Crash Bandicoot 4 is a difficult game. Negotiating this platform-hopping, crate jumping, dimension-swapping, time-slowing, enemy-infested gauntlet feels like you are learning a blistering guitar solo one note at a time, until you can almost play through it without stumbling. Almost. It’s a journey conquered inch by inch, checkpoint by checkpoint, until you stand at the end, panting, spent. Every level takes the form of attempt, die, repeat, die, repeat again. Usually, this is enough to make me bounce right off a game, but there’s something about Crash Bandicoot 4 that kept me pushing against my own ineptitude. Aiming for that zone that would see me fly from one checkpoint to the next, killing every enemy and collecting every box on the way. Only to come to a standstill at the NEXT checkpoint, then the one after THAT. My ability to break all the crates soon fell off the edge.
I’m not sure how anyone will be able to 100% this game, but I have no doubt that it will happen somewhere in this crazy world.
Crash Bandicoot 4 – for the Git Gud generation?
While Crash Bandicoot 4’s difficulty somewhat defines it, there’s an awareness from the developers that partners, children and inept reviewers will want to experience more than the opening three levels. So there are some concessions that come into play the more you engage. For example, (assuming you choose Modern Mode at the beginning of the game) and die a lot in one section, the game will first give you a shield mask upon respawn. Then, if you still keep dying, it will insert a new checkpoint. However, this can be a bit unpredictable. I found some sections just would not spawn a new checkpoint no matter how many times I perished, while other runs they showed up almost by design.
It helps that the world is colourful, vibrant and packed full of interesting things.
Enemies look more like toy lines than NPCs set against you, which can cause you to pause and question whether they are even open to attacks. Diamond rewards are linked to how well you do in a level and they unlock new skins, time trials and so on. Which means it’s not essential to unlock them all unless you are set on hardcore completionism. Despite the initial impossibility of smashing every crate or unlocking all the secret diamonds, you’ll still be able to continue through the game’s overworld. Which is structured as themed biomes or zones – ice world, jungle world, that kind of thing. You’ll move through the “story”, such as it is, meeting a few new characters along the way, all of whom are fully voiced. Whereas Crash himself is limited to eyebrow kinks, arm gesticulations and vocal murmurs.
Another difficulty easer is the handy circle shadow that indicates where Crash (or whichever character you are using) will land. While this does help a lot, it’s still not perfect. I found myself over- and undershooting platforms, particularly whenever I was using a mask power to move at speed. Mask powers? Yes, there are floating quantum masks that attach to you and give you powers. Such as phasing objects in and out of existence, inverting gravity, slowing down time. Or – my personal favourite – a whirlwind-storm move that lets you do huge jumps and spin around like an out-of-control top. The power masks are only available during their specified level moments, so you always feel like you are following prescribed moves rather than bring given any room to experiment with them.
Chaos theory or by design?
Being out of control encapsulates the chaotic, almost luck-based nature of running through levels in this game. So many times, I got through seemingly insane jumping sequences, only to be stymied for 25 minutes by the placement of one enemy or the timing of a flame spout. I’d liken playing this to American Ninja – everything is possible, but you could slip up right at the beginning.
Scattered throughout the levels are some character-specific stages as well as bonus challenge stages. The new characters are heaps of fun. I really enjoyed playing as the Tawna, whose hook-shot feels great and lets you break crates hanging in the air as well as zip you across levels. Dingodile’s vacuum weapon makes short work of crates and lets you suck up explosive crates and barrels to throw at enemies or the environment. When playing as Neo Cortex, his blaster can be used to blow up red and green crates or turn enemies into bouncy platforms. The double jump is replaced for Cortex with a horizontal dash move, which creates an extra challenge in negotiating levels.
What most impressed me with Crash Bandicoot 4 is how confidently it is presented.
It is hardcore yet accessible. Full of exciting moments that pay homage to the series, while also managing to feel ‘enough’ by modern gaming standards. It looks gorgeous and the designs and animations are extremely high quality. Almost to the standard of something you’d expect from a first party developer.
I can’t see myself reaching the high percentage that hardcore players will spend time unlocking, the fact is that I don’t need to. I can still travel through each stage, ignoring crate stacks that are just too difficult to get to and come back if I want the extra challenge. That is a welcome design standpoint. It also adds an extra layer of replay value.
All this challenge is present before the game’s actual challenge mode: N’Verted Mode. This mode, unlocked by first completing levels in Normal Mode, alters levels, flipping them horizontally and adding whacky visual effects. They also include extra fruit-collecting challenges and new hidden gems that are in different places to the original ones. If you were worried about value, there is certainly enough here to keep you busy for a long time. It’s just a question of your own skill and patience.
Just getting through the levels is, at times, so difficult that some players will bounce before they’ve even reached the midway point of this title.
There’s a pass-the-controller option, which I used with my wife, swapping turns at each death. However, she soon got frustrated and just let me play through the levels while she watched. Hopefully there will be an easier difficulty, or more concessions to less skilled players, introduced via updates.