There are minutes in Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time where you will concern a crossroads. Not the actual kind, of which there are in fact lots of, the levels forking and marinading your brain on more than one event, however the spiritual. The kind that specifies you, that exposes your tired, thousand-death weathered heart and reveals you who you truly are. Crash 4 is a video game that requires you to look deep, deep down into your soul and ask yourself: simply how bad do I desire that a person additional dog crate?
Crash 4 is hard, essentially. Bastard hard. Toys For Bob, the previous Skylanders studio that’s considering that turned its hand to the current Crash and Spyro trilogy remakes, and blazes a trail here, plainly sees that initial trilogy’s notorious problem as the design template. Crash 4 is a direct follow up to Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, Naughty Dog’s last correct entry. All the Crash platformers ever since – consisting of another one directed by Mark Cerny! – appear to have actually been silently redacted, as Activision goes huge on the jortsy, VHS-fuzzed fond memories of the mid-’90s PlayStation.
Whether or not you believe outrageous problem, of the window-smashing, gripping-a-controller-until-its-plastic-audibly-creaks range is what makes or breaks a Crash video game will likely specify your experience with Crash 4. Playing through it with synthetic speed definitely worsens things, however there are minutes where it moves from being tough to merely uncomfortable, the difficulty originated from deliberate clumsiness baked into among the video game’s lots of brand-new mechanics. At times the disappointment can hush whatever the video game provides, however it is just sometimes, and what it provides is truly a dreadful lot.
There are 2 primary methods to play Crash 4: ‘modern-day’ mode, and what Toys For Bob has actually called – rather cruelly, to anybody mindful of how far-off the ’90s now are – ‘retro’ mode. Retro is the Crash you’ll keep in mind: you gather Wumpa fruit to get lives, and when you lack lives you return to the last conserve, Mario-design, while Gems, which now open skins, are made in the standard method. Modern mode is what the video game suggests (and as such the one I used for the many part), which is more carrot than retro mode’s stick: Gems are still your general goal, however are rather made by gathering a particular portion of a level’s overall Wumpa fruit, smashing all of its dog crates, finishing a level with 3 deaths or less, and discovering a surprise one someplace along the method. There are no lives, so when you die you merely return to the last checkpoint forever.
This is certainly the greatest shift in how Crash 4 plays from the originals, since the originals’ trick was less their problem even an item of it: their stress. Tension is baked into retro mode since each dog crate, each Wumpa, each hallowed life is possibly important, every one a calculated danger. Risk death for a dog crate? Death, in exchange for another life? In modern-day mode, the stress is optional: you can dependably gather 3 or 4 of a level’s 5 or 6 Gems by merely getting to completion of it and smashing the majority of the dog crates along the method, so whether the level feels tense or not depends upon your own option, of whether you wish to get whatever or whether you merely wish to advance. Whether stress is truly stress if you can select not to have it is another concern.
A problem, though, is that once you play modern mode you’ll find it hard to go back – especially with everything Crash 4 throws at you, and how exactly it plays. The story here, which is all enjoyably goofy, kids TV fare, is that Neo Cortex and N.Tropy and all the usual, pun-laden bad guys have ripped open some rifts in space and time, and four special Quantum Masks, like your traditional Aku Aku one, are needed to close the rifts. Or something like that. The upshot is you get four new toys to play with as you go: Lani-loli, which phases things – crates, obstacles, enemies – in and out of existence with the press of a button; ‘Akano, which lets you spin indefinitely, floating across huge gaps, blocking the previously unblockable and smashing previously unsmashable; Kapuna-wa, which lets you slow down time for a moment; and Ika-Ika, which lets you flip the direction of gravity.
Most of these are excellent, tying in quite ingeniously to Crash and Coco’s standard abilities (you can play as either, at any point, which I love) and their handful of new ones – a double-jump, which takes some getting used to, and BioShock Infinite-style rail-gliding, which is fun enough for brief moments but a little unresponsive to your inputs at times. Phasing high-value crates, and obstacles, and enemies, and deadly explosive Nitros in and out, for instance, while travelling at speed, dodging other enemies, platforming over huge gaps and juggling whatever else is thrown at you is utterly befuddling but a thrill, and an empowering one when you get it right. Some of the implementations are ingenious – some bonus rounds in particular stand out as proper master clockmaker stuff – and most of it plays into the enormously exacting nature of good Crash games, and the kind of on-the-fly hybrid of rapid fire puzzle-platforming that made them stand out.
