Crash is back! At least if my grumbled expletives at dying repeatedly in the same spot is any indication. Activision and Toys For Bob gave us the opportunity to go hands on with two (or three, depending on how you look at it) levels to better get a sense of both how different and how similar Crash Bandicoot 4 is to the original trilogy of games.
Forget what you know about any Crash game that came after Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a direct sequel to the third game, basically pretending as if they never happened, and builds directly on the foundations of the original Naughty Dog series (and by extension, Vicarious Visions’ N. Sane Trilogy). The announcement trailer makes sure to poke plenty of fun at this fact too. Activision knows how the fans feel and what they want, and this little bit of self-deprecating humor was the first indication that they are really listening to what players want.
Visually, Crash Bandicoot 4 is a bit of a deviation, but it does take its cues from the Naughty Dog’s original animation inspirations, so it still feels like Crash at its core. It blends the classic tight gameplay and linear levels with grand worlds and vistas built in these new visuals, so even though you’re sticking to a single path, the environments still feel really big and open.
Crash Into You
But looks can only tell us so much. The proof is in the Bandicoot stew, as they say. The first level I got to play was called Snow Way Out, an icy zombie fishing village. After I pushed through my disdain for slippery icy surfaces in games, I began to feel right at home. I got the Platinum Trophies for all three of the N. Sane Trilogy Crash adventures—not an easy feat, mind you—and Crash 3 was one of my most all-time replayed games spinning in my PS1, so that classic feel is important to me. A new yellow circle around Crash’s shadow helps denote precisely where you are going to land so there’s no more ambiguity surrounding the trajectory of a jump. The skills are still in your hands, but you can more easily overcome the various perspectives now. Crash has this magic in the rhythm of how you play. When you nail a tough platforming segment, it feels really, really good.
But more than just recapturing the classic feel of Crash Bandicoot platforming, the developers wanted to provide new avenues of entertainment and challenge. The biggest gameplay addition is the four Quantum masks, which serve as limited segments of enhanced abilities during levels. In Snow Way Out, Crash immediately comes upon Kupuna-Wa, the mask of time that featured in a live action PlayStation sizzle trailer in November 2019 long before fans knew Crash 4 was a thing. Kupuna-Wa decks Crash out in a new outfit based on her look and gives him the ability to briefly slow down time. Aside from contending with the damned slipper ice in some portions, the time-slow ability was a novel and entertaining feature that got easier to integrate into my gameplay the more I used it.
Sometime you’ll need to hit timed crates that only appear for a brief period. Or you may need to slow falling platforms in order to jump across a gap. I’m eager to see how the community tackles these abilities, particularly when it comes to time trial/relic challenges, which Toys For Bob has confirmed will be in the game.
The levels I was able to demo were somewhere midway through Crash 4, so I have to assume the earlier levels will give players an opportunity to build up and learn how to use these powers. The most jarring part of using Kupuna-Wa’s abilities was the end of her limited segments, where she would simply vanish with little fanfare. Multiple times as I attempted speedruns, no death runs, and other self-imposed challenges with these demo levels, I wouldn’t notice when Kupuna-Wa was no longer with me. I’d try to use her ability, only to find that time would not slow and that enemy was indeed going to hit me in the face. It’s a small thing, but hopefully the notification that the Quantum mask is gone gets a bit more defined in the final version of the game.
Just like in Crash of yore, there are loads of little secrets, hidden gems, and scuttled away side paths in levels, and even the return of those classic Crash bonus areas. The one in Snow Way Out gives you Kupuna-Wa and a load of Nitro crates. Her time slowing ability actually allows you to touch Nitro crates very briefly before they explode, an interesting new twist on an old mechanic. It’s concepts like these that Toys For Bob is really focusing on to define Crash Bandicoot 4. It both feels nostalgic and new all at the same time, the perfect evolution of classic Crash Bandicoot.
The Classic Chase Sequence
The second level I got to play was called Dino Dash, one that featured the sometimes loved, sometimes despised “running towards the screen” segments. I spun through dinosaur bones and leapt over lava as a t-rex gave chase, all the while the obstacles in front me just hidden from view. The level deftly switches from behind Crash to side-scrolling to these chase segments, as well as demonstrating a few of the new rail-grind portions.
Dino Dash also featured a brief look at another one of the Quantum masks, Lani-Loli. With this mask, I could phase specific objects in and out of the game world, adding a bit of challenge to a rail-grind as I had to phase objects to both collect boxes and avoid obstacles.
If there was any uncertainty about the challenge of Crash Bandicoot returning, these two levels certainly dispelled those fears. There were some rather tough platforming bits on display, namely a portion in Dino Dash that requires some swift skills sliding under low overhangs while riding moving platforms on lava. The bonus area in Snow Way Out was also a notable challenge to complete cleanly and efficiently. As something of a Crash pro, I loved tackling these new scenarios Toys For Bob was throwing at me, but I hope there is sufficient onboarding in earlier levels to help players obtain the skills neccessary to get through these parts.
I said three levels though, didn’t I? The final level was an alternate version of Snow Way Out: Cortex Timeline. This level, which will be optional in the final game, let me play as Neo Cortex, who comes complete with his own suite of abilities and platforming challenges. He has a ray gun that can turn creatures into blocks or bouncy pads of jelly. He can’t double jump like Crash (and Coco), but he can dash, and his area of Snow Way Out is built to test players in a very different way. His gameplay comes to an end at an intersection with Crash’s own adventure in the level, and we learn that Cortex was actually the one who blew up a frozen ship lodged in an icy waterfall.
Play then continues for the rest of the level as Crash, but features an alternate “remixed” arrangement of boxes and Wumpa fruit, so it doesn’t just feel like you’re playing the same thing over again. Word from Toys For Bob is that there are multiple of these optional timeline levels that will let players take on the role of different characters, intersecting with Crash in specific places. One hinted at was some rocks that crash down after one of the chase sequences in Dino Dash, with Toys For Bob indicating that we just may find out who helped Crash escape the t-rex through another optional level.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time neither simply rehashes what’s already been done nor makes the franchise unrecognizable. It’s a nostalgic platformer with exciting new tweaks to the formula. It’s visually stunning representation of the series, respecting Crash while sparkling with a unique Toys For Bob flair. The developer promises plenty of challenges and objectives to chase for hardcore Crash fans, the kind of insane people who mastered rope walking on Crash Bandicoot 1’s The High Road level just to get that elusive time trial relic.
Crash is back! And I am no longer grumbling expletives but shouting them with glee as I finally complete the no death speedrun I had set out to do in Dino Dash. There might not be a Trophy, Relic, or Gem in it for me this time, but I’m now prepared for the challenges I’ll face when Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time releases on October 2nd this year.