Crash Bandicoot returns 20 years later with a brand new and original sequel, and it makes one hell of an entrance. It originally came out on console last year, but the PC port has finally arrived bringing with it all Crash-iness you can eat. But is it worth your while? And is it a worthy enough sequel to hang next to the original trilogy?
Crash is back and better than ever - quite literally in this case with some updated visuals, smoother animations, and terrific art direction. Our favorite marsupial gets caught up in a new time-bending, dimension-warping, crate-ridden adventure. After Neo Cortex and Dr. N. Trophy escape their interdimensional prison, their eyes lay on conquering all dimensions across time and space, not just their own. This leaves the dynamic duo of Crash and Coco to stop their villainous deeds and save the day. But for that they’ll need the help of some peculiar characters known as the Quantum Masks…
First and foremost, this is a Crash Bandicoot game, so if you’ve played all the originals then you already know what you’re getting into. But there’s a few new mechanics and gimmicks along the way to make it feel just as fresh as the old days.
Gameplay is the core of the Crash Bandicoot games, so this section is going to be a lot longer than the others, as there’s also a heap of extra content to talk about as well.
The Crash games have always remained similar in terms of gameplay (at least for the original trilogy that is): you hop from one level to the next trying to complete them as best you can, with challenges along the way that make for a completionist’s wet dream.
Your basic objective is just complete the level first, followed by optional objectives that you can attempt on your first go or complete in subsequent replays. From breaking all the boxes in a level, to finding hidden gems and completing levels in a certain time or with a certain amount of lives.
Crash Bandicoot 4 does exactly this with a few elevations to gameplay. Aside from a few new minor additions, the biggest changes come from the Quantum Masks and inverted levels (sorry, ‘N. Verted’ levels).
The masks are the biggest new addition and the main focus in the sequel. At times you will encounter areas where you will need to use 1 of 4 masks in order to proceed: the Phase mask; the Power mask; the Time mask; and the Gravity mask. Each one will fundamentally change the way you play and solve the various platforming puzzles within levels.
They're a fantastic addition to the Crash gameplay as some of the platforming puzzles can be really challenging. You’ll often need to phase in and out certain objects mid-air, or slow down time to cross a gap with falling debris, or switch gravity multiple times in mid-air whilst you frantically dodge deadly lasers and various enemies.
The masks provide some extremely fresh puzzles and challenges to the gameplay of Crash Bandicoot, which is absolutely welcome in the series at this point. And of course, the bonus areas in levels also incorporate these masks from time and time, creating some seriously punishing and difficult environments that feel oh-so-good to complete.
It's not terribly hard though: it's Crash Bandicoot hard. Challenges mostly come from skill puzzles rather than intellectual puzzles - which is part of the appeal when it comes to Crash Bandicoot games. There will be times where you may think "how on earth do I solve this", but quickly change to "how on earth can a human do this" to which you complete it and feel like a gaming god for managing to execute perfectly timed jumps and spins and dashes and slides in order to finish the level or bonus area with 100% completion.
Flashback tapes also provide a new range of challenges that take you back into the origins of Crash Bandicoot and his lovable arch-nemesis Neo Cortex. These levels differ from your more traditional levels, requiring players to finish the level by only bouncing on boxes, with rewards for being able to smash most of or all the boxes.
They don’t just offer a new type of bonus levels though, as they touch on the origins of Crash and Neo Cortex in his lab, experimenting on various Bandicoots as he tries to create the perfect general to his army. They’re pretty fun, and offer a lot of insight into Crash and Cortex’s origins and relationship.
But of course it doesn’t end there, because Crash Bandicoot 4 gives a wumpa-load of content to chew through. Not only do you play through all the major levels as Crash/Coco (you can switch between both at any point on the map), but you’ll also get to play as several side characters that offer completely different skills and abilities, and even contextualize certain moments in levels as you see the action from their perspective.
You’ll play as Tawna, Dingodile, and Neo Cortex in their own side missions. Tawna has a grappling hook that allows her to reach crates from out-of-reach places, travel to certain areas, or activate certain objects; Dingodile uses his vacuum gun to pick up and throw objects, or allow him to travel great distances with the ability to hover for a short while; and Neo Cortex has a blaster gun that can change the properties of enemies, turning them into normal platforms to jump to or bouncy platforms to jump off of. He also has a dash ability which substitutes for his inability to double jump.
They provide a lot of variety into the gameplay of Crash, and each of their own perspectives are engaging and worth playing to understand their character, story, and motivations. And there’s just something terribly exciting about being able to play as these fan favorite characters from various other Crash games.
