Crash Bandicoot 4: another 90s video game icon returns

Crash Bandicoot is back, and it’s about time. No, really – the latest instalment, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, picks up where Crash Bandicoot: Warped left off 22 years ago, back when every other game had to star an anthropomorphic animal. This is actually the eighth Crash game, for anyone keeping track, and the first proper new instalment for over a decade. It reinvigorates the bandicoot’s gameplay while remaining true to the original classics, but why is now the time for the return of this inexplicably underloved 90s video game icon?

The game’s director, Paul Yan, explains: “Part of the reason why it’s now is because Vicarious Visions and Beenox did such a great job with the remasters [of the original Crash Games and Crash Team Racing]. It really confirmed that there is an appetite to revisit the world of Crash … The trilogy that Naughty Dog developed was certainly the high point of the series, both critically and commercially, so we thought, let’s start from there.”

Colourful, fun, energetic and creative, Crash Bandicoot has always been a devilishly difficult platformer, but never so much so that it turned people off. If you ask me, Warped especially had perhaps the best balance of risk and reward the genre has ever seen. The game’s original creators, Naughty Dog, have long since moved on from the series, going on to make little games such as Uncharted and The Last of Us instead. Meanwhile, Crash himself has changed hands a few times, most recently landing in the care of Activision and developer Toys for Bob.

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The developer was previously behind another revival of a different PlayStation classic, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, which remastered the adventures of a little purple dragon that were a fixture of many 90s childhoods. Yan sees the platforming pair as opposite sides of the retro-platformer coin. “The pace of Spyro is leisurely; it’s about exploration, and there’s a lot of sparseness in the world because it’s so large … The Crash games are very dense, the enemies and the obstacles that come at you are so streamlined, it’s just back-to-back action. It’s almost got this rhythmic quality, like a music game.”

There are plenty of classic examples of this rhythmic quality in action. Anyone who remembers riding Polar and Pura, or being chased by a giant boulder in old Crash games, remembers getting a bit further each time and learning when to weave right, when to break left, when to jump. In Crash 4 you often have to slow time to jump on platforms, knowing exactly when to switch back to real time while dodging, ducking and diving. Chase sequences are back too, including a clear nod to Warped with a dino chase.

Coco in Crash 4.
‘We put a bigger emphasis on the partnership between Coco and Crash’ … Coco in Crash Bandicoot 4. Photograph: Activision/Toys for Bob

While Crash 4 looks over its shoulder to the past, it also introduces new features. Playing as less-famous characters, Tawna, Dingodile, Cortex and Crash’s sister Coco, adds a fresh dimension to the game – Tawna is literally from a new dimension – as their levels complement and feed into each other. Yan explains that it was a deliberate choice to bring Crash’s sister into the spotlight: “Coco played a small part in some of the original games … This time around we put a bigger emphasis on storytelling and the partnership between Coco and Crash. We wanted to promote that relationship and put them up as a crime-fighting pair.”

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N Sane Trilogy, 2017’s compilation of Crash Bandicoot remakes, was well received, but that was as much about nostalgia as about their quality. Brilliant games though they are, some awkward and stilted game design shows their age. But Crash 4 breathes fresh life into the series, with longer, denser levels than ever before. Anyone with even a passing childhood fondness for this madcap marsupial would do well to check it out.


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