Crash Bandicoot 4 review – better late than never

At long last there’s a big budget new Crash Bandicoot game for fans to get their teeth into but how does it compare to the old games?

The subtitle of Crash Bandicoot 4 is It’s About Time, which is partly a reference to its time travel plot and partly… well, if you don’t know what it means then that’s a good indication that this probably isn’t for you. It has been 12 years since the last proper Crash Bandicoot game and much longer than that since there was one every liked. But ever since the surprise success of the N. Sane Trilogy remakes a new game has been inevitable and if nothing else Crash Bandicoot 4 won’t disappoint existing fans.

There have been many more than four Crash Bandicoot games over the years but original developer Naughty Dog, of Uncharted and The Last Of Us fame, bowed out with number three and Crash Team Racing, which explains the rapid decline in quality after that. The developer here is Toys For Bob, who created many of the Skylanders games for Activision, which regardless of the toys-to-life gimmick were generally very good 3D platformers.

When new Skylanders games were coming out every year Toys for Bob used to alternate with Vicarious Visions, who did the Crash remakes, and we suspect that’s also the schedule Activision is planning for Crash Bandicoot in the future. We’ll have to wait and see on that though, as Crash Bandicoot 4 wasn’t nearly as popular as the remakes on its debut. We doubt Activision will give up that easily though and we’re interested to see whether subsequent games will be quite as in thrall to the past as this one.

The question we struggled with when it came to the N. Sane Trilogy is whether the original Crash Bandicoot games justified such lavish attention. Vicarious Visions didn’t have access to the original source code and so the games were recreated from scratch in what are some of the best remakes of all-time. But how much of the appeal behind the games is due purely to nostalgia? The fact that the PlayStation 4 version of Crash Bandicoot 4 accounted for 82% of all sales suggest that reliving childhood memories is the driving force behind this revival, given Crash Bandicoot is so strongly associated with the PlayStation format.

Given all that it’s no surprise to find that for much of the time Crash Bandicoot 4 acts as if it’s a new remake, just of a game that never existed during the PlayStation 1 days. The first Crash Bandicoot came out only three months after Super Mario 64 but it was a far more simplistic game that, despite the 3D graphics, played much more like a 2D title from the 16-bit era. Crash Bandicoot does use modern technology to be more inventful but generally speaking it uses the same mix of fixed camera views, into-the-screen 3D stages, and side-on 2D levels.

Enemies generally have no real artificial intelligence and while new moves and abilities have been introduced Crash’s traditional spin attack is still your main way of interacting with the world. But while that is all as you’d expect from an old school Crash Bandicoot game this sequel does layer some interesting extras on top of that.

A series of special masks grant you major powers, such as being able to phase objects in and out of existence, break reinforced crates, and slow down time to make otherwise impossible jumps. The most interesting though is the one that switches the gravity up or down, which is a new idea for Crash Bandicoot but also reminiscent of old 2D Treasure games, in the way it makes you reassess how you can navigate through a level.

Toys for Bob also try and mix things up by including optional levels where you control other characters like villain Dr. Neo Cortex and Dingodile. Unlike Crash’s sister Coco, who you can switch between at any time, these have their own unique abilities, with Cortex being far less athletic but able to turn enemies into platforms using his ray gun. These are usually fun diversions, but they do rather side-step the issue of how to evolve the core gameplay.

One difficult choice for the game has been how to pitch the difficulty and while this isn’t as teeth-gnashingly unfair as the originals it’s still harder than the modern day norm. You get a choice at the beginning between using lives or infinite restarts but even then the game will test both your skill and your patience. Especially as Crash Bandicoot’s floaty jumps lack the precision you’d expect from a modern game, which makes judging jumps onto narrow platforms more difficult than it should be.

That’s just the way Crash Bandicoot has always worked though and if Toys For Bob had changed the control system and physics you can guarantee that they would’ve been mobbed by fan complaining that everything isn’t exactly the same as it used to be. Like many a retro revival, Crash Bandicoot 4 is being held back by its past but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still entertaining, especially once you begin to compensate for its control foibles and get into all the time trial and mirror mode options.

Visually, the game is very impressive, with the time travel plot (suggesting the game has any kind of coherent story would be an exaggeration) used as an excuse for everything from futuristic cities to Jurassic jungles and everything in-between. The camera is usually very tight on the action during gameplay, making the graphics difficult to appreciate, but during quieter transitions it often pulls out to give you a reminder of just how pretty the game is.

As well as being pretty, Crash Bandicoot 4 is also an extremely expensive game at £60. To be fair, there is a lot of content but like many of the gameplay gimmicks they seem to have been pilled on out of a sense of duty rather than out of any kind of organic need. Crash Bandicoot 4 remains a good pastiche of the original games though and probably exactly what the majority of old school fans wanted.

It’s not completely bereft of new ideas either but despite how successful Crash’s comeback has been it may be a while until he does anything to attract those that are not already a devotee.

Crash Bandicoot 4 review summary

In Short: A studied recreation of Crash Bandicoot’s halcyon days, that does little to innovate the formula but still offers a fun and varied slice of 90s style platforming.

Pros: Well-designed stages, with the masks and other new abilities – as well as constant changes in setting – ensuring the game never gets stale. Lots of content and great graphics.

Cons: Few real attempts to evolve the gameplay and the controls can seem sloppy and imprecise. A lot of the new additions tend to feel quite gimmicky. Very expensive.

Score: 7/10

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed) and Xbox One
Price: £59.99
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Toys for Bob
Release Date: 2nd October 2020
Age Rating: 12

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