotive than ever, playing with his yo-yo when you pop down the controller or tossing Wumpa fruit in the air. If you aren't a fan of the bandicoot he's never going to win you over now, but for fans of the franchise, he'll scratch all those nostalgic itches nicely. It's also lovely to be able to switch between the games easily. Bored of the first game? Jump into Warped with a rocket launcher, or go ride an adorable polar bear in the second adventure. They all fit perfectly together.
Thankfully the trilogy hasn't been afraid to upgrade a few things, even if that bloody platform isn't a little easier to access. The save system has been completely overhauled, complete with an autosave feature as well as a level-by-level save you can do yourself if you just don't trust the tech to remember you've got that gem in Sunset Vista, thank you very much. This means no more passwords, even if you can remember the twenty-odd character length super code from the original. Another nice change for completionists is that you can earn a gem in each level simply by collecting all the crates. Previously you would have had to do each level in one run, but wisely, given how the games seem to have transformed into Super Meat Boy over twenty years, you can die as much as your meagre life supply will allow and you'll still get that crate countdown. It's just incidental, but Crash's girlfriend, Tawna, looks significantly less like a scantily clad GTA character, and refreshingly knocks out one of Cortex's goons before being overpowered. Similarly, she's not standing like a pinup girl at the end of each bonus round and there's no need to be ashamed she exists. Phew.
But then there's the death. There's just no escaping it, there might be brand new death animations to keep you entertained - oh look I've been swallowed by a lion again - but there's no avoiding that the controls just mean that Crash Bandicoot has become Dark Souls. It's a horrible shame. After being so excited for the remaster, there's just no avoiding that the N. Sane Trilogy and you aren't going to get along for a while. When it takes sheer willpower to survive the original's first island when you've played the game for years, you know something has gone wrong somewhere. Those coming in fresh to the franchise aren't going to know whats hit them. Sure, it's big, beautiful and positively packed with charm but it's time to prepare to die. I love the N. Sane Trilogy in its new roguelite form but some things will definitely frustrate those new to the franchise looking to find out what all the fuss is about.