I’ll be honest here, I’m very, very biased towards Crash Bandicoot. As a kid, I played the first three games so much I had basically memorized them. These were a big part of my childhood, my dad and I would bond over these games, they were my first foray into speedrunning, and I even dressed up as Crash for Halloween one year. Despite the dip in quality after Naughty Dog moved on, I’ve tried to keep up with the series. I still think Twinsanity is a good game and the Titans duology had some interesting ideas (and great cutscenes), but unfortunately nothing since has held up to the quality and polish of the originals – until now.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a sort of reboot for the series, taking the timeline back to just after the end of Warped and ignoring everything that came after. A cutscene before one of the three levels in this demo even jokes that the Bandicoots have only beaten Cortex three times. While I think this fresh start for Toys for Bob is overall a good thing and works with the Time Travel theme, it feels just a bit disrespectful to what came before. I certainly won’t miss Crash’s Titan design or most of the new characters, disregarding even what those games did well, like Twinsanity or the weird fact that Cortex is a Vietnam vet. It’s a bit of a double edged sword, but from what I’ve played Toys for Bob has gracefully avoided stabbing themselves in this drawn out metaphor.
The 4 in the title isn’t just for marketing’s sake, it picks up where 3 left off and fully expects you to not only have played but mastered the previous titles. The game plays almost identically to the N-Sane trilogy; Crash can double jump, slam the ground, slide, and crawl. Abilities like the Crash Dash and Bazooka understandably don’t carry over, but there are a few new abilities to make use of. For certain sections of a level, a mask will come to your aid and Crash will don a suit bearing their likeness, allowing him to use their ability at will with either Triangle or R2. In the demo’s first level, Snow Way Out (Yes of course they kept the punny names!), you get the ability to slow down time. You’ll need to use this to jump across falling ice, avoid hazards like the new flame boxes, and even run on otherwise deadly objects like Nitros crates. This feels like a natural extension of the Bandicoot siblings’ moveset, and makes for some tricky platforming.
The level designs likewise feel like a natural evolution from the original trilogy. Stages like Dino Dash will test your Crash mastery like never before, utilizing everything from sliding and jumping mid-air, restraining yourself from double jumping constantly, and the new mask which lets you swap certain objects in and out of existence. It took me quite a few attempts to feel confident enough to post my gameplay on our YouTube channel, and even then I still died a ton. Make no mistake, this game is hard. To mitigate frustration, you can play in either Modern mode, which removes lives and keeps a running tally of wumpa fruit, or Classic mode, which has lives and grants you an extra upon collecting 100 fruit. I feel like limited lives are an outdated concept, but it’s nice to still have the option for those who want that.
The final level in this demo, Ship Happens, begins with you taking control of Cortex climbing the mountain from the first level. Initially, it was exciting to have a new character to play around with, but this is unfortunately short lived as we’ll get to later. For now, what Dr. Neo lacks in sheer platforming ability he makes up for with technology. He can shoot enemies with his ray gun to turn them into platforms (once for a stone, and twice for bouncy gel) and perform a lengthy dash using… a jetpack? It’s not clear, but he does have a blue aura around him when dashing. This new style of play makes for a more exploration based design that actually reminds me a lot of Sonic the Hedgehog. There may not be multiple paths to progress, but there are crates hidden everywhere which you’ll need to break to fully complete the level and collect the wumpa fruit inside to be rewarded with up to three gemstones. This doesn’t last long however, as finishing Cortex’s short segment will take you back to playing as Crash in a somewhat remixed version of Snow Way Out, with the biggest change being the placement of crates. I would have really appreciated this in another context, but tacking it on to what could have been a Cortex stage as lengthy as Crash’s feels cheap. Right when you’re getting used to the nuances of this new control scheme, it’s ripped away from you. The bad doctor is a lot of fun to play as well, so hopefully the final game has a lot more for him.
Before playing this demo, I was cautiously optimistic about Crash 4. I always want more Crash and Coco in my life, but I had been burned before. However, after playing the demo, I am absolutely foaming at the mouth to play more of this game. It’s not just nostalgia either, this is a solid platformer that stands on its own and tries new and exciting things. Until we can experience the full package for ourselves on October 2nd, I’ll leave you with this quote from my dad after showing him the game: “I like Crash, I think it’s good.”