What is it? A return to Crash’s glory days (with a number to match).
Expect to pay £35/$40
Developer Toys For Bob
Reviewed on AMD Ryzen 7 1700X, Gigabyte RTX 2080 Super, 32Gb RAM
Multiplayer? 2-player offline
Everyone’s favourite jorts champion has only recently become a PC gaming convert, but he hit the ground running and is looking better than ever. This is a gorgeous cartoon platformer that plays like something out of the genre's golden age, but with some welcome quality of life improvements.
Jumping to Crash 4 from the N.Sane Trilogy works excellently, as it carries on directly from the third game, Warped. The return of the classic numbering and time travel shenanigans feel like a reflection of developer Toys For Bob's mission statement: bring back classic Crash. Dimensions have been shattered, meaning that Crash and Coco—both play identically—need to run through quirky takes on real-life historical settings, all the while evoking the series' glory days.
It’s a great excuse to thrust our bandicoots into a diverse bunch of themed stages. You’ve got it all, from the classic beaches and jungles, to pirate ships, jazzy New Orleans swamps, and of course slippy ice flows (complete with the return of the rideable polar bear). Most of the time you’re running away from the camera on pretty linear paths—though as you’d expect it changes to a side-on camera sometimes, and you'll have to run towards the screen for the odd chase sequence. There's a new default option that gives you an easily readable shadow to make jumping extra clear, while another ditches lives in favour of tallying your deaths, which still feels penalising enough—and you'll get rewards for deathless runs.
There are accessibility improvements, but this is still classic Crash, picking up the torch from the original trilogy and evolving in a way that makes sense. This isn’t a cynical nostalgia grab like Sonic 4. The big new additions here are the Quantum Masks, which have to be recovered to stop returning villains Doctor Neo Cortex and Doctor Nefarious Tropy from taking over the multiverse. These give you the power to activate glowing platforms, slow down time to jump on fast-moving objects, fiddle with gravity or pull off a spinning top super double jump. Thankfully, these are great, smart additions. Unlike traditional power-ups like the returning Aku-Aku shield, the Quantum Masks are locked to sections of a stage, so every time you use them it's in a bespoke, well-designed challenge.
Crash rocks the jorts of a shamed man for a reason, because some later platforming challenges will leave your eyeballs spinning with rage. The exhilaration you feel when you pull it off, however, is like nothing else, and rarely is your untimely demise hard to understand—though some hazards can blur into the busy environments. Thanks to an uncapped framerate (I easily hovered around 100fps at a crisp 1440p), I’ll begrudgingly admit that most of my deaths felt like my own fault.
The biggest frustration is prickly PC DRM that requires you to always be online. Lose your connection and it won’t kick you from a level, but it will require a restart from the main game, which feels needless when there's no online functionality.
Turning back the clock to re-conceptualise a Crash sequel has mostly paid off, but just like some of the less-favoured original sequels, Crash 4 does include some more lacklustre additions. Our orange fiend has fallen for the inexplicable allure of grinding on rails, and it’s not well implemented, especially if you try to collect everything. The speed makes full-crate completion on a stage infuriating, with even the smallest mistimed directional flick ruining your chances. It's irritating more than challenging, with an annoying delay as you hop between tracks, drop below them, or hang off and tilt to the side. The same goes for the slightly less obnoxious wall-running.
As well as being able to play Crash and Coco, alternate timeline levels let you take control of Tawna, Dingo Dile, and Neo Cortex. They still platform, smash crates, and collect gems as they rush to the end of the stage, but have their own gadgets that give neat mechanical twists. Tawna fits more closely to the style of the other bandicoots, though she also gets a hookshot to destroy crates from further away or to progress to a new part of the level. Dingo sucks up crates with his big vacuum thing before shooting them at foes, also hovering over gaps. The oft-villainous Cortex zaps enemies into either solid or bouncy platforms, and for some reason headbutts his way through the air horizontally. While Cortex’s approach can feel a little fiddly, they're all surprisingly fun.
The problem is the lack of levels for those characters. There are a handful of mandatory ones, but most are optional missions that take place within levels you've already cleared, letting you see them from a different perspective, but only for a specific section. Tawna's first level, where she's unlocked, is entirely her own, sending her grappling across pirate ships to rescue a captured Crash and Coco. Play one of her optional missions, however, and you only play as her half of the time. You'll get to run through a new slice of the stage as Tawna, but eventually her path will intersect with Crash and Coco's, at which point you have to swap characters. From there, you just have to play through a more challenging portion of a level you've already completed. If you want to play with this trio of extra characters, then, you will have to retread old ground. It's exhausting.
It really doesn’t need the padding—there’s already a wealth of challenges to complete, including alternative N.Verted versions of every stage in the game. These add visual gimmicks, like one that only reveals the full outline of your surroundings via echolocation when you spin. On top of those, you have hidden Flashback challenge levels—bespoke crate busting marathons with a VHS filter, set before Crash escaped in the first game—time trials, hidden gems, and the devious task of destroying every crate (which feels a tad /too/ masochistic in most stages, even compared to the original trilogy).
Sometimes it can be a bit too frustrating, much in the way the series has always been, but often those challenges are optional. You don’t have to smash every crate. You don’t have to make that tricky, gravity-defying leap just to snag those extra wumpa fruit. You don’t have to shave a few seconds off your best dash though a stage. But you want to, don’t you? Just because it’s there, and sometimes it just feels good to crash and burn.