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Crash Bandicoot 4 Analysis Part 1 - Gameplay

Note: This is part 1 of an independent review made with no aid from or association with Activision or other parties. Opinions expressed are solely my own.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

It's been a while since I've felt the need to write about a game as much as Toys for Bob's Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time. This is undoubtedly the most ambitious Crash game to date, and now that I've been playing the game for a week, I have a lot to say about all the things it does. To that end, I've decided to do a multi-part review about the aspects I feel strongly about, both good and bad. This analysis will be divided in four parts: gameplay mechanics, content, presentation, and story. As a reminder, I will be providing a more neutral overview of the game as usual, but for now, this is just my personal opinion.

Since this first part is all about the controls and gameplay mechanics, there are no real spoilers to speak of (unless you haven't seen any of the promotional materials and trailers). In truth, I would recommend reading this series after you've finished the game, but I will still warn you before things start to become spoiler-rific.

For now, let's talk about the lovable cast of playable misfits and how each of them feels to play as.

The Bandicoot N. Hanced

Starting off with the basics, Crash & Coco (who control exactly the same as each other) don't feel too different from usual when you're on the ground, but jumping has been tweaked considerably. For one thing, slide-jumping now pauses Crash's momentum, but it still allows him to clear large gaps. At first, I didn't understand the reasoning behind this change, and it felt a little weird, but I quickly got used to it and realized that it makes it easier to adjust Crash's position. In a game as difficult as Crash 4, I'll take all the help I can get.

Double-jumping is one of Crash's default moves, as has been the case since N-Tranced. What makes it different from most Crash games is that you can perform the maneuver from any point in mid-air. In fact, calling it an "air hop" would be more accurate, since it works even when you fall off a ledge. This can be a life saver, since you can get back on if you have quick reflexes. Despite that, it doesn't feel like a crutch, because the levels are designed around it. In fact, the tougher and more optional challenges require you to abuse this gravity-defying technique, which I think makes for some very interesting and creative layouts. Whether I had to cover seemingly impossible distances or quickly change directions in mid-air, I was often surprised by what the game expected me to do. Then I realized I could jump off a slide in mid-air, and things started to get nuts pretty fast.

The drop shadow really helps, of course. It's something that's been there since the very first game, but it's never been as indispensable as in Crash 4. Precision platforming is all over the place, and when the camera is behind Crash, the drop shadow is the best point of reference to avoid falling into a pit. That yellow outline around it really helps with adjusting Crash's position, and I honestly can't imagine playing this game with the drop shadow off. The game is also very lenient, since you can still jump after running off a platform, and you only need to touch an edge to land on it safely (unlike the N. Sane Trilogy, where Crash's capsule-shaped collision box meant you'd constantly slip off everything). As far as platforming goes, I've never once felt it was the game's fault for any of the jumps I've missed, so the other characters on screen have every right to laugh at me. And they do. Jerks.

They did a few other tweaks to Crash's old moves that are a bit more subtle, but welcome nonetheless. Spinning during a slide-tackle is another thing that keeps your momentum going, much like in the classics, and spinning enemies away now makes them home in on crates and objects, so you can use that to your advantage to take out other enemies in front of you, and even make those hit other enemies.

Another thing I'm fond is the way crates react to Crash — they offer no resistance to being spun or slide-tackled now, which makes it much easier (and in my opinion, more satisfying) to plow through them. It helps that any fruits they contain are automatically collected; simply breaking the crates is enough, and you can't spin the fruits away by accident, which helps to preserve the flow. I also like that there's a larger window of opportunity for spinning on arrow crates to avoid bouncing, something that's surprisingly helpful in this game's less forgiving areas. One last tweak that I enjoy is the ability to slide on crates without them breaking or exploding underneath Crash, since it allows for more opportunities to be clever with Crash's versatile move set.

Wall-running and rope-swinging are welcome abilities, but the new move I like the most is rail-grinding. While not particularly original in the world of platformers, Crash's approach is fairly unique, thanks to being able to choose whether you want to be above or below the rail to get goodies and dodge obstacles. There's very little room for error with these segments, but they're satisfying to traverse and appropriate in length.

I honestly don't have any flaws to point out about the way Crash controls or how things react to him, and I can only hope Toys for Bob keep this behavior as a template from here on.

The Gang's All Here

The remaining playable characters obey the same basic rules, despite having unique moves of their own. Tawna is like a mix of Crash and Twinsanity's Nina Cortex, but more agile than the latter and with better reach, thanks to that grappling hook of hers. Rooftop Rampage was always one of my favorite levels in Twinsanity, so this is a character I quite like to play as.

