Following up on a fan favourite franchise after a seven years hiatus is never an easy task. But imagine the pressure when the main character of that series has been a key (unofficial) PlayStation mascot for the past two decades.
With 18 games over the span of 14 years, Naughty Dog creation Crash Bandicoot started its journey as a PlayStation exclusive and helped define both the platform and the platform holder. However, ever since Sony’s exclusive publishing deal ended in 2001, Crash Bandicoot has been a free agent, appearing on multiple platforms and riding something of an ownership rollercoaster (see below for more on this labyrinthine publishing saga). Despite this, the franchise and its main character still feel like they very much belong at home on Sony’s console.
It’s fitting, then, that today’s release of the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is a PS4 exclusive. The series may now sit as part of Activision’s roster, but this collection of remasters bring together the first three iconic Naughty Dog-developed games of the franchise: 1996’s Crash Bandicoot, 1997’s Cortex Strikes Back and 1998’s Warped.
For Crash Bandicoot’s comeback, Activision chose to put its trust in in-house developer Vicarious Visions. While today it might be better known for its work on Skylanders, the studio’s past is littered with Crash Bandicoot titles, including 2002’s Crash Bandicoot XS, 2003’s Crash Bandicoot 2: N-Tranced, 2005’s Crash Bandicoot Fusion on Game Boy Advance and 2003’s multiplatform title Crash Nitro Kart. However, even with so much experience under its belt, the team was keenly aware of players’ high expectations when it comes to the return of everyone’s favourite marsupial, as executive producer Nicholas Ruepp explains.
“Many of the developers here at Vicarious Visions are fans themselves, and we’re a pretty self-critical bunch,” he says. “We went into this development with eyes wide open and are fully aware that the stakes were high. The team used this as fuel, and it motivated them to create the most amazing game that they could. We have been heartened by the overwhelmingly positive fan response to those efforts thus far.”
With the N. Sane Trilogy, though, the biggest challenge wasn’t just pleasing long-time fans, but also enticing new players to the franchise. Of course, resurrecting old franchises has been a growing trend in the games industry for a number of years now, with titles such as 2016’s Ratchet & Clank and the more recently released Yooka-Laylee, but there’s still no guarantee that they’ll actually appeal to modern-day gamers.
“The team took great care to preserve the feel of the original experience, while making improvements to ensure accessibility for new players as well,” Ruepp says. “At its core, the Crash gameplay withstands the test of time and is more fun than ever to play.
“While we stayed faithful to the original games, the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy has been enhanced in every way. Some notable improvements are a unified save game, time trials throughout all three games [via online leaderboards], and analog stick support.“
Of course, Vicarious Visions also made sure the game was revamped to meet PS4 standards, with brand new lighting, animations, environments and recreated cinematics, all of which support 4K and the PS4 Pro. The soundtrack has been fully remastered as well, and original voice actors including Jess Harnell and Lex Lang will be returning, too.
Crash withstands the test of time and is more fun to play than ever.
Nicholas Ruepp, Vicarious Visions
“We also added brand new functionality such as making [Crash’s younger sister] Coco playable throughout all three games,” Ruepp adds, which was only revealed over the course of E3.
This came as something of a surprise for fans of the series, but Ruepp says it was received enthusiastically by the community.
“The team really wanted to provide something extra special that they knew both fans and new players would love to experience,” he explains. “The idea actually came up early in development, and gained momentum when a few developers created a basic prototype version of playable Coco during a studio game jam.
“We knew immediately that we had to provide players the same opportunity to experience Coco throughout all three games in the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy.”
Though long standing fans of the series would have probably loved to see the trilogy developed by original creator Naughty Dog, it seems like Vicarious Visions has done a great job of remaining faithful to the originals.
It even received Naughty Dog’s blessing in the processs – something Ruepp says he’s “thrilled with” – with president Evan Wells recently saying: “Vicarious Visions took amazing care in maintaining the feel and soul of the originals, but brought the visuals up to modern day standards and added a number of new features that’s made them even more fun to play than remembered.”
Coming from the much-heralded originators of Crash, whose games have arguably defined significant parts of what the PlayStation brand stands for today, that’s a pretty big endorsement – which will definitely play in N. Sane Trilogy’s favour.
Crash Bandicoot’s development and publishing history is probably one of the most intricate stories in the entire industry, with the franchise changing masters several times in the past decade alone.
Originally a Naughty Dog creation, Crash Bandicoot was conceived under Universal Interactive (Universal Studios’ game division) after the company signed deals with both Spyro’s creator Insomniac Games and Naughty Dog. Mark Cerny was then VP of Universal Interactive and he oversaw the development as executive producer. Sony ended up signing an exclusive publishing deal, while Universal Interactive remained the owner of the IP rights.
But Universal Interactive was then sold to Seagram as part of its entertainment division, which itself ended up being sold to Vivendi in 2000. Sony’s exclusive publishing deal also came to an end at that time.
Under Vivendi’s banner, Universal Interactive was merged with Sierra Entertainment and renamed Vivendi Universal Games, with Sierra acting as a subsidiary and becoming Crash’s new home. In 2007, Vivendi merged with Activision and Sierra moved under the control of Activision Blizzard, which later became independent after acquiring enough shares. Activision Blizzard then moved the Crash Bandicoot IP from Sierra Entertainment to Activision the same year.
Don’t smash the statue
To celebrate the release of the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, Activision partnered with Numskull to bring a brand-new merchandise range to retail, as we already discussed in the June 16th issue of MCV. However, it’s not the only firm to launch tie-in items, as high-end figures manufacturer First 4 Figures has also been hard a work on various Crash statues.
Partnering with Activision, First 4 Figures just unveiled two figures that are now available to pre-order, with an estimated release date in August (distributed by Heo in the UK). The exclusive 9” PVC Painted Crash statue will set consumers back $89.99 (£70) and will include a collector’s box, a premium crate-shaped deluxe box, an authentication card, and a leaflet (as well as the hand-painted limited edition statue, of course). There’s also a ‘regular’ version launching, which only includes the leaflet and the collector’s box, which will launch at retail between $59.99 - $69.99 (£47-£55).