Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time has looked great on paper from the get go. It’s being handled by veteran Activision developer, Toys for Bob, who did an excellent job with the Spyro trilogy remaster. It has also looked like a proper Crash Bandicoot game, and the developers have consistently said all the things that fans of the PS1 game wanted to hear.
That said, gamers have been fooled before with “return to form” games that don’t pan out well just as often as they do. Fellow platformer series, Sonic the Hedgehog, for example, has experienced both scenarios in its 2D series of games.
Sega tried to revive the 2D series with Sonic the Hedgehog 4, which while not terrible, felt wrong. The physics were way off, and the level design was lacking.
Sonic Mania, however, went the route of trying to emulate the originals as much as possible and created a game that played like a direct sequel to the Genesis games. It felt and looked right, but the developers also experimented with new ideas to make it feel like a true sequel at the same time.
I’m happy to report that this is the direction that Toys for Bob is driving Crash Bandicoot 4. It’s a game that feels like a direct follow up to the PS1 classics.
The demo that we played put a strong foot forward with three stages that demonstrated both the new and familiar gameplay elements that are on offer in Crash Bandicoot 4.
The first thing I noticed was that there is the ability to switch between a Retro and Modern mode. I started with Retro just so I could see how that differed from what I believe a retro Crash level should feel like without being tainted by whatever is in the Modern mode.
To my delight, retro style did indeed feel very retro. It was pretty damn tough and I had a hard time completing the first stage, Snow Way Out, until I got a good feel for the time slowing mechanic that was prominent.
The snowy stage mixed in go left/right platforming action with vertical sections and having to contend with slippery surfaces and death pits. In certain areas, the gaps were too large and I’d need to utilize large falling blocks of ice to get across. They drop too quickly normally, but with the Quantum Mask of time I’m able to easily make the jump as long as I activate the power at the correct moment.
The time power only lasts a few seconds and then goes on a short cool down. So if I’m not careful about when I activate it, I could have it run out while I’m still trying to make jumps. I can also use the power to contend with difficult enemies while I have it active.
You can’t lose the mask during these sections because it’s required to clear them, however the power was stripped away from me at certain parts of the stage and I was back to just regular Crash.
After completing the stage on Retro, I went back and tried it again on Modern and there was a major difference. In Modern, the difficulty doesn’t change but you have unlimited lives, unlike in Retro where you don’t. You can try from a checkpoint indefinitely until you clear the stage or give up.
This has a huge affect and leads to two very different gameplay experiences. In Retro I’m trying to get every Wumpa fruit and extra life I can, replaying the bonus level over and over if I need to until I get everything I can. This is because survival until the end is not a guarantee and if you run out of lives you have to start the stage all over again.
In Modern that all goes out the window for the most part. I can play as recklessly as I want and try to speed run my way through, ignoring boxes and fruit along the way entirely unless I’m going for 100% completion of the stage.
I prefer the Retro feel, at least for a first playthrough, but I’m sure when I’m replaying levels I’m going to prefer to play through it more casually doing what I need to do, without worrying about a game over. In both cases, though, there’s a death counter that I’d wager factors into bonuses/100% completion in some way.
The other two stages followed a similar script. Dino Dash took place in the far past of a different dimension and had multiple classic chase segments from a big T-Rex mixed in between sections where Crash had to make use of the Quantum Mask of Phase which can phase platforms, boxes and objects in and out of view.
A section where Crash slides down a vine and has to jump and phase objects out of his way was challenging, but fun and was another example the demo showing off how Crash Bandicoot 4 is merging new ideas into the classic gameplay.
The surprise came in the last demo stage: Ship Happens. In this level you play as Cortex. His platforming is more imprecise, as he’s not as agile as Crash. However, he can make use of a ray gun that can transform enemies into platforms and also a forward dash move which all allows him to cross areas where he’d normally fall to his death.
One blast turns an enemy into a steady platform and two blasts turn them into a bouncy platforms. I needed to make use of both in Ship Happens.
It eventually became evident that Ship Happens was actually a different section of the first stage I played as Crash, Snow Way Out.
While I was playing with Crash the first time, Cortex blows up a ship in front of Crash in an attempt to catch him in the blast. When I played as Cortex, I was controlling him up until this moment and then Ship Happens swapped me back to Crash and I played the rest of Snow Way Out again, but in an altered and slightly more difficult state.
I couldn’t quite work out what was going on, and if there was a way for me to finish the stage as Cortex, but hey, at least there are still some mysteries left for the full game when it releases on Oct. 29.
What I played from the demo was very good, and I’m looking forward to not only running through the game, but also going back and completing all of the fun side challenges such as the Retro Flashback levels that Toys for Bobs has planned for 100% completion.
Getting 100% in a Crash Bandicoot game was a challenge to be sure, but one that never felt insurmountable as long as you were willing to take your time and learn each stage inside and out. Crash is one of the games where you’ll be cursing a lot, but at yourself and your stupid fingers and not the game itself.
As long as what I played during the demo is representative of the rest of the game, I don’t see how fans of the originals will be unhappy with Crash Bandicoot 4.
If you’re new to the series, though, be prepared to contend with the game’s old-school difficulty. I speak for myself, and I think lots of Crash fans would agree, but I’d be disappointed if Crash Bandicoot 4 was too easy and I’m ready for the challenge.
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