N. Verted Mode effectively doubles the content by putting a unique spin on every level with the same challenges as before: break all the boxes, find the hidden gem, finish with under a certain amount of lives etc. But they’re all so different and sometimes even fundamentally change the way you play each level.
Crash Bandicoot games aren't exactly known for their Oscar-worthy narratives, and I never found myself fully invested in the story for the original games. They were simple plots - not bad by any means - but they were a device used to further the story and a reason for players to move to the next level.
That said, I found myself heavily invested into Crash Bandicoot 4's story. Not only is it a genuinely fun and engaging story to follow (that even ends up touches on themes of friendship, loss, and nostalgia), but all the characters are once again on top-notch form. The voice acting is incredible, with returning favorites just as good as you remember, but the standout cast comes from the Quantum Masks, each of which with their own distinctive personality and quirks that can make for some truly entertaining interactions. It’s like watching a childhood cartoon riddled with nostalgia and comedy.
It’s fitting then that you start the game where the first game also started, right on N. Sanity Beach. It’s a bit different this time round: signifying to the players that Crash is back, but with a few changes. It’s simple, but for a game that is so self-aware of it’s nature of being a sequel to a much-loved series, it works wonderfully.
There’s a lot of these references to the old days, reflecting on the past but also looking towards the future. There’s no cliffhanger promising Crash Bandicoot 5 - which is surprising but definitely a nice welcome with so many reboots promising even more sequels - but it still leaves room for more in Crash’s future. If this is where Crash’s story ends, then it’s certainly a fitting one and I wouldn’t be upset. But if there is a sequel then I’m all for it.
To say that Crash Bandicoot 4 is a gorgeous game would be an understatement. The art direction is immaculate, with each level popping with vibrancy and filled with busy environmental performances: backgrounds move with lively characters and dynamic environments, making each world feel alive and busy.
I can’t even begin to express how good Crash Bandicoot 4 looks. I just want to jump into my screen and gobble up all the environments. The colors and detail just look so tasty, is that weird? Can I even say that? I don’t care, it’s like looking into a candy shop and I just want more.
Animations were also one of the first things I spotted, with truly astonishing fluidity and expression. I could watch an entire movie by anyone who worked on the animation and art for Crash Bandicoot 4, feeling just as emotive and alive and some of the best Pixar movies out there, which is a massive compliment to the visuals team.
It’s a shame that some cutscenes are pre-rendered lower resolution videos then. A lot of cutscenes play in-engine and look phenomenal, but every now and then you’ll encounter a pre-rendered one and it’s like watching a video through a tub of water whilst someone scrubs sandpaper in your eyes.
Okay it’s not that bad, but it is so jarring from the crystal clear gameplay and in-engine cutscenes that it can really catch you off guard sometimes. At least it did for me anyway. It’s nothing terrible though, and by no means detracts from the overall experience. It’s just a shame that looks so different from everything else.
There’s also a decent amount of graphics customization options. It’s not a lot, but it does allow you to perfect that balance of visual fidelity and FPS performance at least. Speaking of performance though...
Platformers require quick thinking and fast reflexes most of the time. So I was worried the impressive visuals would negatively impact performance on PC, but oh how wrong I was.
Crash Bandicoot 4 runs superbly. Well, mostly at least. At 4K on almost Max graphics settings with an RTX 3070 I was consistently getting above 100fps in all areas. However, the Shadow Quality setting is either broken or insanely performance heavy, as I somehow dropped to around 20fps in the first boss battle when I had every setting cranked up to Max. Dropping the Shadow Quality setting down one increment brought the frame rate back up to 100fps. So I highly recommend turning that setting down if you’re playing on PC and want to play at the best graphics.
Apart from that though, and apart from one specific level where a lot of moving objects and particle effects did bring down FPS (but nothing unplayable at least), Crash Bandicoot 4 performs really well for modern hardware. Which is just what you need in a platformer this tight.
I'll echo what a lot of people have said already following reviews for the PlayStation 4 release last year: Crash Bandicoot 4 feels like the kind of game Naughty Dog would have made 20 years ago. It feels right at home next to the original three games that came before it, and honestly feels like no time has passed since then.
From the gameplay to the story, the heart and soul of Crash Bandicoot is here, and still as exciting as ever. It’s amazing that a series that has been so beloved by fans, and has spawned countless spin-offs - some great, and some not so much - has managed to return without feeling any different. It’s like the past 20 years has been one long fever dream for Crash, and he’s now awoken from a deep slumber for one last triumphant return.
Let's hope it's not another 20 years until the next one. But until then...
Crash is back, and it's about damn time.