Where Crash 4 struggles, though, is with some imprecision. Most levels only feature one Quantum Mask at a time, but I came to dread the ‘Akano ones, which are all frustration and little reward, as painful to play with as its quantum mechanics are to think about. The infinite-spin sets Crash or Coco moving like a spinning top, never quite sitting still, and the result is a wafty, awkward, clumsy kind of platforming that often relies more on you brute-strengthing your way through sections by repeating them ad nauseum and hoping for a little luck, than truly mastering a particular art.
There’s also just a spot of general clumsiness to Crash and Coco’s platforming, at times. Bandicoots seem to struggle with depth perception, occasionally but at least quite hilariously missing the easiest of ledges and jumps by just judging things as a smidge long or short, and makes me wish one of the Quantum Masks was just a pair of decent bifocals. It’s not helped by the 3D-ification of the levels, which are all still linear but swap between side scrolling and the signature ‘front scrolling’ of original Crash on the fly – mostly fun, occasionally infuriating when you find yourself slightly out of line. The inclusion of a little yellow landing indicator, as opposed to Crash’s original shadow, is useful but also something of an indictment of the clumsiness you’re asked to fight.
These are real problems, but they are also secondary to what Crash 4 gets right. Most of its platforming is wonderful, throwing the kind of intricate, chaotic everything-at-when stuff you’d only discover in the last ten levels of Crash 3 at you more or less from the start (again, not easy, and I preferred the gradient to Crash 3’s ramping-up than the fairly instant incline here, but good fun).
It’s also enormously generous. There are countless secondary modes to try out that enhance the levels as they are, and which Toys For Bob didn’t need to implement but nonetheless has, like a pass-the-pad mode that prompts you to hand the controller off to another player at every checkpoint or death, or a kind of ‘battle’ mode that lets two of you play a level at once, one as Crash the other as Coco, racing to the finish. This is on top of the traditional time trials, a huge array of extra, utterly devious bonus rounds unlocked by finding secret VHS tapes, and a new ‘N-verted’ mode for every level you beat which switches controls back to front, and which I frankly daren’t even try.
There’s also another, key part of Crash 4 which I haven’t even mentioned, which is where it really sings. At various points you’ll be re-introduced to some fan-favourite characters, which have their own, playable, parallel-timeline versions of levels you’ve already beaten, with entirely different systems involved. Neo Cortex is one, who has a smaller jump but a dash and a laser, which morphs enemies into different kinds of jumping platforms. Another is a return for Tawna, the once-redacted, tacky ‘bonus round babe’ from the originals, who arrives here in alternate-universe, genuinely badass action hero form, wielding an extremely satisfying grapple hook and roundhouse kick. There are more, which I won’t spoil, but it’s the trick of how they’re introduced which I love, playing their own way for the first half of a level then joining at a fork in the road with the second half, where you switch back to Crash or Coco and play it again, only with everything slightly different.
It’s a simple trick, but a wonderful bit of flair. Clearly Toys For Bob has a thing for getting the absolute most out of what you’re given, and the effect is that you feel like it’s a studio that really cares. Crash 4 is beautifully detailed, it features every gimmick and system and mechanic you can think of from the originals, and it’s fun. Goofy, breezy, ebullient fun. There are little nods and cheeky easter eggs, a wealth of secrets, and apparently countless ways to play what is already, at least with three of its four new abilities, a very competent platformer.
Yes, the studio might’ve taken the originals’ notorious difficulty a little too literally, but it’s paid attention to the rest of those games too – and they’ve a cult following for a reason, beyond the specifically thick pair of rose-tinted glasses with which games of that era are viewed. This is Crash 4: It’s About Time’s achievement, as a very, very long-awaited sequel. Brushing up against the better parts of the originals, but also getting surprisingly close to the idea you have actually of them in your head. A flawed gem, however no less fantastic.