Saturday, 25 Jun 2022

Crash 4 Doesn’t Change Itself To Fit In

I never got into Crash Bandicoot until way, way later in life. And by “way, way later,” I mean with the release of the N-Sane Trilogy. What can I say – I was more of a Sonic girl, y’know? I always meant to get around to them, but never did, and wound up just playing the remakes and calling it a day.

So, coming at it from this perspective, I never really understood the appeal of the series. Sure, running away from boulders and smashing barrels was cool and all, but was there anything more to it? Turns out, yep, there’s a whole lot more lurking beneath the hood of the franchise. While I’d go to bat for the first game being largely mediocre, Warped is absolutely one of the best platformers of its era, and what little of I’ve played of the second one is rock solid. Point being, while I don’t have much in the way of nostalgia, I appreciate the games for what they are.

But that brings us to the problem – what those games are is no longer in vogue. 3D platformers no longer rule the roost like they once did, and the ones that remain have all had 20 years to peel ahead of the beloved marsupial. This makes the very concept of a new Crash game a tough sell, considering how much legwork it has to do in order to be competitive. How does one make a pass for the 3D platforming throne in a world where Super Mario Odyssey exists – especially with a markedly less prolific mascot?

Simple: it just does its own thing. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time doesn’t fret about the existence of other 3D platformers, and instead marches to the beat of its own weird drum. Sure, there are elements cribbed from other games (most notably, the rail-grinding from Sonic Adventure,) but those aren’t what makes Crash 4 such a successful endeavor.

Instead, Crash 4 makes a compelling case for the original trilogy’s gameplay. It’s the same blend of 2D and isometric platforming that you’ve come to love, just with a beautiful new art direction and smoother controls. While the mediocre Vivendi Crash sequels piled gimmick upon gimmick onto the franchise’s creaking bones, Toys For Bob isn’t interested in making the series into something it’s not.

What they are interested in, however, is taking a thoroughly ’90s design approach and supplementing it with a degree of polish unattainable in that era. Landing that perfect jump is still tough, but highlighted character shadows make nailing them feel less unwieldy. Yeah, you’re still going to die a lot, but the default “infinite lives” mode makes losing progress a lot less frustrating. Plus, the addition of new gameplay elements, like manipulable platforms and grappling hooks, spices up the hybrid platforming experience.

Point being, this is the same Crash you know and love – the bones here are virtually identical to the original trilogy’s. There’s no dramatic overhaul here, no pitches to an imaginary demographic of player looking for something difference. It plays to the franchise’s strengths, tightens up the mechanics, and throws in a few novel gimmicks to keep it from feeling like a retread.

That puts Crash 4, in my mind, leaps and bounds ahead of other retro revivals. There’s no terrible vehicle construction, and not a single Werehog in site. Just a fun old-school platformer with loads of content and a beautiful aesthetic. It’s a salient argument for the franchise’s relevance on the precipice of a new console generation, and with any luck, the start of a new chapter for the bandicoot.

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Bella Blondeau is a lovable miscreant with a heart of gold… or so she says.

She likes long walks in dingy arcades, loves horror good and bad, and has a passion for anime girls of any and all varieties. Her favorite game is Nier: Automata, because she loves both robots and being sad.

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