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!


Samno | October 9, 2020 - 12:13 PM
Double jump is dead, long live air hop! XD

tabreezsiddique | October 10, 2020 - 08:28 AM
Personally I also count the Atlasphere from Wrath Of Cortex as a vehicle for when you're being chased by a monster truck in Hit The Road which means (including Polar) that's three vehicles in the whole game and not many instances where we use them thankfully but other then that, this whole breakdown was pretty spot on, I can agree with almost everything that was stated here. ????

HP Zoner | October 11, 2020 - 05:43 AM
@Samno Hopefully! It's incredibly useful and fun to use.

@tabreezsiddique Yes, I forgot about the rolling cage until after I posted this, as it's only in the game for a couple of minutes. It was a nice callback that worked well in the given context, being more part of the spectacle than a unique gameplay mechanic.

MenDude | October 13, 2020 - 02:07 PM
"For one thing, slide-jumping now pauses Crash's momentum, (...) but I quickly realized that it makes it easier to adjust Crash's position" I'm sorry but I really cannot see the logic in this particular statement. I'm not sure of any useful application of this in the game, and it's certainly not useful for making sure you don't hit crates either as your slide hitbox goes well past your actual slide. Also, Crash 2 lets you stop your slide jump when you jump by just not holding any direction and that game does not kill your momentum, so being able to halt your slide jump is not only not new but also has been done a lot better before. I simply can't see any possible benefit from the momentum kill. Gonna add that a lot of other stuff in the game works very inconsistently, such as bouncing on things. Sometimes when you bounce on crates you don't get your momentum killed (such as bonus stages), but other times you do (in pretty much anything else? it's particularly frustrating in Toxic Tunnels and any part where you have to bounce on nitros)? Also I don't think Cortex has any sort of auto-aim, his blaster shots are just gigantic, which proves to be an issue when they're very sensitive to hitting invisible walls which are also something pretty annoying and inconsistent about the game. I feel like if you start doing time trials or simply trying to play the game more skillfully you start to notice how its gameplay design starts falling apart. One thing you didn't notice (or at least mention) is that Crash has jump momentum, but Tawna does not, and it makes jumping as Tawna feel muuuuch better and tighter than jumping as Crash, whose double jump really does not help in any sort of jump correction as you get flung way off-track.

Also I found the bonus rounds extremely repetitive - almost all of them focus on going back and forth after ! boxes (which only happens ONCE in the trilogy, in Double Header)

Nice review, but I really can't agree with some of the points you bring up.

Fuuma | October 15, 2020 - 06:43 AM
Regarding the gimmicks, they definitely improved the jetboard that originates from Crash 2 by ironing out its flaws. It's even more fun this time around, especially in the Run It Bayou level with the hilarious music. Polar on the other hand feels a bit-off like HP Zoner stated, but I'm hopeful they could fix him a bit in a possible patch, since the problems don't seem to be non-fixable.

There's also the ball similar to the atlasphere from Wrath of Cortex that appears in the Wasteland/Rustland dimension: it's implemented well and I like how it is part of a chase sequence. If they make DLC levels/dimensions, I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more of it as well, in a different setting.

Overall, I'm glad they didn't went overbroad with the gimmicks and vehicles this time around and judging by the comments from fans across the internet, it was a smart decision. I'd like a possible Crash 5 to stick that and only include a fair amount as well, with a couple of returning ones from the original trilogy and one or two new ones.

All in all, loving the game so far! I'm still just so glad Crash is back.

HP Zoner | October 17, 2020 - 10:15 AM
@Mendude Regarding the slide-jump, I think you need to judge it in conjunction with the double-jump. Crash is noticeably floatier than usual now, which I think was done to make precision platforming more forgiving. This means you can still cover long distances, but you also have more time to react and tell where Crash is going to land. On its own, slide-jumping is not as useful as it was in Crash 2, yes. But if you think of it as an extension of the floatier double-jump, then it starts to fall into place.

For the same reason, double-jumping may kill your momentum, but it also gives you more hang time. Again, identical distance covered, but more time to react. I did notice Tawna's double-jump doesn't do that, but Tawna generally doesn't have to land on narrow platforms as often as Crash does. That's not to say I prefer one over the other. I think they're equally valid approaches.

As for Cortex, I can confirm he does auto-aim like Tawna and Dingodile, but it's just as finicky and inconsistent, if not more. I'm not sure, but I *think* his shots don't travel as far unless an enemy is locked-on, which usually only happens in 3D segments. It's hard to tell when the camera is behind him, so don't quote me on that. What he and the other characters need is a reticle like in Twinsanity, so you can at least know if you're aiming the right direction. Tawna already has one, but it's only there for specific objects.

MenDude | October 17, 2020 - 09:37 PM
@HP Zoner That's true, but I think that's a bit of a different point in general, there are a lot of jumps that have you slide jump and/or double jump, both of which break momentum, and that really hurts the game flow IMO. I can prove this for myself because when you can slidespin (or slidespin jump) over a gap or platform it feels significantly better. Regardless, I don't think the slide stopping your momentum is helping much here. I can't believe that someone good enough at the game to pull off slide jumps will for example overshoot a jump that you already need a slide jump for, since there's plenty of other factors that come into play when you're doing the jumping. In Crash 2 if you wanted to stop moving you'd let go of the movement buttons - intuitive and lets the player choose how to move, but if the slide just stops your momentum regardless (unless you do a slidespin, but that's sidetracking a bit) then the game is kind of punishing you for doing a type of jump that it will want you to do for a lot of things. I don't know, I remain unconvinced that having a forced movement stop for a fast movement option is better than being able to choose how fast you go.

I don't mind the double jumping killing off your current speed, and if the slide didn't kill your momentum too then you'd end up having a really nice tradeoff of movement options: you do a simple normal jump which would let you cross a bunch of gaps, you'd have the slide jump that makes you move faster and allows you to cross larger distances (which are plenty later on) which is trickier to pull off, and the double jump in case you really need or really want the extra distance or extra height. The whole jump momentum thing was more of the speed that you start getting as you start falling. I died plenty of times to the rope swinging part in Run it Bayou trying to act cool because the double jump wasn't helping at correcting my jump by the time I'm being flung away by the momentum.

real_xlaar | January 8, 2021 - 02:38 PM
lmao i love that long spin, but why didn't they just continue to tornado?

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