It’s easy to tell, when faced with things like video footage of Activision and Toys for Bob’s Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, that this new game is a deliberate successor to the PlayStation originals. But it doesn’t truly hit you until you play it. The demo will be available tomorrow for anyone who pre-orders a digital copy of Crash 4, but I got a chance to give the demo a whirl a bit early. There are three levels in the demo, but I want to focus here on the first, Snow Way Out.
It’s almost surreal how close Crash 4 feels to the original “N. Sane” trilogy. Crash moves and feels like he did back then, or on the recent remake trilogy released on current platforms. That said, there are several modernizations to what Crash can do, but the basic physics and even the level design are unabashedly classic Crash Bandicoot. Even when you run into the more obvious contemporary nuances, it feels like it was engineered to fit inside the nostalgic framework, rather than bolted on top of it.
Crash still has that boxy running style, but with full, modern 3D motion. It feels the same, but with a bit more control over movement. That said, the lack of control is just as familiar, as Crash has his classically frustrating weight to him (and ice still messes him up big time). He has a double jump which is nice and useful, but the basics you should be familiar with if you’re a longtime fan are all present here. And when you’re running through the level you’ll get a taste of all the old trappings, with the same camera perspectives, box-breaking, and secret-finding rhythms of the originals.
There are two notable additions that really shape what Crash 4 is all about. First of all, there are some quality of life injections here, such as the “Modern” gameplay setting. This takes lives away in favor of counting your death numbers, and puts a little yellow circle under Crash so you can aim his stubborn jumping properties a little more effectively. You can turn that stuff off, but Crash 4 is enough of a challenge that if you’re old enough to have played the originals when they were new, you might want to reconsider. You’ll still die a lot, trust me. Luckily the platform-tracking issue the remakes had isn’t present here, so it isn’t as painful when you have to make those smaller jumps.
The other new feature is the expanded roster of vaguely problematic mask-people that join Crash along his adventure. The original is still around to help Crash take an extra hit, but the others grant new, special powers that temporarily alter the gameplay. In Snow Way Out, Crash will encounter sections that let him briefly slow down time, just long enough to clear seemingly impossible obstacles or solve some timed switch puzzles. At the very least, the slowdown mechanic doesn’t feel too hokey, and you’re still doing normal Crash Bandicoot stuff, just slightly differently.
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There’s a lot more going on with Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, including Crash levels experienced in totally different ways as Neo Cortex, and other upcoming playable characters not present in the demo, such as an alternate dimension version of Tawna Bandicoot. I’ll save all that stuff for the full review, and for you folks to experience for yourselves when the demo drops tomorrow, September 16, 2020. Until then, what this demo really does is set the stage for how well the original Crash DNA has been replicated and expanded upon. I’m stoked to see more!