Developer: Vicarious Visions
Rated: E 10+
Release Date: June 30th, 2017
Platforms: Playstation 4
If you grew up in the 90’s, lived for platformers, and needed to give your parents a viable excuse that video games caused violence then more than likely your icons came in the digital shape of an out of shape plumber, a blue hedgehog, and a bandicoot that had a knack for dry humping the air when he completed a level. This was how you lived and breathed, by attempting to complete levels trying to find all the secrets and holding your breath as you blindly went ahead with a jump you were only 40% sure you were going to make. The multiple attempts at one single level at the cost of what seems like hundreds and hundreds of lives only to have your friend, or in my case, my younger brother accomplish it in one try leaving you with your mouth agape and silently wishing you remained an only child. This degree of platforming, the level design and difficulty, seems to have vanished for a large part of the last 17 years. Now, sure, there are some great indie platformers, and some new iterations that have earned enough respect that they could be sitting next to Mario, Sonic, and Crash, but there is a reason these icons are the king. The good news is Crash Bandicoot’s recent revamped release of his first three games is now available for those of us who were not old enough or really remember Crash as a true platformer or want a blast to the past.
What Activision and Vicarious Visions have done with Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, and Crash 3: Warped is more than just smooth out the graphics for a repackaging, they have gone back and taken Naughty Dog’s level designs and brought them into the world of 2017. All three are fully remastered and updated for HD quality to the point where you can see the directions of Crash’s fur twist when he makes his signature spin move. The level of detail and the depth that Vicarious has gone to ensure that Crash looks amazing is well deserved. Trees sway, water reacts impeccably as you wade through shallow puddles and while the PS1 had its limitations for the time, the updated versions of the classics almost make me want to get rid of my original copies. As well, the soundtrack has been updated and I honestly kind of wish it was available for purchase because a lot of the levels had music that either helped me feel the pressure or actually had me swaying back and forth as I attempted a simplistic jump…for the fifth time.
In terms of storytelling, the plots are overly simple: bad guy wants to rule the world, a unique character comes in to foil the plans, you work your way through a series of levels to the final confrontation and defeat said evil mastermind. However, despite the plot, it is never the focal point nor was it ever designed to be, it is all about the levels and how you navigate from start to finish with a boss fight here and there. I truly believe that another reason the plot seems not important has to do with the character voices. If you remember from your days with Crash on PS1, the dulcet tones of one Clancy Brown was the voice of Cortex for the first few games. Before he was Lex Luthor on the Superman series or Mr. Crabs of Bikini Bottom, Brown was involved with a slew of Activision games and he certainly made me feel Cortex was a “true” mad scientist hell-bent on taking over the world. Now, Lex Lang takes a stab at it and tries his best to mimic what Brown did for the games but it comes off as unforgettable for all three and makes you wish Brown had been called back in for a redo.
Besides voice acting, my other concern for the games comes in the form of the driving levels where either Crash or Coco need to ride an animal, crash boxes, and reach the finish line. The controls are very stiff and there were multiple times when I felt like I had hit the box but the game did not register it making me have to intentionally lose a life so that I could start back at the checkpoint in order to complete the level for 100%. This was extremely evident in Crash 3 on the motorcycle stages as not only do you need to avoid the obstacles but you have to race AI AND come in first to move on but the controls were the reason I had to restart countless times to a point where I had to walk away for a while in order to calm down before making another attempt.
I think the level of difficulty is both a good and a bad thing here, not that I am making an excuse for the controls on the driving levels, but because I really do not think gamers of this generation have experienced a platformer of this difficulty. Sure, some levels took me multiple tries in order to complete it, I’m looking at you Crash 1’s “Road to Nowhere” (34 lives), but when I finished it I felt a sense of satisfaction and nostalgia that reminded me that a game of this difficulty has trained me well for now present platformers. I believe that is why I am slightly jaded when I scratch my head and try desperately to remember a platformer in the last few years that has pushed me to my emotional limits and then rewarded me with a sense of accomplishment.
Crash is more than just a name, it is an accurate description of what your experience is going to be like. You will breeze through some levels and be righteously stuck on others until you have to Youtube your way out of it or have your 23-year-old brother get you past a series of obstacles you never thought you would need help on. Regardless, the insanity you will feel is well-deserved as this game has been updated with the love and attention that any fan desires, so stock up on lives, burn a therapeutic candle, Otterbox your controller (probably your TV as well) and enjoy this trio of classics.