Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One
Genre: 3D platformer with 2D 90s fruit-collecting crate-smashing roots
When I think transitional 2D to 3D period of gaming, I think “PlayStation”, “Nintendo 64”, Super Mario 64, and Crash Bandicoot. Well, mostly the latter, especially when it comes to 3D platforming. Sure there were a couple like the Pandemonium games and Croc, but the Naughty Dog Crash Bandicoot trilogy was where it was at with punishing platforming and pitch-perfect OCD-inducing collectathon gameplay.
Fast forward to now, and the folks who did the Crash Bandicoot: NSane Trilogy remake, new physics and all, have splintered off to another dev house and have made a new Crash title; an official sequel to the trilogy that pretends that the previous multiplatform efforts weren’t canon.
At the same time, this sequel attempts to balance the nostalgic tendencies of the past games while offering modern takes on hardcore platforming to keep things fresh. So did it work? As someone yearning for some good 3D platforming that isn’t Nintendo-made, the answer is a resounding “yes”.
Crash Bandicoot 4’s plot is as simple and as platform-ey as you can get: bad guys Dr. Neo Cortex and N-Tropy break out of their prison and wreak havoc across all dimensions, time, and space. It’s up to Crash and Coco Bandicoot to find the Quantum Masks to save the day, alongside surprise guests like an alternate version of Crash’s girlfriend Tawna and former bad guy Dingodile.
If you’ve at least touched a recent 2D-slash-3D platformer like the recent Mario games and the Yooka Laylee series, you’ll be familiar with Crash 4’s gameplay. You run, you jump, you stomp on enemies or use your Crash Spin, you avoid obstacles and pitfalls, you die in one hit, the Aku Aku masks give you an extra hit point or two, and the levels get more and more devious.
The game’s subtitle “It’s About Time” isn’t just for kicks: the game literally throws you around the different time periods in the Crash Bandicoot universe from dinosaur-filled prehistoric periods to Mad Max-esque desert stages.
You even get teleported to a Mardi Gras world filled with ghosts and skeletal beings playing instruments, and the whole level moving in sync with the music. It’s pretty fun to play through, to the point where I don’t mind dying a number of times getting to the swing of things.
And die you will, a lot. Crash 4 is anything but a walk in the park. Taking a cue from the Rayman Origins/Legends games, the game ditches the life system in favor of a death counter and a generous amount of checkpoints. While the early parts of a stage will reel you in gently through its stage gimmicks and pitfalls, they start ramping up in full force halfway through. You’ll be succumbing to respawning from just experimenting the going-ons with a stage, or finding out the hard way that the last platform to a sequential jumping bit houses a poison-spitting plant to mess with you.
The game even throws you a bone or two by generating earlier checkpoint crates and giving you an Aku Aku shield if you died enough times. I should know; I racked up to 20 deaths in the final two worlds and its sci-fi space setting. There’s a lot of gravity flipping, alien-riding, and space traffic platforming that’s enough to make you break your controller in two. God forbid if you’re playing this on a giant TV that does not have its lag input calibrated.
Still, practice makes perfect, and pretty soon you’ll be a better platformer out of Crash 4’s trials and tribulations. If you want, you can change the difficulty to Retro mode where you’re given a set amount of lives to proceed. After playing through Modern mode, it’s a nice touch but why would you go back?
Thankfully the controls and character choices aren’t going to be your downfall, because they’re spot-on and makes the journey extra fun. While Crash and Coco are identical in control scheme (double jumps, spin, ground pound, and so forth), Tawna and Dingodile control differently.
Tawna has a grappling hook that hits foes and switches from afar, as well as do wall jump at certain spots. Dingodile hovers ala Princess Peach with his high-powered vacuum device. He also sucks enemies and crates with it, as well as use it to suck and spit out TNT crates to blow stuff up. These new playstyle additions are in the main game and alternate stages where you see certain things happen from a different perspective during the time-spanning adventure.
Heck, you even play as the bad guy Dr. Neo Cortex in some of these stages; he comes with his own gimmicks like transforming foes into platforms and an air dash at the cost of no double jump. They’re all fun to play as and experiment with, and they don’t hog the spotlight that’s meant for the true Crash experience. The aforementioned masks are the game’s highlight: they give different powerups in certain segments of a stage to open up new avenues of platforming challenges.
One mask lets you phase objects in back and forth, which means jumping sections where you have to press the phase button midway at the right time so that you land on your new platform. Failing that results in a bottomless pit death or phasing into the platform, also fatal, mind you. Another lets you slow down time, making the volatile Nitro crates as viable bouncing platforms for a few seconds. The last two masks let you do an infinity spin move that makes your jumps floaty and flip gravity in reverse (and back again) at will respectively. The latter throws in levels clearly inspired by gravity-switching indie wunderkind VVVVVV; it’s exhilarating to a degree just switching gravity mid-jump to narrowly avoid spikes and acid pits while proceeding forward.
While they’re fun and the levels they come with are challenging, they do lead to death via muscle memory mix-ups. But like I said, practice makes perfect.
I am completely down with a 2D/3D 90s-style platformer remade for this generation with new and inventive power-ups that help bolster the challenge to a game reliant on collectibles and solid level design. Crash 4 does this well to a tee and is pretty fun, and features a ton of replayability thanks to unlockable endings and secrets if you collect enough fruit, break enough crates, or not die more than 3 times.
The game may take less than 8 hours to finish in one sitting, but you’ll spend more time trying to get all the gems and playing different versions of completed stages called N’Verted mirror levels. Here, a particular stage is remixed with different visual filters that either make it easier or harder to play. Some include a grey and dark filter where you need to spin to emit a “bat-like sonar” to ping platforms and enemies, while others just have obnoxious filters to just mess with your eyes.
I do have some complaints. In later areas, the platform edge “detection” feels a bit off, meaning that platforms may not be as close as you think if you don’t push the forward button enough mid-air. At the same time, you can also overshoot your landing. Even with the yellow circle that shows where Crash is landing when he’s in the air helping players like myself immensely, these “detection” issues feel deliberate and apparent in the final few stages. The 3D depth perception for stages that require you to move in a third-person angle can get tough to gauge, especially in the later sci-fi and prehistoric stages where the platforms mesh with the background. It could be my lack of reflexes that rack up the death counter for these parts, but it does come off as cheap at times.
Still, even Nintendo’s plumber games can’t quite fix these kinds of perception problems in a 3D platformer, and they’re the apex of these games.
Even with its few flaws, Crash Bandicoot 4 is a true return to form. It’s essentially the modern version of a 90s 3D platforming genre that still retains its challenge & freshness.
At the same time, it also brings in new ideas & stage gimmicks that do not wear out their welcome; just nice for both younger gamers who like a challenge and colourful graphics, as well as older folks who yearn for the late 90s era of 3D-esque platforming.
All in all, welcome back, you crazy bandicoot. We’ve missed you.
- Incredibly fun & challenging 90s 3D platforming action.
- Great implementation of new platforming & quantum masks gameplay ideas.
- Balanced difficulty curve for the most parts.
- Great controls.
- Lovely visuals.
- Platform edge “detection” feels off at times, resulting in cheap deaths.
- 3D depth perception problem gets troublesome in final few stages.