I can't begin to tell you how excited I was to play as Dingodile (one of my all-time favorite characters in the series), and I'm happy to say I wasn't disappointed. Replacing his flamethrower with a suction cannon results in a more tactical approach, because you can't simply shoot or burn everything all willy-nilly. You have to take advantage of your surroundings and use crates and explosive barrels to your advantage, which is pretty neat. Vacuuming up crates feels weirdly satisfying, and I also like that he has a hover move that ends in a double jump. Very useful, very fun to use.

As far as 3D gameplay is concerned, Cortex is the one I don't enjoy quiiiiiite as much. I think this mostly stems from his inability to automatically aim at crates and enemies, which I found very weird considering Dingo and Tawna do it. He's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but aiming in the right direction gets a bit awkward in a three-dimensional space, and he's not suited for close-range confrontations. I think Cortex is fine when you're just moving left and right, but it would be nice to say the same otherwise.

Update: Revisiting all the characters' segments back to back, I realize now that Cortex does auto-aim like the rest of them, but it's a bit inconsistent (and I'm noticing the same can be said about Dingo, but it's not as evident with him because he deals with explosives, so things are often caught in the blast radius).

I don't think this counts as a spoiler, because it was revealed in one of the trailers, but you also get to ride Polar, just like in the second game. I'm not going to beat around the bush: in terms of gameplay mechanics, Polar is easily the worst thing about Crash 4. He's not particularly prominent or anything, but he feels heavy to turn, and if you're a completionist, using him to break crates is a mess. Due to his small collision box, I lost count of how many times I missed a crate that really should have just counted as broken (those 2x2 stacks are the bane of my existence). Polar sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the other characters, and I think the collision box for the crates should be bigger in his segments. Sprinting also has a rather long cooldown period, but that's easier to live with.

Unless you count Polar, there's actually only one vehicle in the entire game: the jet-board. This is another returning gameplay mechanic from Crash 2, but with a couple of positive tweaks. For one thing, it's no longer constantly pushing you in whatever direction you're facing, and you can boost for as long as you want by simply holding the button. I don't have much else to say about it; it works and doesn't get overused. For the vast majority of the game, you're playing as Crash and the others on their feet, and that's something I'm thankful for.

Now You're Playing With Quantum Power

With the exception of the double jump, I was never a fan of Warped's super powers. To me, they either felt pointless or made Crash overpowered in an already easy game. That's probably why the brand-new Quantum Masks are as situational as they are, because it simply makes for more interesting abilities and diverse layouts without letting you break the game. Imagine if you had Akano's Dark Matter Spin with you at all times, or Kupuna-Wa's time warp — you could just slow everything down and glide over the entire level. Since they're relegated to dedicated segments, the game can get as wild as it wants, when it wants.

I was most surprised not by what the Quantum Masks allowed me to do, but by what I was expected to do with them. The game does a great job at making you familiar with each power before it starts throwing curve balls, and it knows how to take its time before introducing you to a new mask. By the end of the game, I got the feeling that every one of these powers was used to its fullest, leaving no potential untapped. This is especially true after the gauntlet that is the last level, which tests not only your knowledge of each mask, but also how good you are at flipping through them on the fly.

These powers are a good example of how the game doesn't want you to run carelessly and break things without a thought, because more than ever, that will get you nowhere. Careful observation, deductive reasoning, and quick reflexes are the key to beating Crash 4, and I really like this more elaborate take. This is at its most prominent during Bonus Rounds, which are now designed to be puzzles in and of themselves, even featuring the Quantum Masks in them. Break the wrong crate, spin something out of order, or react out of sync and you'll have to try again. I like puzzles and platformers that make me think, so naturally, I enjoyed these a lot, even in spite of sometimes spending more time trying to break all the crates in them than in the actual surrounding level.

All in all, I really do think the Quantum Masks are great additions. They never overstay their welcome, and each mask gets some very inventive layouts to overcome. It's evident that Akano is more straightforward than the rest by design, so there aren't many puzzles involving him that I can think of. On the other hand, breaking stuff and soaring through the air while dodging obstacles is just fun, and sometimes, a change of pace is all you really need. The one thing I would change about the Quantum Masks is the way TNTs react to Lani-Loli. It just seems like an oversight that phased-out TNTs don't explode the surrounding crates when they're also phased out.

Next Up: The Content

Thank you for joining me in this analysis, and I hope you're enjoying it so far! Now that I've told you how I personally feel about the gameplay mechanics and the controls in Crash 4, I hope you'll stick around for part 2, where I'll be analyzing the game's content and how it's structured. Come back soon to read it!

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