When I was a kid, I didn’t have a PC or console. If I wanted to play a game, I had to go to an arcade. It cost me 20 cents for every game, and I spent all my pocket money there and maybe that’s why I couldn’t afford to buy a PC or console, but I was 10, and I didn’t make plans past the next go at Pac-Man. Until a friend of mine got a PlayStation – like, the original PlayStation – and I went over and played Crash Bandicoot.
I was completely and utterly in love with the game.
Here was this intrepid marsupial, thrashing his way through obstacles, bashing enemies right off the screen with his amazing spin, and running right at you while avoiding being crushed by a large rolling boulder in a level that shamelessly stole the idea from Indiana Jones. It was doing something never before seen in the video game world, and it was doing it on a TV in a house, and this was like science fiction. It was one of those defining moments for me.
Fast forward 20-something years, and I find myself sitting in my lounge in front of the TV, with the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy title screen offering me a nostalgic combo of not one or two, but three complete Crash Bandicoot games, and I can totally choose where to start. There’s also the promise of two new levels, never before seen in any Crash game, that I can play at the end of the first and third installments. MAX EXCITE.
I decide to start at the beginning, and three hours later, I’m grinding my teeth, eager to get it over with and to never have to touch this stupid game again.
I know what you mean. Given that I really like platformers and have no problem with difficult games (I’m looking lovingly at you, Dark Souls), what happened? It’s not a simple answer, but let’s break it down anyway.
Firstly, I’m no fool. I came into this knowing that I’m sentimental about the series. I knew this, but still my brain refused to moderate any pre-game exhilaration. I knew that the first game was released over two decades ago, and that games are not the same now. And I knew that others have done platformers where the jumping and precise landing was less of a chore. I’d played games where depth perception was never an issue, because developers use clever tricks with the protagonist or the environment or the shadows. Cues that instantly tell the parts of your brain that you didn’t even know were paying attention exactly where your character was in relation to this moving platform, or that roaming enemy. And of course, I’ve played many games where there was a good story waiting to be told, and uncovering parts of it, eventually through to conclusion, added a layer of interest that kept me coming back for more, even if the game itself was kind of bad.
I knew better, but I expected more.
And it’s not even like the game was trying to hide it, because it dropped the spoiler on this before I could even hit start. You see, the short, sort of intro to the game told me everything I needed to know. In this video, there’s a machine onscreen. At the top of this machine is a huge funnel to put stuff in. At the bottom to the right is what looks like an exit, with a conveyor belt coming out of it. A few of the wumpa fruit that Crash is so crazy about gets dropped into the top funnel in their low poly count original form, and then they’re spat out onto the conveyor belt as crisply rendered, high poly count superwunpa fruit from the future. A few boxes are tossed in thereafter, in the same former condition, and presto, shiny high resolution boxes are delivered via the conveyor belt. Last to go in is Crash himself, with predictable results.
This clip, about 20 seconds long, encapsulates exactly what I should have expected – same stuff, new package. And, objectively, the game’s probably still just as good as it was 22 years ago. Even better, in fact, if you consider the visual upgrade, the extra levels, and the fact that you can get all three of them in one place for about two thirds the cost of a triple-A game. It’s a decent deal. You can even play as Crash’s sister Coco if you want, progress I approve of immensely, and the original score’s still in place and sounds so… happy! The game remains cute and challenging, just as I remember it. Well, kind of, for a while anyway, because over two decades of gaming have conditioned me, and slowly the rosy glasses come off and the hate shades descend, and I realise how repetitive it is.
Deep down, there is a disconnect between what I remember, and what I now see, and it feels off. It’s like I found an old childhood puzzle, 1000 pieces, hidden in the back of a wardrobe. I loved that puzzle, so I decide to dust it off and start building it. But in the end I see that the picture has flaked and faded, and I can’t fix it. Perhaps I should’ve left it in the box, and instead enjoyed the memories of how much fun it was to complete for the first time.