Crash Bandicoot impressions: PS4 hands-on with the faithful remake

I can’t believe I’m writing about playing a Crash Bandicoot remake in 2016. Is this real life? Pinch me. I must be dreaming sweet marsupial dreams.

Clarified as Crash Bandicoot: The N. Sane Trilogy during Sony’s 2016 PlayStation Experience Showcase, this collection revisits Naughty Dog’s seminal PS1 platformers with more than a fresh coat of paint. Each of the three original titles–Crash Bandicoot, Cortex Strikes Back, and Warped–has effectively been recreated from scratch with modern graphics. Behind closed doors, an Activision rep informed me that developer Vicarious Visions does not have access to Naughty Dog’s code for the original titles.

Given that fact, it’s remarkable how close this remake feels to its forebear.

I was able to try my hand at two levels from the original game: N. Sanity Beach, the iconic opening stage, and Heavy Machinery, a later level in the bowels of Dr. Cortex’s castle. The first was like wearing an old glove–I’ve played that stage a staggering number of times. Heavy Machinery was a different beast. More on that in a bit.

Without seeing the original game and Vicarious Visions’ remake side-by-side, I can say that the “feel” of the PS1 classic is largely retained. Crash Bandicoot 1 had a more pulled-in camera and stiffer movement than the sequels, and both are the case here. The timing for spin attacks on enemies isn’t particularly forgiving, and minute movements in tricky platforming sections can make or break a perfect level. The new visuals are undeniably vibrant, and it’s a real head-trip to see formerly polygonal enemies and characters become expressive and smoothly animated.

Whether I’m watching Tawna, Crash’s girlfriend, in the opening cutscene or the robotic enemies in Heavy Machinery, it’s evident that a great deal of care has gone into capturing the spirit of the classics. That’s even true for the controls and gameplay feel, which is a tremendous point in Vicarious Visions’ favor. Short jumps carried Crash to the exact spots I remembered, and subtler tricks (think spinning at the height of your jump to break the middle crate in a stack of three) work like how I remember them.

One upgrade for the original game is analog stick control, which wasn’t supported or available at the time of its release. Despite this, I found myself reverting to the D-Pad control I used as a kid. But the PS4 D-Pad is no PS1 D-Pad, being notably larger and stiffer. Small changes like this will have the biggest impact on veterans. We expect Crash to play in a very particular way, and while the software side of the N. Sane Trilogy gets the job done, the input device is a different beast. I suspect we’ll adjust (and newcomers won’t know the difference), but despite the best intentions, this isn’t a perfect, 1:1 translation.

The same holds true with input lag. This very well could be a display issue easily remedied by a TV’s Game Mode (I didn’t have access to my TV’s settings), but it will be hard to match the ultra-responsiveness of the original PS1 titles on modern displays. Here, i think newcomers might actually mind. The levels, enemy layouts, and challenges of Crash Bandicoot occasionally depend on excellent reflexes and subtle control. Especially in the original game, there are moments that demand extremely fine movement, and CRT televisions of the time allowed for them. In Heavy Machinery, the issue of input lag and sluggish response was especially problematic. That level is notorious for being stingy with jump timing and placement, and I was unable to make significant progress in light of the near half-second delay between my actions and Crash’s movements.

I don’t want to belabor the technological point, because it requires further testing and because Vicarious Visions’ work so far looks remarkable. I wouldn’t have minded a more angular Crash, paying homage to his highly triangular PS1 body, but the games you love are being recreated lovingly. Still, every level will have some surprises. With a detailed, vibrant art style born of the modern generation, levels might feel familiar but we simply can’t know how Vicarious Visions will interpret one environment or another. Fans who played the original trilogy to death will see little surprises around every corner, while rookies get the enviable position of playing Crash Bandicoot for the first time. I just hope the combination of gameplay and tech does justice to its pitch-perfect forebears.