It's About Time I Talked About Crash Bandicoot 4 (Impressions After 4 Hours)
It’s about time I talked about Crash Bandicoot 4. I have wanted to play this game since its release in September 2020. So, when it launched as a part of PS Plus Essential’s monthly games for July 2022, I jumped at the opportunity to try it out.
Source: Activision Games Blog
“Only if this f*cking camera!”
This was my first time playing a Crash Bandicoot game and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I knew the games were renowned for their difficulty — less to do with figuring out the way forward and more to do with landing precise jumps — but not much else. I figured that since I had played and beat Celeste, maybe Crash 4 wouldn’t be so much of a challenge. Boy was I wrong.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is not an easy game. At first glance, the jumps look simple enough to make. Enemies and hazardous objects are clearly visible, leaving it up to the player’s skill to decide whether they can move forward or not. Simple enough right?
Well for veterans of the series it might be, but for someone like me who has never played a Crash Bandicoot game — or any hardcore 3D platformer for that matter — there was one obnoxious obstacle to overcome. The camera.
3D platforming just doesn’t come so easily. Depth is a big issue here, and on many occasions, I was unable to tell how far into the environment I was jumping. Another stumbling block of the behind-the-back is the player’s ability to judge speed. Since Crash is moving “into the screen”, it is hard to tell how fast he is moving. This can lead to the player overshooting or undershooting their target, without being able to do anything about it.
At first, I revelled in this newfound challenge. It was annoying for sure, especially given that I had to restart from the previous checkpoint — and not from the beginning of the room like in Celeste (a game that you will see me referencing many times despite their vast differences). But I found myself persevering, again and again, to clear the single jump that was holding me back.
Unfortunately, for me at least, as I progressed further into the game, my gripes with the camera and my inability to adjust to its unique characteristics meant with each death I was becoming more frustrated with the game. While previously I followed each death by slamming the side of my first into my desk, I now found myself simply saving the game, and playing something instead.
Crash 4’s camera just went from a mildly infuriating nuisance to a serious put-off.
When it works, it works.
I know I just rambled about the annoying camera, but let me go ahead and contradict some of that. When Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time works, then oh boy does it work. Some levels can be played swiftly and fluidly. Spinning into a clump of crates transitions fluidly into a jump over a pool of water. It’s in these moments that Crash 4 shines. The game manages to keep hold of its difficulty and challenge without the camera inhibiting the player from fairly attempting these jumps.
Crash 4’s camera is also not a hindrance during the game’s side-scrolling sections. While these usually consist of simple enough jumps, they are spiced up with level-specific features like vines to swing on and fires to slide under. They may not be as challenging as the normal sections, but they provide a nice change of pace from Crash 4’s more frustrating moments.
I enjoyed the boat driving sections in this game. Crash moves much faster here, and while both interactivity and challenge take a nose dive in these parts, just like the side-scrolling sections, they serve as an oddly serene and slow moment that at times is much appreciated in a game like this.
My first exposure to Crash Bandicoot in the form of actually playing it and not watching a video was in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, where Nate challenges Elena saying he can beat her high score. You got to play a level of the original Crash Bandicoot game from 1996, and it was one where you were running towards the camera and seemingly out of the screen — a chase sequence if you will.
And while I don’t have any strong memories about that experience, it was forgetful if you will, that is certainly not the case with Crash 4’s very own chase sequences. These sequences require quick reactions and split-second decision-making, much like some of Celeste’s later levels where you don’t know what jump or obstacle is coming up next.
Crash 4 throws almost everything in the book at you here, all the while ensuring Crash moves at a rapid pace. These sequences were one of the most enjoyable and memorable parts of the game, and I wish they took place more often.
Visually stunning environments.
The environments that play host to Crash Bandicoot 4’s levels are simply beautiful. I reached the game’s 4th main level, Tranquility Falls, and I have to say every single level before and this one included has some of the most jaw-dropping environments of any game I have had the honour to play.
Each island is visually distinct and has a charm of its own, from the tropical forests and sandy beaches of N.Sanity Island to the loud mechanical mines of The Hazardous Wastes. But my personal favourite was the pirate-themed Salty Wharf.
Just take a gander yourself:
Isn’t it a sight to behold? The use of colour makes everything POP! out of the background, with the precise path laid out between wonky shapes and crazy designs bringing order to the seeming chaos. Everything just seems so random but works so well in practice.
The Salty Wharf introduces you to this village area by bringing you out of the starting cave on a grind rail that dips and flows through the crests and troughs between rock and house. With nothing but water underneath you, Crash 4 forces you to pay attention and keep your fingers on the buttons, making every glimpse you get of this awe-inspiring sight more worth it than the last. And, if you kept on dying like me, you get to do it all over again.
A twist on boss battles.
Just like every game in existence, Crash 4 features boss battles. Celeste was a game where I did not want there to be boss battles, and the ones that were there certainly weren’t my favourite parts of the game. I felt adding boss battles to a platformer took away from the game’s real appeal — the platforming.
But, in Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, I goddamn loved the boss battles. At least the two which I played — Dr N. Gin at the end of The Hazardous Wastes island and Louise at the end of the Salty Wharf island. Both were fun because they were more about the platforming aspects of the game than about actually fighting the boss.
Source: Crashy News
My favourite of the two? The Dr N. Gin fight.
This boss battle sees you having to jump, slide, and spin your way through three different waves of enemies, running forward and spinning into the boss after each wave was outlasted. This was fun because you were partaking in fast and fluid platforming, not boring combat in the move-hit-move-hit form.
And just like all other levels in the game, the stage for this elaborate dance was exquisitely crafted and stunning to look at. I seriously cannot understate the creativity and passion the designers at Toys For Bob put into the creation of this game's tens of levels and enemies. They are some of the most visually diverse and interesting I have ever seen.
Odd choice of progression.
Before we wrap up, let me quickly talk about the game’s progression system. Or should I say its lack of one? Well, maybe that’s not entirely true. Crash Bandicoot 4 has a progression system. It’s just that it’s insanely difficult to move through it.
Crash 4’s progression system comes in the form of new skins for Crash and Coco. These can be unlocked by, wait for it, collecting all 6 gems in each level. But it’s not so straightforward because to earn each gem you have to complete each of these challenges. Gameranx has them listed out for us:
20% Wumpa Fruit Collected
40% Wumpa Fruit Collected
80% Wumpa Fruit Collected
100% Crates Smashed
Die No More Than 3 Times
Find Hidden Gem
That means to unlock a new skin for Crash or Coco, you have to play through the level as them and basically 100% every aspect of it while finding the hidden gem and not dying more than 3 times. For someone playing the game for the first time, this is a steep hill to climb, and one that most players won’t be willing to do.
This meant that 4 levels or 4 hours into the game, I was still playing as Crash and Coco with their default skins. To some extent, I understand why Toys For Bob did this. It rewards the most skilled and dedicated players for thoroughly beating each level. But the vast majority of people who either don’t want to or are unable to pull this off, are left with no form of progression regardless of how far into the game they are.
. . .
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time seems like great fun. The platforming is fluid, the environments are gorgeous, and the levels engaging. But the iconic marsupial’s latest outing is not without its flaws. A frustrating camera, some steep difficulty curves, and an almost non-existent progression system prevented it from really clicking with me.
I have my gripes with Crash Bandicoot 4, and while I enjoyed most of my arguably limited time with it, it wasn’t enough to stop me from putting down my controller and not returning to it for weeks.
For now, the game is behind me. But I look forward to a point in future when I realise it’s about time I returned to Crash Bandicoot 4.