Few things make you feel quite as old as revisiting a game you grew up playing, only to realise it's now twenty years later, and you're no longer the young spring chicken you once were. It's even worse when you find out that somehow, despite having an extra two decades of gaming experience under your belt, you suck even more at it now than you did back then. Such is the familiar taste of masochistic nostalgia you'll feel when booting up the Crash Bandicoot: N Sane Trilogy, a massively remastered triple dose of everyone's favourite 90s platforming marsupial's earliest adventures - the original Crash Bandicoot, sequel Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and the follow up Crash Bandicoot: Warped, each of which were massive hits in their own right when they first launching on the original Playstation way back in the late 90s.
But despite the seriously swish lick of paint the games have been given, turning Crash from a boxy orange fox-like thing into a buff bug-eyed bandicoot, anyone who's played the originals may be pleased to know this all still feels very familiar - especially given quite how many times we played through the same levels all those years ago. A fixed camera platformer, Crash is a game of spin attacks, perfectly timed jumps, and plenty of deaths - although thankfully (or unfortunately), they'll almost always be your fault.
No matter which of the three instalments you're playing, the base Crash experience doesn't really change an awful lot between the different entries - taking control of the hench bandicoot Crash, it's up to you to run, jump and spin attack your way through myriad stages, dodging marsupial-eating plants, channelling your inner Dr Jones as you leg it away from a boulder, or even jumping atop an exceedingly cute polar bear cub for a bit of a race.
What does change from game to game, though, is the story - although while Crash's reason for going on his cross-country box smash-a-thon does vary from game to game, each still tends to involve his arch-nemesis (and creator, seeing as Crash is genetically enhanced), mad scientist Dr. Neo Cortex, knee-deep in one of his many plans for world domination. Whether it's rescuing his love interest and fellow genetically-altered Bandicoot Tawna in the original Crash Bandicoot, helping the supposedly reformed Cortex avert a world-ending disaster with the power of crystals in Crash Bandicoot 2: Wrath of Cortex, or travelling through time in Crash Bandicoot: Warped to put a stop to Cortex's plan to enslave humanity, together with the evil god-come-sentient-mask, Uka Uka, Crash's adventures may not win any awards for imaginative story telling, but they do their job in setting the scene.
As we kind of hinted at above, young Crash seems to have something of a pathological hatred of boxes, with each level having a number of crates of different kinds you need to destroy along the way in order to achieve a perfect score (and given the difficulty of this old school platformer, that's much, much easier said than done). You see, hitting every single box in a stage (preferably without dying) will earn you elusive gems, which in turn are the key to opening up hidden areas in other levels, which themselves may contain previously inaccessible boxes - perfect if you're the kind of OCD collector who's gotta smash 'em all.
As you progress through the trilogy, you'll notice that the level designs get more and more ambitious as you go from game to game - the relatively bog-standard jungle stages of the original Crash Bandicoot making way for levels themed around medieval knights, prehistoric caves littered with lava pits and dinosaurs, and swashbuckling pirate-themed stages too. Despite ordinarily dying as soon as he touches any water, Crash is also all too happy to don the scuba gear for some later special levels, as he explores underwater ruins, dodging sharks, prickly puffer fish and live mines to get his hands on an elusive crystal or two. The now-standard animal-back riding stages, which include both an adorable polar bear cub and tiny tiger that constantly run into the screen, leaving you to just worry about the steering, are also joined by a jet-ski obstacle course full of ramps, slalom sections and deadly bombs. All in all, there's a surprising variety of levels in what's still a fairly traditional platform game - and with three times the game for your money, there's plenty to keep you going too.
As fun as Crash is - and was - though, we have but one gripe with the collection. It's so flipping hard. We struggled on the Playstation 1, and we struggle still now, haemorrhaging lives like they're going out of style. It probably doesn't help that despite his rippling muscles, the daft Crash can only take one hit before dying, whether it's from a passing crab enemy, a flaming torch or a falling boulder - and given that the game likes to make things awkward by demanding near-pixel perfect leaps, you'll die plenty, even in a seemingly simple stage. It wouldn't be so bad were it not for the fact that getting the gems you'll need to open up locked areas requires you to destroy all the boxes in a level AND not die - a near impossible feat for anyone with our somewhat clumsy skills. While finally mastering a section you were struggling with can certainly be rewarding, there's a very fine line boundary being a challenge, and being frustrating, and unfortunately we've always found Crash oversteps it a bit too often.
With the remake providing a pretty much perfect opportunity to give the the gaming challenged amongst us a slightly easier route, we had hoped there might be some concessions here, as Crash's difficulty is well known. Something as simple as making it so Crash's sister, the newly playable alternate character Coco could take a few more hits before dying, or adding an optional easier mode would have made the world of difference. In fairness, the trilogy does throw in a few concessions - you can now save between each level, rather than that god awful save system they used in the original, whereby you could only save after a bonus round or some such nonsense that forced us to replay that dang bridge level So. Many. Times. after losing all our lives on a fiendish level some three or four stages later... Also, if you mess up too many times in the same section in a level this time, the game will give you an Aku Aku mask item when you respawn, letting you take an additional hit before you lose a life, hopefully letting you fudge your way past a particularly tricky segment. As a serious collect-a-phile who likes to seek out every last hidden pick up, though, the fact we'll never get 100% of the boxes on the Crash games distresses us somewhat...
Still, the Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy is a rather swish redo of what were some of the best games of the early Playstation days. As long as you don't get too obsessive about hitting every last crate, there's a lot of fun to be had here, and with three games to work your way through, there's no shortage of stuff to do. We just wish they'd made things a little less hardcore for those who'd rather not have to play the same stage over and over to perfect their pixel-perfect platforming - especially as we love a good platformer, but are slightly lacking in the skill department!