We check out a few levels and play as Dr. Neo Cortex in Activision's new and challenging PS4 and Xbox One platformer.
The upcoming Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is a return to basics for the series. Following the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy and Crash Team Racing remakes, the 3D platforming franchise starring the former PlayStation mascot is getting its first original installment in over 12 years, which serves as a direct sequel to the original PS1 games. The new game coming from Toys For Bob, the developers behind the Spyro: Reignited Trilogy, aims to recapture the same energy and playstyle from the originals.
Crash 4 brings back all the familiar faces from the series as it continues on with the story from Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped. Following a recent hands-on session with three of the game's levels, GameSpot editors Eddie Makuch and Alessandro Fillari came together to chat about their experiences with the throwback 3D platformer, and whether the classic series' approach to 3D platforming gameplay still holds up.
Alessandro: I think it's fair to say that the last few years have been pretty good for Crash Bandicoot. I remember playing the original games and loving them, but then the IP got bounced around to other developers, and it sort of lost its magic. I remember Crash being in the Skylanders games, and that was like the one bright spot for the character during the franchise's off years--which bummed out a lot of fans. The recent remakes for the best games in the series, the original trilogy and the spin-off kart racer, really reminded me that the series holds up, so I was excited that Crash 4 is now a thing. What did you think of it when it was first announced?
Eddie: The announcement of Crash 4 instantly hit me with a rush of nostalgia. I have fond memories of playing the earlier games with friends, and the idea that Activision was working on a "true sequel" to the Naughty Dog games really caught my eye. I was super interested to learn more.
Alessandro: Yeah, they're really pushing this as a true sequel to the original trilogy. Some of the other, now non-canon--I guess we can say--Crash games like Twinsanity and Mind Over Mutant had some fun ideas with where they tried to take the cast of characters, but they tended to move away a bit too much from what the original Crash games did well. And that was the platforming gameplay and the dorky, Saturday morning cartoon-style humor that it had. Both of us got to download the Crash 4 demo onto our PS4s, and play it at our own pace, and it was really nice to be able to take our time with it.
Eddie: With Toys For Bob at the helm, I was curiously optimistic, and I'm feeling more positive about the game now that I've had a chance to play it for a few hours. One of the first elements of Crash 4 that stood out to me was the difficulty. I struggled at first! How did you find the challenge?
That Retro Difficulty
Alessandro: Yeah, when I played the demo's first stage called Snow Way Out, which was a frozen setting filled with ice traps and slippery surfaces, I was admittingly caught off-guard by how challenging the game was. Ice stages are already pretty notorious in games, and Crash 4 definitely continues that tradition. On top of that, it sticks close to the original trilogy's precise platforming mechanics. It definitely brought me back to that time when I was younger playing those games, with me clutching my controller to try and finish a level. In terms of difficulty, it is in line with the previous games, but of course, there are those moments where I was really trying to get past a particular section of a level, which I finally did after a bunch of tries.
One addition that I really liked in this new game, and it's a subtle thing, was that the developers put in this visual cue underneath your character that shows you their position on the platforms. It's a new UI element, and it's there purely to help you understand their placement in the environment and where he's going to land. That was a big help, since I remember having issues judging distances when making jumps in previous games. That little addition does make a difference for the better in my view. The demo was still tough, and I kind of respect that it really stuck with that challenging old-school mindset. If anything, it felt more unforgiving in spots than the older games. For instance, the magical mask power-ups, such as Aku Aku and the other new ones they put in, are more rare and only appear at particular moments, so really, it's all on you now to get through the levels without the extra help from those special buffs.
Eddie: Totally. Crash 4 is definitely challenging, but never in a way that feels unfair. Like the original games, this one requires you to deftly maneuver through these bright and colorful worlds filled with platforms, traps, enemies, and obstacles while making smart use of your skills and masks when they come into play. In the Dino Dash level, which is about mid-way through the game from what we understand, Crash can equip a "phaser" mask that allows him to, well, phase objects in and out of reality.
In one particularly exciting section, you grind down a vine and use it to wipe out obstacles in your way, but you need to time your phasing just right to make it through alive. You won't always do that. That level has a classic, heart-racing Crash moment when you're running toward the camera as a giant T-Rex chases you. These sections were some of my favorite from the entire demo. Other parts of Dino Dash give you time to plan your jumps and plot out your path, and in these sections, you cannot afford to stop running--timing your jumps and attacks are all the more critical and stressful, in a good way.
During The Snow Way Out mission, Crash is very much out of his element. In the frosty winter, Crash must navigate through icy platforms on snow and ice. The new mask in this section freezes time to allow Crash to do all manner of things. You can use the ability to stop falling platforms to jump on and across them; you can freeze time to give yourself the space to run around a zombie fisherman and knock them off the map; and you can also use it to help crush more crates and grab even more Wumpa fruit to add to your collection. Snow Way Out is markedly different from Dino Dash in its layout and the way it presents challenges, and I enjoyed this change of pace. There's also a Bonus path, and you guessed it, this is an extra-challenging room that hearkens back to those found in earlier titles.
If you want even more of a challenge, you can play on Retro mode where you have a limited number of lives per checkpoint. The Modern mode, however, lets you die as many times as you need to make it through--though beware, there is a death counter!
Something else that's new in Crash 4 is the ability to play as the evil Dr. Neo Cortex--what did you make of that?
Playing As Cortex
Alessandro: I thought it was pretty interesting playing as the big bad of the series. Other Crash games have done something like it, but I felt like this game handles it in a way that was a lot more true to the character. His sections of the game are called Timelines, and you actually go back to older stages and play them from his perspective.
Eddie: Yeah, the Dr. Cortex mission is set in an alternate timeline of Snow Way Out. In the regular mission, Crash happens upon a sea ship that unexpectedly blows up, and playing the Cortex version of the mission provides a neat look at what really happened and why. I found it to be an interesting and unexpected way to tell the story. It'll be intriguing to see the broader implications of similar "alternate timeline" missions for other parts of the game upon release. One more note about the Dr. Neo Cortex mission--he is a delight to listen to as a cartoonishly evil character--at one point he jokes about cooking a Bandicoot soup.
Alessandro: Yeah, I thought that was fun. We always saw him at a distance in the previous trilogy, and it was cool to see Cortez humanized a bit more. In the Snow Way Out level, you try to thwart Crash, but he ends up helping him out instead. He's sort of like the Wile E. Coyote, but with more advanced technology and a bigger ego. He's somehow always two steps behind Crash, which is hilarious.
Eddie: I like that the cartoonishly evil mastermind has his own set of skills and abilities like a blaster that he can use to turn things to stone (to stand on) or to jelly (to jump on to reach taller heights). With his unique skills, the Dr. Neo Cortex mission feels fresh and unique and requires you to learn a new set of abilities quickly. I quite enjoyed being able to mix things up and see the game from a different perspective, but the Cortex elements go further.
Alessandro: His sections veer closer to a puzzle-platformer, which I appreciated. It's going for something a bit different. I did feel they were a bit too simple, at least based on that one level we got to play, and also unexpectedly short, but I still appreciated that they just didn't try to make the same Crash levels but with a gun. I do hope that the final game will take it a bit further, as the section with Cortex mostly served as a way to switch up Crash's level before getting to play as him again. I really do want to see more of what they'll do with Cortex.
Alessandro: Overall, how would you say you felt about the three levels we got to play? I do think that this game is pretty consistent with the others. Like, I could see some folks jumping into this original trilogy, and then playing Crash 4 right after. It has that same animated, dynamic style to it that makes me remember the other games so fondly. I do hope that the other stages in the final show a bit more diversity in the type of challenges you'll face.
Eddie: I enjoyed the variety of what the demo had in terms of the level layouts and the different masks. It felt like a good primer, and I enjoyed the challenge of it all. I'm really curious to watch some speedruns, and even 100% runs when the game finally comes out. I wanted to mention that we got to check out a presentation with producer Lou Studdert, and he said that Crash 4 will not include any microtransactions or in-app purchases. A few weeks back, there was some confusion, but this was tied to a retailer listing that showed a "Totally Tubular Skin" might be locked behind a paywall. But this has all been cleared up now, and no-one has to worry about microtransactions.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time is developed by Toys for Bob and it's scheduled for release on October 2 for PS4 and Xbox One. For more, and to see the game in action, check out GameSpot's new gameplay video above.